The Danes did not invent Danish
Welcome September, and the beginning of the “ber” months. This is also when home cooks and bakers begin thinking about the holidays, and what creations should come from their kitchens.
I have already thought about soft, puffy pumpkin cookies loaded with white chocolate chips and chopped pecans.
Then there is a new cheesecake creation; toasted and ground pecans mixed with crushed shortbread cookies and butter to make a crust. A vanilla laden filling containing chopped pecans and toffee candy bits. Well, once made, maybe I will tell you about those, but for now, it is all about Danish which is not Danish.
Culinary historians trace the creation of Danish, specifically cheese Danish, to a number of sources in the Denmark and Austria regions of Europe. The Vikings (800 until 1050 AD), when celebrating an event concerning the tribal leader’s daughter, baked flower shaped breads for the occasion.
As flour, yeast, milk, eggs, and butter became more readily available, breads, rolls, pastries and other baked confections bloomed in ovens. Alright, side note, the French state
Danish pastries were invented, by French bakers, in the 1700s. It is claimed that Claudius Gelee, a French apprentice baker, who forgot to add butter to the flour, folded flour lumps into the dough to make it look like butter was added.
I cannot find a recipe from the 1700s, from France, but the recipes I have looked at need butter added to get the correct consistency to create a flaky pastry dough.
Therefore, I am leaning, origin wise, towards the creation of the pastry dough to Austria. In the 1840s, a “laminated” dough was created.
What exactly is laminated dough? Laminating dough is the process of folding butter into dough multiple times to create very thin alternating layers of butter and dough.
In other words, puff pastry. If you have ever eaten croissants, strudel or a Napoleon dessert, then you have eaten laminated dough.
In 1850, there was a bakers’ strike in Denmark, and bakers from many countries came to help the Danes. Austrian bakers, from Vienna, traveled to Copenhagen, and shared their pastry making ideas and skills.
The Danes, though, instead of using the same fillings as the Austrians, used a sweetened cream cheese, and the cheese Danish was born. Of course, once immigrants came to America, and introduced puff pastry, and the confections made with it, all sorts of new pastries began to be created.
Puff pastry contains a lot of fat, due to the amount of butter used. Yes, margarine, the hard stick kind, not spreadable, can be used. However, with the work involved in making the dough, do not skimp, and go for the quality. With all the work the dough is put through, the gluten strands get stretched and worked out throughout, so NOT gluten free.
An excellent alternative, to making your own, is buying premade from the supermarket. I do recommend Pepperidge Farm brand as I have used it for years, and it has never disappointed. However, if you want to challenge yourself, and make fresh dough, there is a very good recipe from King Arthur flour. Prep time is two hours, so that gives a good hint on the work needed to make laminated dough correctly.
My baking patience level has not reached that limit yet, so I use the premade, and here is my recipe for Cheese Danish. Individual squares can be made, braids, or squares and a braid; It is up to what you would like to serve.
Cheese Danish Ingredients
Danish: 8 ounces cream cheese, softened, 3 Tbsp. granulated sugar (or sugar substitute meant for baking), 1 egg yolk, 2 tsp. lemon juice, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, 1 box (2 sheets), thawed, 1 egg white
Glaze: 1 cup powdered sugar (or substitute like Swerve), 2 Tbsp. milk, ¼ tsp. vanilla extract.
Position oven rack in center of the oven. Preheat oven to 375F and line baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, sugar, egg yolk, lemon juice, and vanilla on medium-low speed until well combined, and smooth.
On a lightly floured surface, roll puff pastry into a 12 x 12-inch rectangle, cut into quarters, creating 4 squares. Brush the edges of the squares lightly with egg white. For the second sheet of puff pastry, either repeat with making squares, or roll out into 16x12-inch rectangle, brush edges with egg white, then cut 1Wx2L-inch strips along the long sides.
Spread 2 Tbsp. of cream cheese filling into center of each pastry square; fold two corners, diagonally over filling, then do same for other two corners. With the long sheet, spread 1 and ½ cups down the center, leaving one inch of room at top and bottom of sheet.
Create a braid: At top and bottom, fold down pastry over filling, then alternate strips across the filling, cross strip right strip over left, and repeat till reaching bottom.
Brush remaining egg white over tops of squares and/or braid. Bake for 15 minutes. Rotate pan, and continue baking, for another 15 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and puffed. Carefully move parchment paper to cooling rack. Let cool, for 5 minutes before carefully removing parchment paper. Let Danish finish cooling on the cooling rack; when completely cool, make the glaze.
Option: Spoon a tablespoon of fruit, fruit pie filling, curd (lemon, lime, passion fruit), or jam over cream cheese filling, before folding pastry over. Makes 8 squares, or 4 square and 1 braid, or 2 braids.
For the Glaze:
Whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla extract until smooth. Drizzle over the cool pastries before serving. Putting glaze on hot or warm pastries will melt the glaze into the pastry, creating a shine, but softening the crisp pastry.