There is something about baking a pastry – a real, from-scratch, layered bit of flaky dough – that makes you feel like a total badass.
Let’s face it, pastries have a pretty formidable reputation. They’re certainly not in the “if you can boil water you can handle this” category. I’ve always had a huge soft spot for croissants, but there is another indulgence – the humble Danish pastry – that has a special, sentimental significance to me.
If there was ever a recipe for me to cut my pastry chef teeth on, this one had to be it.
See, this is another recipe that is near and dear to my heart. Like beef burgundy, my family has been eating these delicacies around holidays since I can remember. Perhaps even more significant, my Mom has been eating them ever since she can remember. When she was a kid, her next-door neighbor (the eponymous Mrs. B) would bring them over each Christmas Eve so that their family could chow down on them the next day. Before my parents’ wedding, my Mom had a kitchen shower where the guests brought treasured recipes to give to her. Mrs. B brought this.
So when, as I mentioned earlier, Cory and I were in the midst of forging our own traditions, these little gems were so in. I made my very first batch sans supervision this last Christmas (my previous foray being the year before when my Mom was visiting for Thanksgiving) and on the morning of Cory and I ate like royalty, feasting on the light, fluffy, and delicate (both in flavor and texture) yumminess.
I will warn that this is not the easiest recipe I’ve ever posted. In fact, if you lack the proper patience it’s probably actually the hardest I’ve shared thus far. So with that in mind, use a light hand when folding the dough – you don’t want to tear it. If it happens, don’t hesitate to pinch the dough closed and put the dough in the fridge since it will start oozing butter. So take your time, enjoy being a real-life badass pastry chef, and enjoy the end result even more!
Mrs. B’s Danish Pastries
From a recipe given to my Mom as a wedding present by her childhood next-door neighbor
Makes 2-3 dozen (depending on size)
Ignore the temptation to dump in three cups of flour and use your stand mixer! It is essential that you add the flour gradually and knead by hand so that you can feel the dough and know when it’s at the proper hydration level. Don’t use the same amount every time you prepare the recipe – things like humidity levels can make a big difference (I use 1/2 to 3/4 cups less flour
in Alaska vs. California). If you don’t, you’ll risk getting heavy, biscuit-like heartbreak
instead of a light and fluffy piece of heaven. Be ye not so hasty! Take your time!
When folding, use the coldest butter you can. Refrigerate or freeze the butter after slicing it and only remove it immediately before you begin working it into the dough. This will help prevent the butter from oozing.
If the dough tears and starts oozing butter, immediately return it to the fridge for about 30 minutes. Do not leave it in the fridge for too long because the dough will continue to rise (even in the fridge) and the dough could end up tearing itself.
If your dough is in really good shape go ahead and fold it a fifth time. Your pastries will be twice as flaky – it’s incredibly
noticeable (compare photos from page with those from this attempt
– I did five folds on both the batches I made that night and the flakiness was unaffected by the train-wreck mistakes I made in the day’s first attempt (see the first note above so you don’t repeat said train-wreck mistakes). Similarly, if one side of your dough is in bad shape and the other side is still looking good, go ahead and do the fifth fold as well. It will hide the flaws in your dough.
1 package active dry yeast
¼ cup water
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup butter
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon lemon extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1 2/3 cup flour
Additional 3 cups flour (approximately)
Additional 1/2 cup cold butter
2 cups powdered sugar
Several tablespoons whole milk
Chopped nuts (optional)
Dissolve yeast in ¼ cup water (105 – 115 degrees).
Scald milk by heating over low heat just until bubbles start to form around the edges and the steam escapes. Add salt, sugar, and ¼ cup butter. Cool to lukewarm.
Add yeast mixture, nutmeg, lemon and almond extracts, egg (beaten), 1 2/3 cup flour. Beat until smooth. Gradually add about 3 cups flour to make soft dough. (You might have to add the last of the flour by mixing by hand or in the kneading process). Knead until smooth, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover and let rise until double, about 1 ½ hours. While the dough is rising, cut the remaining ½ cup well-chilled butter into thin rectangles
Roll into a rectangle, about ½ inch thick. Mark dough, but do not cut, into 3 equal parts along the long edge. Dot center portion with ½ cup cold butter. Fold ends of dough over center. Pinch outside edges together tightly, rolling edges under slightly.
Roll the dough out to ½ inch thickness again. Fold in half, pinching edges, etc. Do this step a total of 4-5 times. If the dough gets too soft and butter starts to ooze out, place the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or so. Careful not to refrigerate for too long or the yeast will continue to rise and could tear the dough.
Roll dough into a rectangle about 6 inches wide and 1/3 to ½ inches thick. Cut into strips ½ inch wide. Twist the strips and coil them into rolls. Tuck the center into the dough just so it doesn’t bake too quickly. Place the rolls onto a greased or parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Cover and let rise 45 minutes or an hour or so, until “light”.
Bake at 450 for 8 to 10 minutes.
To make the frosting, gradually add enough milk (much less than you’d think – add it very slowly and gradually) to the powdered sugar to make a spreading consistency. Add a dash of vanilla extract if you’d like. Drizzle over pastries and then immediately top them with sprinkles or chopped nuts.
These can be baked (only for 8 minutes, or just until barely browning around the sides) and frozen before frosting. If you freeze them, let them thaw (it won’t take long), frost them and then put them in a 450 oven for a few minutes, until the frosting starts to ooze.