One problem with being a professional cook or baker is that people are afraid to cook for you. (James Beard—or was it Craig Claiborne?—said something along the lines of, If you invite me over for dinner at your house, I'm happy just to have a hamburger.) The other problem: if you're invited to a potluck, it's either expected that you'll bring something fantastic or your professional pride (read: ego) demands it.
I went to a brunch on Sunday, and had to show off. I love making Danish. I love breakfasts. I love a cup of strong coffee (okay, make that a pot of coffee), some freshly squeezed orange juice, a basket of buttery pastries and croissants, and really good jam.
I made a scaled-down recipe of the Danish dough recipe in the Culinary Institute of America's Baking & Pastry book. I like a combination of fillings: pastry cream or cheese filling with fruit, chocolate and nuts, or citrus curd and a garnish of candied citrus zest. For Sunday's brunch, I made two types of Danish: individual cheese Danish with apricots, and a mixed berry pastry braid.
This is a multi-day project. It's best to start the dough on Friday night, laminate it on Saturday, shape the Danish on Saturday night, pull them out of the fridge to proof at the crack of dawn on Sunday and bake them later on Sunday morning. (I ended up running errands on Saturday, which meant that I finished shaping the Danish at 1 am. That's my excuse for the blurry photos. That, and the fact that I'm a bad photographer.)
If you've never made a laminated dough before, like puff pastry, croissant dough, or Danish dough, I suggest you start with puff pastry
. Since it doesn't contain yeast, it's a lot more well-behaved than Danish dough, which tends to puff up and bounce around and spring back while you're working with it. Danish dough also contains sugar and eggs, which means it needs a longer rising time than other doughs (while puff pastry goes straight from the fridge into the oven). Before I went to culinary school, I learned how to make Danish and croissants from a fabulous cookbook, "Baking with Julia," by Dorie Greenspan. It's almost a coffee-table book, the photos are so beautiful, and it's got great step-by-step instructions.
Here are my tips for making Danish dough (assuming you have some familiarity with making pastry—otherwise, there's an Allrecipes article
that might help):
To lock in the butter, roll out the dough so there's almost a platform with thinner dough flaps surrounding it. You fold up the flaps to make a sort of envelope; there should be equal thicknesses of dough under the block of butter and over it.
The butter should be cool but not cold: you don't want it so brittle that it shatters when you roll it out, but if it's too warm, it'll ooze all over the dough and not layer properly.
After letting the dough chill and rest after a fold, I recommend pulling the dough from the fridge and letting it warm up slightly—about ten minutes—before you roll it out again. This lets the butter soften a bit so it doesn't shatter when you roll it. This is tricky, though: the dough starts getting more active as it warms up. You'll be fighting air bubbles if it sits out too long.
(Continued in Part II)