How to Make a Proper Danish

I am by no means an expert on laminated dough. I have failed previously in feeble attempts to make puff pastry and croissants. Sometimes to the extent that I deserved to be beaten repeatedly with soap bound in a bath towel. The reason I say this is because every joe-blow showoff with a food blog inevitably comes to the point of displaying their mad skillz when it comes to laminated dough for the world to see. Without exception they condescendingly tout, “It is really not all that hard,” or, “don’t believe the hype, YOU can do this at home.” Bastards. Well I am here to tell you the truth, laminated dough IS slightly less complicated than, say, finding the area under a curve (wow, was that a Calculus joke?), but certainly more so than making your grandma’s marinara sauce. That said, it is within the realm of possibility, if one follows the recipe and instructions and one is willing to fail horrifically more than once to get the moves down.

I have it on good authority, that joepastry spent time in food service, doing nothing but making puff pastry from scratch (I believe to the tune of 40 lbs a day). He once gave me this advice: “The trick is practice makes perfect, there is no shortcut to that,” touché Mr. Pastry, you could not have spoken more truthful words. Bottom line: if you have $20 of butter and $2 of other ingredients, and a weekend to waste, even the most modest home baker will be able to conquer a “Viennoiseries” dough.

This is a sponge. It is a kind of pre-fermented dough and acts as a conduit to an extensive flavor profile of the finished dough. The additional flavor is a side effect of many and varied molecular reactions that occur as water slowly breaks down the protein structure in flour and yeasties act on their sugary goodness (mostly glucose and sucrose). I am no scientist and while I grasp the broad strokes of this process, will refrain from preaching about it and thusly making myself sound the fool.

Here is the recipe for the sponge used in this dough:

5.5 oz low protein (about 12%) bread flour, or AP flour (I used King Arthur AP flour)
3.5 oz water (around 70F)
1/8 tsp active dry yeast suspended in 3 Tbls of the above water
Pour the bread flour into a bowl, and use a spoon to make a well in the center. Add the water and the suspended yeast (washing out the yeast container several times with the rest of the water) into the well. Stir the sponge with something sturdy (I use a s/s bread knife), incorporating a little of the flour at a time. When it comes mostly together into a dense mass of stickiness, oil or flour hands and gently knead by hand into a uniform consistency. Place in oiled bowl and allow to stand covered at room temperature for 12-14 hours.

This is what a sponge looks likes after it has been at room temperature for 12-14 hours. Notice the bubbly goodness from the CO2 output from the yeast feasting and being flatulent little guys and girls (I’m not sure if they have a sex. I think they produce mainly asexually, so we’ll play it safe here and say they are androgynous in an 1980’s the artist formerly known as Prince kinda way).

This is the mis en place for the final dough. The recipe is as follows:

1 sponge (above)
12.75 oz low protein (approx 12%) bread flour or AP flour (I used King Arthur AP flour)
scant 5.15 oz milk (around 70F)
2 oz eggs
scant 2.15 oz sugar
3/8 oz kosher salt
1/4 oz dry active yeast, suspended in 3 Tbls of above milk
1 Tbls butter (around 70F)
8.5 oz butter for laminating the dough

Add the milk/yeast mixture and eggs to the bottom of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Throw in about 1/3rd of the flour and beat lightly with whisk to form a loose batter.

Switch the mixer over to the dough hook. Add sponge, salt, and sugar then turn the mixer on a low setting. Add the flour in 2-3 stages, waiting for it to be mostly combined before adding more.

Turn speed up to medium and mix for 5-6 minutes or until gluten develops and smooth-as-a-baby’s-behind-dough forms. At this point add the 1 Tbls of butter, chopped into small pieces, and allow it to become completed incorporated into the dough. I was a jackass and did not have my butter warm enough and ended up with some butter flecks in my final product.

Allow the dough to retard/sightly rise in the fridge for an hour, deflate, and allow to rise for another hour in the same fashion. In the meantime, cut the colder-than-room-temperature 8.5 oz of butter into 15 equal slices (good luck). Place the butter on a sheet of parchment.

Cover with an additional sheet of parchment, and CAREFULLY POUND (I know, I know, the adverb “carefully” generally is not used with that verb) the butter out into an even sheet. Once you have it working, feel free to roll over top of it a few times with the pin as you would with any dough. Try to keep it as even as possible, but refrain from having a nervous breakdown if there are some peaks and valleys (unless of course it looks like Mt. Everest, in which case put the butter back in the fridge, harden it, and try, try again). If the butter gets too warm at this point you will be well on the way to a setback requiring intervention (see last sentence) but certainly not yet a fail.

Once your dough has been risen and deflated, roll it out on a floured work surface. I used a silpat because I am a cheater. Try to keep it as rectangular as possible, preferably 3 times longer than it is wide. If possible play the following mantra over and over in your mind (I use a honky-tonk Kentucky voice) “Square off those edges there boy, SQUARE OFF THOSE EDGES!!!!!”

As you can see, my edges are pretty square. You’re damn right they are. Lay the pounded butter (again cooler than room temp) in the middle of the dough. Hopefully yours will come closer to the ends of your dough (I rolled mine a little thin – no matter), and fold the dough up into thirds like a letter.

Then, rotate the dough 90 degreees and roll it out again attempting to push the inside butter layer to the very edges of the dough (DON’T TEAR THE DOUGH) and fold it over in letter style, again. This is called a “single fold” in pastry making. Please Google that if my instructions aren’t good enough, there are plenty of good tutorials on the net about it. Mercotte comes to mind, but her blog is all in French (again, Good luck). Allow the dough to rest in the fridge for 1 hour between folds, repeat this process 3 times.

So now we go onto actually making the Danish.

Roll out about half of your dough to 1/4 inch thickness. I only used 1/4 of it and I ended up with a less than satisfactory amount of Danish (and the dough wasn’t long enough for my snake Danish). Cut off a strip or two along the top, the entire length of the dough and then cut into even squares (about 4 inches X 4 inches). I recommend doing this on oiled parchment, but I put it right on the granite, and suffered accordingly.

Cut in on a diagonal from the edges, like you’re trying to fabricate the upper left hand corner of the British flag. I used a pastry scraper, but a pizza cutter will work. Do not cut all the way through the center lest you should experience an epic fail.

Fold every other point into the center to make pinwheels. To make the snake Danish, take the long strips you previously cut, grab them taut by the ends, and smack it up and down on the counter top a few times to gently stretch it out. Holding one end down on the counter, twist the opposite end into a curly strand of dough, then wrap around the point you are holding with your other hand. The colloquialism “wrapped around my little finger” is appropriate. My “snake Danish” were too short because I didn’t use enough of the dough to ensure proper length. They were still quite tasty, but needed at least one more wrap-around. Allow the dough to rise for 1.5 – 2 hours at a warm room temperature (I put them on top of the pre-heating oven) and pre-heat the oven to 385F.

After they have proofed push down the center and fill them with jam or pastry cream or whatever you please. I used my homemade almond pastry cream and apricot jam.

Bake for about 13-16 minutes. My snake Danish were not quite big enough, they still look (and were) pretty damned tasty.

And the pinwheels were just awesome:

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