When I was little, I used to think that a Danish was just called a pastry, and pastry chefs just stood around making Danish of different flavors and varieties all day. I was half right – a Danish is, in fact, a pastry, but now I know that the word covers a whole variety of baked goods. When I saw that the course syllabus of my Specialty Breads lab covered Danish in the last couple of weeks, I couldn’t help but smile knowing I’d be learning how to make this “Pastry” that I always used to admire.
My first experience with making Danish was sometime in April at Valencia. We all made the same dough recipe, but made different fillings. This was definitely a day that I was glad to have an experienced Chef looking over my shoulder – Danish dough is not just something you can throw together, unless maybe you’ve been making it for decades.
I really had no business making a complicated recipe during such a busy week (you should see all the moving boxes around my house at the moment, plus the four suitcases that we’re packing to the seams for Providence), but I haven’t made these since school and I wanted to make sure I could still do it. We’ll be making puff pastry on the very first day of class at Johnson & Wales (Valencia didn’t even cover puff pastry in the curriculum), so any refreshing I can do will come in handy!
This Danish dough starts out the same as any other. You’ll dissolve the tablespoon of yeast in slightly warm whole milk for 5-10 minutes, add the sugar, and then add the rest of the wet ingredients. In this particular recipe, there’s orange zest, orange juice, and some vanilla to give the Danish a unique flavor.
Add these ingredients with the eggs, and mix well. The mixture should be nice and smooth. If you’ve been using a paddle attachment to mix the ingredients, switch to the dough hook. You can also knead the dough by hand. Combine the flour and salt, and add it to the wet ingredients one cup at a time. The dough will begin to slowly come together when mixed at low speed.
Keep scraping down the sides of the bowl to make sure all of the flour is incorporated. Once all ingredients are incorporated, knead by hand or with a dough hook for five minutes. The dough will be sticky, but it should hold together well.
I find Danish to be easier than making croissants, partly because of the butter preparation. When making croissants you have to mix butter and flour very slowly to avoid incorporating air, shape it into a square, and refrigerate it for a good hour or two to then fold it into the croissant dough. With Danish, you’re simply whipping the butter with the flour and brushing it on the dough. So, we’ll do just that – place the cold but slightly softened butter in the bowl of a mixer with half a cup of flour. Start on a low speed, and once the flour is incorporated, whip the butter for 2-3 minutes, until very light.
When the butter is ready and the dough has chilled, uncover the dough and place it on a lightly floured surface. Roll it out to a rectangle approximately 13 by 18 inches. With the shorter ends at your right and left sides, spread the butter on the center and right third of the dough. As my Chef told me, this is not a low fat recipe – make sure you use all that butter! Then fold the left third of the dough to the center, covering half the buttered surface, and bring the right side over the left.
Brush off the excess flour. Try to keep the edges as aligned as possible, but it can be tricky! You’ll want to wrap that up and let it chill again anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes. My house is pretty warm – especially with us all packing boxes and cleaning things out! – so I chilled it for a little over an hour each time. After you chill it you’ll start again. Place the dough lengthwise in front of you, roll it out to a 13 by 18-inch rectangle, and fold the same way. Repeat this two more times for a total of four folds, always chilling the dough in between.
This process of laminating the dough can take awhile, but trust me, it’s so worth it. You’ll bite into the finished Danish and taste everyone of those flaky layers! In the meantime, you can make a filling. The cool thing about filling Danish is that the possibilities are pretty much endless. You can do any kind of fruit filling – apple, cherry, berry, or even lemon curd – cream fillings like cream cheese or pastry cream, or you can even bake the Danish first and then fill with a chocolate ganache. I have a thing for raspberries, as I’m sure we’ve all figured out by now, so I did a raspberry filling.
First, as always, get your ingredients ready to go. You could always use frozen berries, but why not take advantage of beautiful fresh summer berries? Bring a cup of water and a cup of sugar to a rolling boil in a small pot. Once the sugar is boiling, reduce to a simmer and add a tablespoon of cornstarch. To make sure the cornstarch doesn’t get lumpy, dissolve it in a couple tablespoons of water before adding it. Let that incorporate for a few seconds, and then add the raspberries.
Let those cook for 6-10 minutes at a gentle boil, constantly stirring. The berries will cook down, leaving a nice smooth filling. When the mixture is thick, remove the pot from the heat. You can either pour this as-is into a container (it’ll be very hot, so glass is best) and refrigerate it, or you can strain the seeds out first. I opted not to strain the seeds, I like the texture and earthy flavor of them. Once that cools for a few hours or overnight, it’ll be thick and ready to pipe or spoon onto the Danish before baking.
So, you’ve done your four turns on the Danish dough, and your filling is made and cooling. I definitely recommend refrigerating the dough until the next day before using. Rolling it out and shaping it will warm it up quickly, so you want it as cool as possible. If you were planning to use it over 24 hours after making it, freeze it so it doesn’t overproof.
The next morning, or a few hours later, you’ll unwrap the chilled dough and it’ll be slightly puffed up.
Looking good! Once again, you’ll roll it out into a rectangle, close to that 13″x18″ and a quarter inch thick. Trim just along the edges with a pastry cutter or a pizza wheel – the closed off edges will keep the laminated dough from rising properly. The next few steps will depend on what shapes you’d like your Danish to be.
For half pockets shown here, cut the dough into squares. Gently stretch two opposite corners of the square, and pull those corners into the center. For full pockets, do the same thing with the other two corners. Prepare a simple egg wash using one beaten egg, and brush each Danish with just enough to cover it thinly. It shouldn’t pool at the bottom of the pastry. Some people like to vary the egg wash a bit, sometimes adding a little milk or an extra egg yolk. Use whatever you prefer.
Let these proof anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. I was in a rush to get breakfast on the table so these guys only got a half an hour of proofing time, and they were fine, but the usual is quite a bit longer. After proofing, degas the center of each Danish and spoon or pipe a small amount of filling in each indentation. Brush the Danish with more egg wash, and put them in a 385-degree oven. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until puffed and a dark golden color.
You can make a simple white glaze using half a cup of powdered sugar and a few teaspoons of milk added one at a time. Drizzle that over them, let it set, and these pretty pastries are ready to eat!
There’s nothing quite like a warm, fresh Danish. Now I’ll be the first to say that it takes a heck of a lot longer to make them than it does to eat them, but that’s why we do it, right? It’s a labor of love for a reason!
- 1 T active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/3 cup sugar
- Zest of one orange
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
- 3 1/4 cups AP flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 pound chilled, unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup AP flour
Whip butter and flour together until combined and very light. Follow directions above for folds and turns.
- One (6 oz) container of raspberries
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 T cornstarch
Boil sugar and water together until sugar is dissolved, then reduce to a simmer.
Add the cornstarch, and stir for 15-20 seconds.
Add raspberries and cook on medium high heat, constantly stirring. When mixture is thick and boiling, remove from heat. Strain if you’d like, then store in a glass container and refrigerate.
When Danish is shaped and proofed, pipe or spoon filling into an indentation in the center. Bake at 385 degrees for 12-15 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown in color.