Danishes, although popular throughout Europe, originated in Denmark and more specifically with a strike amongst Danish bakers in 1850. Forced to hire foreign bakers, bakeries started employing Austrian bakers, whose native preparations adapted Danish recipes. As Danish bakers started modifying the Austrian plundergebäck, the Danish was born.
Denmark’s trademark pastry dough is similar to puff pastry except it contains milk and yeast, the latter of which gives the dough an extra lift. If you’re not up for the challenge of making your own puff pastry with yeast, you can use store bought frozen puff pastry instead, which does not have yeast. Your Danishes will be more flaky than fluffy, but tasty all the same.
This combination of ingredients could be assembled in many ways, but this gorgeous pinwheel is fun to make and looks spectacular. This recipe makes 16 pastries.
For the Pastry
-1/4 cup warm water
-2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
-1/2 cup milk at room temperature
-1 large egg at room temperature
-1/4 cup sugar
-1 tsp salt
-2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
-2 sticks (8 oz) cold unsalted butter
Mixing the Dough
Pour the water into a large bowl, sprinkle over the yeast, and let it soften for a minute. Add the milk, egg, sugar, and salt and whisk to mix; set aside.
Put the flour in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Cut the butter into 1/4-inch-thick slices and drop them onto the flour. Pulse 8 to 10 times, until the butter is cut into pieces that are about 1/2 inch in diameter. Don’t overdo this–the pieces must not be smaller than a 1/2 in.
Empty the contents of the food processor into the bowl with the yeast and, working with a rubber spatula, very gently turn the mixture over, scraping the bowl as needed, just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Again, don’t be too energetic–the butter must remain in discrete pieces so that you will produce a flaky pastry, not a bread or cookie dough.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (or up to 4 days).
Rolling and Folding the Dough
Lightly flour a work surface, turn the dough out onto it, and dust the dough lightly with flour. Using the palms of your hands, pat the dough into a rough square. Then roll it into a square about 16 inches on a side. Fold the dough into thirds and turn it so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book. If it ever gets too soft to work with, cover it with plastic wrap and stick it back into the fridge for a quick chill.
Roll the dough out again, this time into a long narrow rectangle about 10 x 24 in. Fold the rectangle in thirds again, turn it so the closed fold is to your left, and roll it into a 20 in. square. Fold the square in thirds so you have a rectangle, turning it so that the closed fold is to your left, and, once more, roll the dough into a long narrow rectangle, 10 x 24 in. Fold in thirds again, wrap the dough well in plastic, and chill it for at least 30 minutes, or as long as 2 days.
You are now ready to shape the dough however you like, or you can store it covered in the refrigerator for 4 days or frozen for 1 month. If you freeze it, thaw it overnight, still wrapped, in the refrigerator.
For the Jam
-2 cups crushed fresh strawberries (you could also use raspberries or other seasonal berries, or several types of berries in combination)
-1 cup sugar
-1 to 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Combine the berries, sugar and lemon juice together in a saucepan. At medium-high heat, bring to a boil, stirring periodically. When it comes to a boil, turn the heat down to medium and allow it to cook for approximately 30 minutes. Stir periodically. Put it in a bowl and let it come to room temperature. Transfer it to the refrigerator and let it cool. This can be made up to a week in advance.
For the Pastry Cream
-1 cup milk
-1/4 cup sugar
-pinch of salt
-2 large egg yolks
-2 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
-1/2 vanilla bean or 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Put the milk, sugar, salt, egg yolks, and cornstarch in a 2 quart saucepan. If you’re using a vanilla bean, split it in half lengthwise, scrape the soft, pulpy seeds into the pan, and toss in the pod. If you’re using vanilla extract, keep it in reserve until the cream is cooked. Stir with a wire whisk to blend bring to ta boil, whisking constantly, and let the pastry cream boil for 30 to 60 seconds, at which point it will have thickened and the whisk will leave tracks as you stir. Take the pan off the heat and scrape the pastry cream into a strainer set over a bowl.
Push the cream through the strainer into the bowl and discard the vanilla bean if you used it. If you’re using extract, stir it in. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic against the surface of the pastry cream, and top the plastic with a layer of ice cubes. Leave the ice cubes in place until the cream cools. The cream can be made up to three days in advance and kept tightly covered in the refrigerator.
To Assemble the Pinwheels
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Flour the top of the dough and place it on a lightly floured work surface. Roll the dough into a square that is 20 in. on a side. Using a straightedge and a long wet knife or a pizza cutter, trim the edges to even them if needed. Score each side at 5 inch intervals, then cut through the dough, using the straightedge as your guide, to make sixteen 5 inch squares.
Place a pastry square on the work surface and spoon a tablespoon of fruit filling onto the center of the square. Spoon a tablespoon of pastry cream on top of it. Using a pastry cutter or a thin sharp knife, cut a slash from the center to each corner. Brush every other pastry point with a little beaten egg white and lift those points off the counter and in toward the center, pressing the dough lightly against the filling and overlapping the points to create a pinwheel.
Baking the Danishes
Lift the pastries onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, cover with a kitchen towel, and allow the pastries to rise at room temperature for 30 minutes. Reserve the remaining beaten egg white.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Brush the risen pastries with the reserved beaten egg white, sprinkle with pearl sugar, and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until lightly golden. Transfer the pastries from the baking sheet to a wire rack. Serve the pastries warm or at room temperature and eat as fresh as possible.
(Recipes adapted from Baking with Julia)