The Danish has long been a staple for many, a convenient, portable, and most importantly delicious accompaniment to our morning cup of coffee. Like Madonna or Cher, the Danish has become a mononym. Walk into any coffee shop in America and there is no need to pronounce more than a single word. Sometimes even a look will suffice if the barista is attentive and the need critical.
Curious then that this well-known pastry travels under a moniker that is rife with contradiction. One might suppose that the name since it appears to specify, might connote where it originated. Not the case! The Danish is not from Denmark at all but instead traces its roots back to Austria.
How it traveled to Denmark, assumed an alias, and subsequently left its past behind it without a second glance, is cause for much debate throughout the communities that care. And since this discussion involves breakfast pastry it’s safe to say we all fall into that category.
In the 1840’s it was understood that the Austrians had a way with dough, a special understanding that allowed them to achieve things the rest of Europe and the world could only envy. It’s rumored that in an effort to learn the secret of the Viennese bakers, a Dane by the name of N.C. Albeck traveled to Austria working in bakeries until he had mastered the technique himself then bringing it back to Denmark. Scandalously dubbing it wienerbrød or Viennese bread on his return.
Another version of the narrative maintains that in the 1880’s, some forty years after Albeck supposedly conducted his externship in Austria, the bakers of Denmark went on strike. In an effort to release themselves from the feudalistic practice of the day (in which the bakers received nothing for their labors other than room and board) the bakers refused to bake. Turns out their lackluster non-laminated doughs weren’t missed very long. Following immediately on the heels of the strike, the highly skilled hands of Austrian bakers were brought in to replace them. Soundly beaten, the Danes came back to their old jobs. Though nothing had changed monetarily they did get to keep the Austrian recipes.
Some residual wanderlust, presumably from their Viking ancestors, made it a common practice for Danish pastry chefs referred to as “suitcase bakers” to travel, learning techniques and sharing their own as they went. The Austrian method for laminating dough, now common practice throughout the country was taken with them and shared with the world. And though the name continues to mislead, how mad can you really stay after your first bite of Danish.
“All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast.”
Not So Danish Pastry
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp honey
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 egg, beaten
Fresh Fruit, I used raspberries but you can use whatever you fancy
Preheat your oven to 425℉
If your pastry dough is already made, the task of making a Danish is a simple one. If not, head over to my recipe for Rough Puff Pastry for a relatively simple way to achieve a laminated dough.
Though Danish come in many forms and sizes, many of them a series of intricate loops and knots I prefer a simpler approach that enables me to fill my Danish to the brim with a honeyed cream cheese icing and leaves plenty of room for lots of fresh berries.
For the Pastry
Remove your chilled dough from the refrigerator and roll into a 17×16-inch rectangle. Trim the edges so they are neat and straight, I like to use a large ruler and a pizza cutter. After trimming you should have a rectangle around 16½x15-inches. Working on the shorter side, divide your dough into three long rectangles each 5 inches wide. Now cut each rectangle into three 5×5½-inch squares leaving you with nine total.
Using a paring knife score small squares within each rectangle of dough. Within each scored square, use a fork to “dock” your dough. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it’s when you use the tines of a fork to perforate the dough. This allows steam to escape and prevents the dough from rising. This should help the middle of your dough stay more compact in the oven and give you a lip of pastry around the edges. Do this to all you squares, then place them in the refrigerator to chill for roughly 10 minutes.
For the Cream Cheese Filling
While the dough chills, prepare your honeyed cream cheese filling. Be sure the cream cheese is quite soft; this helps you achieve a truly smooth filling and prevents lumps from forming in the icing. Add all your ingredients to a bowl and combine using a hand mixer. When thoroughly combined, transfer the cream cheese into an icing bag with a large tip and set aside for later use.
For the Egg Wash
To make the egg wash, beat your egg with a small amount of water in a bowl.
Remove your chilled dough from the refrigerator and egg wash the edges of each square then sprinkle with some Sanding Sugar to add a sweet crunch.
For the Baking and Assembly
Bake the squares for five minutes at 425℉ then lower the temperature to 350℉ continuing to bake for an additional 20-25 minutes or until the puff pastry has risen and achieved a beautiful golden hue.
Once the puff pastry has finished baking, allow it to cool several minutes. If your scoring did not do quite what you hoped it would i.e. keep the center of your pastry from rising, do not be disheartened. It’s not a full-proof method but it does help and should be employed. Using a small spatula or spoon press down the center of each square along the line you scored. Press firmly enough to create a marked ridge of dough all the way around the pastry.
Do this to all your pastry squares. Fill each of the hollows you created with a generous amount of the cream cheese icing and top with your choice of fresh fruit and an optional sprinkle of confectioner’s sugar.