Many people think of any morning sweet roll as a “Danish.” According to master baker Nancy Silverton, co-owner of La Brea Bakery in Los Angeles, a true Danish is made with a particular style of yeasted dough, richly layered with butter and fragrant with cardamom and nutmeg. As with doughnuts, a homemade version is a revelation, well worth the bother for special occasions. The multiple steps can be slowed down over several days to better fit into your schedule.
Game plan: Danish pastry benefits from a minimum of strokes and handling. If at any time the butter feels soft and squishy, immediately put the pastry in the refrigerator for a few minutes, long enough to firm it again. If the butter melts into the dough before baking, you won’t get the multiple layers that distinguish this pastry.
1Prepare the pastry. If you’ve ever made a croissant dough, this is somewhat similar, but with less butter and more sugar, resulting in a softer pastry. Combine the yeast, milk, egg, and sugar in a large mixing bowl and let stand for a few minutes, until the yeast foams.
2Place the flour, salt, cardamom, and nutmeg in a food processor, and pulse twice briefly to combine. Scatter the butter bits over the flour. Pulse quickly, in about 8 little bursts, just enough to submerge the butter and break it into chunks about half the size of what you started with. Spoon the flour-butter mixture into the yeast mixture and gently and quickly combine the two, just enough to moisten the dry ingredients. Stop while you still have a very lumpy mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to a couple of days.
3You’ll need a ruler for the next steps of rolling and turning and rolling some more. A dough scraper is helpful too. The steps are a little finicky but not as difficult as often portrayed and should be executed without hesitation. Lightly flour a work surface, marble if you have it, and spoon the dough out on it. Sprinkle the dough and your hands lightly with flour. Pat the dough into a thick square, then roll it out into a square of about 16 inches. Fold the dough over itself in thirds, like a business letter being prepared for an envelope. Turn it so that the closed fold is on your left.
4Roll the dough back out again (add a bit of flour to the surface or rolling pin as needed), this time into a long narrow rectangle about 10 × 24 inches. Again, fold the dough over itself in thirds. Position again so that the closed fold is on your left. Roll this time into a 20-inch square, then repeat the folding and positioning. Roll again into a long narrow 10 × 24-inch rectangle. Fold in thirds one more time. Wrap in plastic and return to the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes and up to a couple of days. (If you prefer, the dough can be double-wrapped and frozen for up to a month. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before proceeding.)
5When you are ready to shape and fill the pastry, prepare the filling. Combine the cheese and confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl, stirring until smooth. Mix in the egg yolk, lemon zest, vanilla, and salt.
6Cut the dough in half and keep one portion chilled. Flour a work surface and the top of the dough you’ll work with first. Roll the pastry out into a 10 × 20-inch rectangle. Use your ruler again. Exactness counts here. With a pizza cutter or sharp thin knife, trim off any uneven edges, then cut the rectangle into eight 5-inch squares.
7Turn the first square so that you have a diamond. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of filling from the top point down to the bottom point. (Don’t take the filling quite to the edge.) If you wish, dribble a teaspoon or two of preserves over the cheese filling. Bring the left and right sides up over the filling, pressing gently to seal them at the center. You will have a little open-ended tube. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Arrange on two greased baking sheets spaced about 2 inches apart.
8Make the egg wash, whisking together the egg white with 1 teaspoon water. Brush the mixture over the dough. Sprinkle with sugar crystals. Set aside to rise in a warm, draft-free spot until soft and puffy, about 30 minutes.
9Preheat the oven to 400°F. Bake the Danish for 20 to 23 minutes, until golden brown and crisp. Cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then carefully transfer to a rack to cool further. Serve warm or at room temperature.
This recipe, while from a trusted source, may not have been tested by the CHOW food team.