Tuesday, January 06, 2009
Two Danish Recipes: Results Compared
I normally make danish from the Williams-Sonoma recipe (cookbook photo inset), which I'm sure is a simplified version of a family recipe that took a few days. But because it seemed straightforward, I was inspired to try baking danish for the first time two years ago. My winning results helped me garner a baking job, and I'm therefore indebted to WS and a bit peeved at them for fostering my addiction.
The cheese filling from WS needed pepping up with flavoring — like lemon zest or vanilla or almond — but the dough is consistently tender with enough heft to carry any filling. While it's a pain to make at first — super sticky and unwieldy until the final shaping — it becomes the most compliant dough I've ever worked. It freezes beautifully, both shaped and unshaped, even baked off. I've used it to make cinnamon rolls and sticky buns, aside from every flavor of danish, and the final product always makes me look like a seasoned professional. It rises up flaky and golden, even if I've forgotten to thaw it completely or haven't the time to let it puff before baking. Just give her a nice coat of egg wash before baking or a brush of sugar water afterwards and I promise that this dough will not let you down. Ever.
But now that my pans and hands were more seasoned, I decided to step up to one of the complicated routes I see in every other book, setting my sights on Carole Walters' complicated Cheese Danish recipe. I say "complicated" because there are two pages of directions for just the dough, and then a few pages of fillings and two pages of assembly directions. But Walter offers advice for both hand and mixer prep, taking up a bit of space to do so.
The process of making the danish dough itself is similar in both books, but Walter's uses more butter and less flour in the packaging process. Right away, Walter's dough is easy to handle. To me it seemed more akin to croissant dough than danish, or at least how I like it.
Assembly was a bit overwhelming. In order to make the 24 cheese danish (using only half of the prepped dough!), I also needed to prepare six additional recipes. Yes, six. Cheese filling, danish pastry cream, butter spread, nut mix, sugar wash and a vanilla glaze. Each 4" square of danish dough received a daub of butter spread, spoonful of cheese filling and then a shaping. It puffed a little, then was poked and topped with pastry cream, brushed with egg wash, and baked. Baking went quickly, and then sugar wash sizzled over the tops as they set to cool. I was supposed to do vanilla glaze when the cheese had set, but decided immediately at the sight of pooled butter on the tray that they didn't need additional sugar or butter to be edible. (There was so much butter that I had to move them to a tray to stop the ew. It soaked through and entirely stiffened the parchment!)
The cheese filling was the very best thing about them, and I modified it by using homemade creme fraiche in place of the farmers cheese and sour cream. Fragrant with lemon zest, almond and vanilla, plus a bite of tang from the creme fraiche, it was just perfect.
The danish, however, I'll not be making. I have the second half of my recipe frozen right now, and I'm unsure what to do with it. I may recreate it without the pastry cream or butter spread, which oozed out onto the tray during baking anyway. The danish pastry did turn out croissant-like in texture, so it looked very pretty but it wasn't soft. It seemed more like a carrier for the cheese instead of a tasty part of the pastry.
Notes for the future
Make the Williams-Sonoma danish dough recipe, plus the alternate Walter cheese recipe for topping and the sugar wash, which made everything shiny in the waxed fruit vein. Mmmm.