Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Danish Pastry Dough

Danish braid with almond paste with a coffee-almond drizzle.
When I was a kid, my mom would get "coffee cakes" from a local bakery. They came in a long paper bag, and they were crisp on the outside, buttery and flaky inside, and filled with something that was sweet and nutty.

Mom called them coffee cakes, but they were really Danish pastries filled with almond paste.

There are a lot of different forms that a Danish can take - there the long, large pastries that mom used to buy, along with individual triangle-shaped turnovers, squares, or fancier shapes.

The pastry is flaky and buttery, something like sweet croissant. But then they're filled with interesting things, and usually drizzled with icing, and maybe sprinkled with almonds or pearl sugar

For years, I went hunted for coffee cake recipes that might turn out like the ones I remembered from my childhood. But they were always ... well ... cakes. When I discovered the recipe for Danish braids,  I figured I'd give it a try. When I tasted it and realized this was the "coffee cake" of my childhood, I was giddy happy.

Sour cherries in a Danish.
This is a pretty long recipe, so I've broken it up into several posts. It's not terribly difficult, though, if you take it one step at a time.

This first post is just for the pastry, the next step is in this post, which covers fillings, and then folding and baking. Then, in this post, you'll find instructions for making a Danish Braid, which is one of my favorite forms. And the braid looks impressive.

The photos here are some of the Danishes I've made, including those filled with almond paste, lemon curd, and sour pie cherries. I've also done peach, apple, chocolate, blueberry, and pineapple. Some included a pastry cream with the fruit.

The options are endless, limited only by your imagination and your taste.

The sugar in this dough makes it a little bit sweet, but it's not so sweet that you couldn't use this for a savory recipe. I've used it to make Reuben Danishes, filled with corned beef, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese and drizzled with Thousand Island dressing.

Danish Dough
Adapted from a recipe by Beatrice Ojakangas in Baking with Julia written by Dorie Greenspan

Lemon curd-filled Danish.
1/4 cup warm water
2 1/4 teaspoons (one package) active dry yeast
1/2 cup room temperature milk
1 large egg at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups (11 1/4 ounces) all purpose flour
2 sticks butter*

Put the water and yeast into a large bowl and let it sit for a few minutes to soften. Add the milk, egg, sugar and salt. Whisk to combine and set aside.

Put the flour into the work bowl of your food processor. Cut the butter into chunks – about 8 chunks per stick, and drop them into the food processor. Pulse until the butter is cut into pieces about 1/2 inch diameter. Don’t get carried away – you want fairly large pieces.

Empty the food processor into the bowl with the wet ingredients and fold gently with a rubber spatula, just until all the flour is moistened. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. At this point, it can rest overnight or as long as four days.

Cherry danish with sliced almonds and a drizzle of icing.
When you’re ready to work the dough, lightly flour your work surface and dump the dough out. Dust it with a little flour to keep it from sticking, and pat the dough into a rough square shape.

With your rolling pin, roll the dough into a square about 16 inches on each side. You don’t have to be precise, but if you get close to this size, the dough will be as thin as it needs to be, and that’s the key.

If you need to add more flour to the work surface or rolling pin, do so sparingly. Work quickly, but not frantically. If the room is warm and the dough gets too sticky or the butter seems to be getting soft, quit rolling, wrap it in plastic, and put it in the fridge for a little rest.

Fold the dough into thirds, like a business letter. Roll the dough again, into a rectangle about 10 inches by 24 inches.

Fold in thirds again. Roll to about a 20-inch square. Fold again, like a business letter.

One more time, roll into a long rectangle, about 10 inches by 24 inches. Fold in thirds, wrap it in plastic, and stash it in the fridge.

At this point, the dough should rest for at least 30 minutes before you shape it and bake it, or up to four days. Frozen, it will keep up to a month. Each batch of dough will make two Danish Braids or eight individual pastries.

I’ve sometimes added vanilla or almond extract to this dough, depending on what filling I have in mind.

*The original recipe calls for unsalted butter, but I prefer it with one stick of salted and one of unsalted.