How to make Danish pastries

Pastry chef extraordinaire Catherine Adams shows how to make the ultimate breakfast treat, step by step.
Danish pastries

Danish pastries

Ben Hansen
21 pastries
1H 25M

There’s nothing like a crisp, buttery pastry with a cup of coffee for breakfast. I favour fruit-filled pastries, and Danishes are among my favourites.

It’s all about the flour

When it comes to the Danish pastry dough, all flours are not created equal. The protein content is important – it’s what forms the gluten that strengthens the dough, which should have a good balance between extensibility (its ability to stretch) and elasticity (its ability to regain its shape).

I use flour with a protein content of 10.5-12 per cent. A strong flour will give the dough strength to retain the steam created during cooking, which puffs up the layers before evaporating, forming delicate leaves of flaky pastry. Baker’s flour is a good option. Plain soft or cake flour has a lower protein content and will not hold up as well.

Be careful not to overmix the dough or the gluten will overdevelop and make it tough. Mix it just until it’s smooth, then refrigerate it to allow it to relax, wrapping it well so it doesn’t dry out.

It’s all about the butter

Using good butter in your Danish pastries is the key to achieving airy, crisp results. I prefer butter with a fat content (listed in the nutritional information on the packet) of about 82 per cent. The fat makes the pastry crisp and adds a rich flavour, and low-fat butter won’t produce that flaky effect. A bit of moisture from the water content in the butter, meanwhile, creates the steam that separates layers in the pastry.

When you’re forming the slab, the butter needs to be pliable yet cool – you should be able to mould it with your hands without it melting. Pull off bits of butter and piece them together on baking paper, then place another piece of paper over the top and roll over it with a rolling pin to even out the slab.

Step 2.

(Photo: Ben Hansen)

It’s important to keep the dough and butter cool so the butter remains firm yet pliable and the dough doesn’t start to prove as you roll it. If the butter is too hard, it will break through the dough and melt out. If it’s too warm, it will be incorporated into the dough and prevent the pastry rising evenly.

Folding the butter into the dough constitutes the first “turn”. From there, you need to roll and fold it two more times – it’s similar to making puff pastry but with fewer folds. Chill the dough between each turn to relax the gluten, and to keep it cool. And brush off any excess flour as you go to prevent the pastry drying out.

Step 3.

(Photo: Ben Hansen)

And some more tips to keep in mind

Always use a sharp knife to cut the dough so it doesn’t get squashed; compacting the dough prevents it from separating. When I’m making snails, for instance, I pop the rolled-up pastry in the freezer to firm up before I cut it into portions.

Step 9.

(Photo: Ben Hansen)

Eggwash burnishes the pastries to a rich golden colour, but be sure to brush it on lightly and evenly – if it pools it’ll prevent the pastries from rising.

While cooked or dried fruit is easy to use and tastes great, I sometimes substitute fresh fruit. Lightly caramelised apples are delicious in winter, as are chopped stone fruit or blueberries in summer.

Danishes can be made ahead, covered and refrigerated overnight, then brought to room temperature and proved the next morning. Uncooked pastries can also be frozen for up to five days. Defrost them in the fridge overnight, and then prove them according to the recipe in a warm place (up to 27C; the butter will melt if the temperature is any higher).

A glaze helps preserve cooked Danishes. Apricot jam warmed with a little water works well, as does a fondant glaze made by mixing icing sugar with a little water. Sprinkling them with a crumble-style topping of brown sugar, cinnamon, nuts and coconut is another tasty option. Any way you make them, I can’t think of a better way to start the day.


Pastry cream


1.Combine flour, sugar, 25gm butter (refrigerate remaining to chill) and 1 tsp salt in an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Dissolve yeast in milk in a bowl, then add to egg and stir with a whisk to combine. Add yeast mixture to flour mixture and knead to just bring together to form a smooth dough. Form dough into a rough 17cm x 12cm block, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate to rest (20-30 minutes).
2.Meanwhile, spread remaining butter on a piece of baking paper in a rough 38cm x 18cm rectangle, place another piece of baking paper on top, then roll with a rolling pin to form an even slab. If butter becomes soft, refrigerate to firm – it needs to be firm but pliable.
3.Roll dough on a lightly floured surface to a 60cm x 20cm rectangle, dust off excess flour, then peel paper from one side of butter slab and place on dough to cover two-thirds, leaving a 1cm gap at one end. Peel away remaining paper, fold uncovered dough over butter to cover half the butter, then fold the opposite third over that. This is your first turn. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate to rest (20-30 minutes).
4.Roll dough to 60cm x 20cm, then fold as before. Wrap and refrigerate for another 20 minutes, then repeat rolling and folding once more, turning 90 degrees to roll each time; this makes a total of three turns. Refrigerate until firm after third turn. At this stage, the dough can be covered and refrigerated overnight.
5.For ease of handling, cut the dough in half and roll both pieces to just over 35cm x 35cm (this is a little larger than you need to allow for trimming). Cut one piece into three 10cm strips and then into nine 10cm squares. Transfer squares and remaining large piece of dough to oven trays lined with baking paper, leaving 5cm between them. Cover and refrigerate.
6.For pastry cream, bring milk and vanilla to a simmer in a saucepan, then remove from heat. Whisk sugar and yolk until pale (3 minutes). Mix in cornflour, then whisk in a small amount of hot milk. Whisk into remaining milk in saucepan, then bring to the boil over medium heat, whisking continuously. Reduce heat to low-medium and simmer, whisking continuously, until thickened (2 minutes). Remove from heat, whisk in butter, transfer to a bowl, cover directly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until required. Whisk well to loosen before use.
7.For windmills, preheat oven to 180C. Make 2cm cuts from corners of pastry squares towards the centre. Dab centres with eggwash, then fold one point of each triangle over and press into the centre. Add 1 tsp pastry cream to the centre of each windmill, top with an apricot half and set aside in a warm place until doubled in size and pastry springs back slightly when pressed (30 minutes to 1 hour). If points release from the centre, gently press them into place. Brush pastries lightly and evenly with eggwash and bake until golden brown and risen (about 20 minutes). Cool on a wire rack.
8.For snails, spread remaining pastry cream over the large piece of pastry leaving a 1cm border and brush border with eggwash. Scatter raisins evenly over pastry cream, then roll into a log. Place in the freezer to firm up (5-10 minutes), then trim ends.
9.Cut log into 2.5cm-thick slices with a sharp knife and place them 5cm apart on an oven tray lined with baking paper, tucking a little of the ends underneath to stop snails unravelling. Set aside in a warm place until almost doubled in size and pastry springs back slightly when pressed (30 minutes to 1 hour). Bake until golden brown (20-25 minutes), then cool on a wire rack.
10.Meanwhile, heat apricot jam with a little water to loosen. Brush apricot glaze onto warm pastries and serve. Danish pastries are best eaten the day they’re made, but they can be reheated the next day in a low oven.

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