Danish Dough, Part I

It’s jam season. Yesssssssss.

I recently made a batch of strawberry basil jam with a strawberry picking haul I got from Canton. (More on that jam in another post.) One of my favorite ways to use jam, besides just slathering on my morning toast, is as a filling for danish dough. Danish dough is delightfully flaky without being too sweet. In fact, it’s really not sweet at all, and takes well to savory fillings, as well, which means it tames the intense sweetness of jams, almond pastes, and other…sweet things. (I ran out of synonyms.)

I also like making danishes because even the “ugliest” danish impresses the hell out of everyone – no matter how mangled they appear before you put them in the oven, their flaky goodness, coupled with the help of an eggwash, makes them come out looking delightfully folded and golden brown. And danish dough makes A LOT of danish pastry, so it’s great for brunches and sharing, if you’re into that sort of thing. I sometimes am.

My work with pastries like danishes began with Beatrice Ojakangas’ The Great Scandinavian Baking Book. If you’re going to get yourself any baking books, this needs to be one of them. Her directions are straightforward, her stories are friggin’ adorable and wholesome, and the results are consistently delicious with everything I’ve made out of the book. (One doesn’t win a James Beard Award for nothing, y’know.) This recipe is adapted from her recipe.

I won’t lie – danish dough is time-consuming, and more advanced than a sourdough or slicing bread. It’s not hard, but it does have several steps, with waiting in between – you will need to prep the dough at least a day in advance due to the chilling and sitting times. But the work is satisfying, and the payoff is more than worth the effort and time. I’ll give you the version in pictures first, because dang, I wish I’d had it the first time. Full recipe sans pictures at the bottom of the post. Happy Danishing!

Ingredients:

  • 3 3/4-4 c flour, sifted
  • 1 1/2 c cold butter
  • 4 1/2 tsp active dry yeast (or two packages)
  • 1/2 c warm water (not too hot, remember – you just want a nice bath for the yeast to bathe in >:)
  • 1/2 c cream or evaporated milk (undiluted)
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten

Step 1: Measure the flour into a large bowl. Cut butter into the flour.

Step 2: Mix yeast and warm water in a bowl, and allow the yeast to bloom. Mix in remaining ingredients. Turn the flour-butter mixture into the wet ingredients, and mix until just combined. Allow to chill for at least 4 hours.

Step 3: Turn dough out onto floured surface (countertop or board). It should look like a lumpy mess, like so:

Using a rolling pin or your own frustrated hands, pound and flatten the dough until a rough “rectangle” forms, about 16 x 20 inches.

Yes, use a tape measure. You don’t have a tape measure in your kitchen? Fix that.

Step 4: Fold the dough into thirds, top and bottom, like a letter.

A board scraper helps IMMENSELY in this step, as the dough will stick to your counter. Do not be tempted to add more flour, as that will dry out your dough.
Fold the thirds on top of the middle third, like so. Yes, it’s ugly. That’s okay.

Step 5: Do it again – roll out the dough, measure, and fold like a letter.

Yep, still ugly. Still okay. Slightly less ragged on the edges.
And fold again. This time, it should look more like a square.

Step 6: Do it again – flatten, measure, fold. The idea is to get the dough into an even square, with no ragged edges, and to flatten the butter so it’s evenly distributed throughout the dough. You may do this 1-2 more times – just don’t let the dough get too warm or the butter will melt. Not a happy time.

It should end up looking like so. Wrap and chill this bad boy for at least 30 minutes, or up to overnight.

Got it? Neat! I’ll show you how to shape and bake it in the next post. Enjoy!

Starting Danish Dough, AKA Part I

You will need:

  • 3 3/4-4 c flour, sifted
  • 1 1/2 c cold butter
  • 4 1/2 tsp active dry yeast (or two packages)
  • 1/2 c warm water (not too hot, remember – you just want a nice bath for the yeast to bathe in >:)
  • 1/2 c cream or evaporated milk (undiluted)
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten

Directions:

  1. Measure flour into a large bowl. Cut the butter into small chunks and add to the flour. Using a pastry cutter, mix the butter into the flour until the butter is kidney bean-sized and even throughout. You can also do this with a food processor using the steel blade, but I rather like the physical labor of cutting the butter myself, and it’s easier to see that you’ve created small, even butter pieces.
  2. In another large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water, and let stand for 5-10 minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients.
  3. Turn the flour-butter mixture into the yeast-egg mixture, and stir the new mixture with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until just moistened throughout. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
  4. Lightly flour a countertop or large cutting board. Turn dough out onto the counter, and lightly dust the top of the dough with flour (it should be quite sticky). Using your hands and/or a rolling pin, flatten the dough to make a rectangle about 16 x 20 inches (yes, use measuring tape if you have it).
  5. Fold the dough into thirds like a letter, so that the top and bottom thirds fold over the middle. (Use a bench scraper if you have one – it’s a godsend for sticky dough!)
  6. Turn dough out onto the counter and roll again, as in Step 4. Fold the dough into thirds again. This should, miraculously, result in a pretty neat little square.
  7. Repeat the rolling, flattening, and folding 1-2 more times – you should see the butter flatten in the dough as a result, which creates the flakiness you want in a danish. Wrap and chill the dough for at least 30 minutes.

You now have danish dough to play with! The dough can be shaped and filled with many options, from jam to marzipan to Nutella – do whatever you wish! My favorite way to shape is in braided bread fashion, filled with whatever jam I’ve made for the season: Filled Danish Recipe

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