For the past couple of weeks, Anthony and I have been watching The Great British Baking Show on Netflix. Like many cooking shows, a set of people are chosen to show off their skills, and each episode, one person is eliminated if they don’t quite meet the standards of what the judges are looking for. Both addicting and dangerous, the show inspires the need to test out new recipes that may or may not turn out as pictured in the mind. (Google ‘Nailed It’)
What makes the show unique from other cooking competitions is that all of the bakers help one another out in times of need or lend a hand to help a competitor complete a challenge. Each person is humble with good sportsmanship and in many cases, competitors are genuinely shocked when they do well in the eyes of the judges. There is no ‘villain’, no drama, and no sabotaging and when somebody is eliminated they leave with a smile, appreciative of the experience.
Because I love baking and trying out anything sweet, some of the pastry competitions sparked an interest in me to try out something other than brownies or cookies. I wanted to do something that was more complicated and time-consuming to see if it would turn out. I’ve always loved breakfast pastries and had never actually made them, so decided that this would be the item in which I would try. After all, if danishes are ever an option on any breakfast menu or in the bakery of the local grocery store, they end up on my plate or in my cart.
Searching for recipes proved to be challenging. Most of them either called for pre-made pastry dough or canned pie filling. I wanted to do this completely from scratch, so I ended up having to go with several different recipes to get the completed outcome that I desired.
The recipe for Danishes that I found was from King Arthur Flour. It was definitely time-consuming but not impossible. Between making the Danish dough, rolling it, folding in the butter, letting set, more rolling and folding, more setting, cutting into pieces, and letting it rise before finally filling and baking, it was a lengthy process. Several hours at best, or overnight if you are not impatient like I was. Also, the Danishes recipe was rather large and I have a feeling it is meant for a restaurant-scale baking. Because it’s just my husband and myself, I really could have cut the recipe in half and been just fine. The recipe made 36 Danishes. On the bright side, I got to test out different fillings and our co-workers got breakfast one morning.
For the fillings, I made strawberry cheese as well as apple. They were made in three batches so that any adjustments could be done if one batch didn’t turn out.
The end result for the Danishes was exactly as I was optimistically hoping for. The pastry itself was flaky, buttery, and delicious and the fillings were also really good. They were not overly sweet with a perfect balance of buttery pastry to fruit filling to complement each other. Our only complaint was that there needed to be more filling, so on the final batch, I was sure to leave less of a ‘border’ and really bring the filling to the edge.
Knowing the time that goes into these now and what to expect, I will be making them again. They are perfect for the family, an office breakfast, or even to wrap up and freeze for whenever the craving hits.
*For this recipe, I used a Sil-Pin Rolling Pin. I’ve never been fond of wooden rolling pins, so I like how this one is not only silicone but also has some weight to it. It is easy to durable and easy to clean, so I know I will get many years out of it.
2 cups unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
4 teaspoons yeast
2 1/2 teaspoons salt; if you use salted butter, reduce this to 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cardamom, optional; for traditional flavor
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup cold milk
1/3 to 1/2 cup lukewarm water*
2 large eggs
*Use the greater amount in winter, or in a dry climate; the lesser amount in summer, or when it’s humid out.
Begin by cutting 1/4″ butter off the end of each of the 4 sticks in the pound; you’ll have about 2 tablespoons butter. Set them (and the remaining butter) aside. You’ll be using the 2 tablespoons butter immediately, but won’t need the remaining butter until after you’ve made the dough.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, yeast, salt, and cardamom. Add the 2 tablespoons cold butter, working it in with your fingers until no large lumps remain. This step coats the flour a bit with fat, making the pastry a tiny bit more tender.
Add the vanilla, milk, water, and eggs. Mix and knead to make a cohesive, but quite sticky dough. This is easily done in a bread machine set on the dough cycle; or in a mixer. If you use a mixer, the dough won’t completely clean the bowl; it’ll probably leave a narrow ring around the side, and stick at the bottom.
Scrape the dough into a ball, and transfer it to a floured work surface. Cover it with plastic wrap, and let it rest for 10 minutes while you prepare the butter.
Cut each stick of butter in half lengthwise, to make 8 long rectangles. On a piece of floured parchment or plastic wrap, line up 4 of the butter pieces side by side, to form a rectangle. Sprinkle lightly with flour, and cover with another piece of parchment or plastic wrap.
Gently pound and roll the butter until it’s about 6″ x 9″. The pieces may or may not meld together. If they do, great, they’ll be easier to work with. If not, though, that’s OK; don’t stress about it.
Repeat with the remaining 4 pieces of butter. You should now have two butter rectangles, about 6″ x 9″ each.
Roll the dough into a rectangle about 12″ wide and 24″ long. Don’t worry about being ultra-precise; this is just a guide, though you should try to get fairly close.
Place one of the butter pieces onto the center third of the dough. Fold one side over the butter to cover it. Place the other butter piece atop the folded-over dough, and fold the remaining dough up over it. You now have a rectangular “packet” of dough-enclosed butter. Pinch the open ends and side closed as best you can.
Turn the dough 90°, so a 12″ side is closest to you. Roll the dough into a 10″ x 24″ rectangle (approximately). Fold each side into the center; then fold one side over the other to make a rectangular packet about 6″ x 10″.
Dust the surface of the dough with flour, wrap it in plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes.
Remove the dough from the fridge, and again roll it into a rectangle about 10″ x 24″. Fold it into a packet as you did in step #10; it’ll be about 7″ x 12″. Roll one final time, fold into a packet, and flour the dough lightly. Wrap loosely (but completely) in plastic, and chill it for 2 hours, or up to 16 hours; we prefer the longer refrigeration, as it gives the dough a chance to relax and rise.
Before shaping the pastries, select your filling(s).
When you’re ready to make Danishes, remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it, and cut off one-third. You’ll work with this piece first; return the remainder to the fridge.
Divide the dough into 12 pieces. Roll each into a smooth ball, then flatten the balls into 3″ to 3 1/2″ rounds, making the center thinner than the edges. You want to build up a slight wall of dough all around the circumference; this will help hold the filling. Place the rounds on a parchment-lined or lightly greased baking sheet.
Working with one-half of the remaining dough at a time, repeat the process; you’ll finish with three baking sheets, each with 12 dough rounds.
Cover the Danishes lightly with greased plastic wrap, and let them rise for about 1 hour; they’ll become slightly puffy. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 400°F.
Use your fingers to press the centers of the dough rounds as flat as possible, leaving the “sidewalls” puffed. Spoon a slightly heaping measuring teaspoon of filling into the well of each round.
Brush the exposed edges of pastry with the egg/water topping; this will create a satiny, golden crust. (1 egg white to 1 tbsp cold water, beaten)
Bake the pastries for 15 to 18 minutes, until they’re golden brown. Remove them from the oven, and transfer to a rack. Glaze and serve immediately; or wait until they cool, then glaze.
To make the glaze: Whisk the confectioners’ sugar and salt with enough water or milk to make a “drizzlable” glaze.
Drizzle the glaze atop the pastries. Sprinkle with crushed nuts, if desired.