Danish Pastry

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Yield: 24 to 36 pastries, depending on size

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Did you ever wonder how artisan bakers make those super-buttery, flaky, light-as-air Danish? Here's how. Warning: this isn't a quick-and-easy recipe; there are numerous steps, including a suggested overnight rest for the dough. But if you follow the directions and take it one step at a time, you'll be able to claim a delicious new pastry for your baking repertoire. Note: We highly recommend you read the Danish Pastry blog post accompanying this recipe (see link at right), as it includes detailed photos of all the steps.

Danish Pastry

star rating (13) rate this recipe »
Hands-on time:
Baking time:
Total time:
Yield: 24 to 36 pastries, depending on size
Published: 02/04/2013

Ingredients

Dough

  • 2 cups unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
  • 5 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt; if you use salted butter, reduce this to 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cardamom, optional; for traditional flavor
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup cold milk
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup lukewarm water*
  • 2 large eggs
  • *Use the greater amount in winter, or in a dry climate; the lesser amount in summer, or when it's humid out.

Cheese filling

  • 1/2 cup cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup cottage cheese or ricotta cheese
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Fruit filling

  • about 1 to 1 1/4 cups jam, preserves, or canned fruit pie filling

Topping

  • 1 large egg white beaten lightly with 1 tablespoon cold water

Glaze

  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar or glazing sugar
  • 2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons water or milk, enough to make a "drizzlable" glaze
  • pinch of salt
  • crushed nuts, optional; to garnish

Tips from our bakers

  • Why all the rolling and folding? That's what gives Danish pastry its flaky layers. Each time you roll, fold, and roll again, you're creating more and thinner layers of butter — 128 layers, if you do the four "turns" indicated in the directions.
  • Feel free to serve pastries warm, right out of the oven; if you glaze them right away the glaze may melt and spread a bit, but they'll be delicious.
  • There are many other ways to shape Danish pastries than what we indicate here; for a visual tour, read our Danish Pastry blog post.

Directions

see this recipe's blog »

1) Begin by cutting 1/4" butter off the end of each of the 4 sticks in the pound; you'll have about 2 tablespoons butter. Set them (and the remaining butter) aside. You'll be using the 2 tablespoons butter immediately, but won't need the remaining butter until after you've made the dough.

2) In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, yeast, salt, and cardamom. Add the 2 tablespoons cold butter, working it in with your fingers until no large lumps remain. This step coats the flour a bit with fat, making the pastry a tiny bit more tender.

3) Add the vanilla, milk, water, and eggs. Mix and knead to make a cohesive, but quite sticky dough. This is easily done in a bread machine set on the dough cycle; or in a mixer. If you use a mixer, the dough won't completely clean the bowl; it'll probably leave a narrow ring around the side, and stick at the bottom.

4) Scrape the dough into a ball, and transfer it to a floured work surface. Cover it with plastic wrap, and let it rest for 10 minutes while you prepare the butter.

5) Cut each stick of butter in half lengthwise, to make 8 long rectangles. On a piece of floured parchment or plastic wrap, line up 4 of the butter pieces side by side, to form a rectangle. Sprinkle lightly with flour, and cover with another piece of parchment or plastic wrap.

6) Gently pound and roll the butter until it's about 6" x 9". The pieces may or may not meld together. If they do, great, they'll be easier to work with. If not, though, that's OK; don't stress about it.

7) Repeat with the remaining 4 pieces of butter. You should now have two butter rectangles, about 6" x 9" each.

8) Roll the dough into a rectangle about 12" wide and 24" long. Don't worry about being ultra-precise; this is just a guide, though you should try to get fairly close.

9) Place one of the butter pieces onto the center third of the dough. Fold one side over the butter to cover it. Place the other butter piece atop the folded-over dough, and fold the remaining dough up over it. You now have a rectangular "packet" of dough-enclosed butter. Pinch the open ends and side closed as best you can.

10) Turn the dough 90°, so a 12" side is closest to you. Roll the dough into a 10" x 24" rectangle (approximately). Fold each side into the center; then fold one side over the other to make a rectangular packet about 6" x 10".

11) Dust the surface of the dough with flour, wrap it in plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes.

12) Remove the dough from the fridge, and again roll it into a rectangle about 10" x 24". Fold it into a packet as you did in step #10; it'll be about 7" x 12". Roll one final time, fold into a packet, and flour the dough lightly. Wrap loosely (but completely) in plastic, and chill it for 2 hours, or up to 16 hours; we prefer the longer refrigeration, as it gives the dough a chance to relax and rise.

14) Before shaping the pastries, select your filling(s). We like to use a variety. Either of the filling suggestions in this recipe make enough to fill all the pastries; so if you want to mix and match, make a half-recipe of the cheese filling, and use only half the amount of fruit filling called for.

15) To make the cheese filling: Combine all of the ingredients, stirring until smooth. For the smoothest filling, process in a food processor.

15) When you're ready to make pastries, remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it, and cut off one-third. You'll work with this piece first; return the remainder to the fridge.

16) Divide the dough into 12 pieces. Roll each into a smooth ball, then flatten the balls into 3" to 3 1/2" rounds, making the center thinner than the edges. You want to build up a slight wall of dough all around the circumference; this will help hold the filling. Place the rounds on a parchment-lined or lightly greased baking sheet.

17) Working with one-half of the remaining dough at a time, repeat the process; you'll finish with three baking sheets, each with 12 dough rounds.

18) Cover the Danish lightly with greased plastic wrap, and let them rise for about 1 hour; they'll become slightly puffy. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 400°F.

19) Use your fingers to press the centers of the dough rounds as flat as possible, leaving the "sidewalls" puffed. Spoon a slightly heaping measuring teaspoon of filling into the well of each round.

20) Brush the exposed edges of pastry with the egg/water topping; this will create a satiny, golden crust.

21) Bake the pastries for 15 to 18 minutes, until they're golden brown. Remove them from the oven, and transfer to a rack. Glaze and serve immediately; or wait until they cool, then glaze.

22) To make the glaze: Whisk the confectioners' sugar and salt with enough water or milk to make a "drizzlable" glaze.

23) Drizzle the glaze atop the pastries. Sprinkle with crushed nuts, if desired.

24) Yield: 3 dozen 3" pastries.

Reviews

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  • star rating 03/22/2015
  • Lea from San Diego
  • My first attempt turned out wonderful! I put a little almond extract in the cheese filling, used cream cheese and cherry fruit filling on top of that, it was a winner for all who gobbled them up.
  • star rating 12/28/2014
  • Sally from MN
  • I think this is one of those recipes you have to try a couple times for perfection. My first try tasted fabulous, but my presentation could use a little work! Excited to add this to the holiday /special occasion brunch line up. Thanks!
  • star rating 11/23/2014
  • Carolyn from Wichita
  • This is a very good recipe, and I don't understand the negative comments. I had excellent results with everything but the cheese filling, which I made with the cottage cheese option and did not like because it was grainy. The laminated dough was very easy to work with, and although the whole thing seemed unusual to me, I followed the recipe and method exactly. While it does take 2 days (I chilled overnight and would suggest you do the same), it's not really labor intensive if you are beyond "beginner" stage as a baker, and even a beginner could manage this recipe, although it might take them more time.
  • star rating 03/29/2014
  • Dawn H from Mooresville, IN
  • I love the actual dough recipe but, I prefer to cut them in strips and do the twisting if the dough. Thus forming a circle from the center out, then tucking the end underneath. I make a depression in the center and add my filling. You could use apricot, blueberry, strawberry preserves, cream cheese filling or a homemade pineapple filling.
  • star rating 03/02/2014
  • from
  • Ok, I've made this twice now (and I've disregarded the instructions and feedback both times). I roll out the dough to just less than 1/4 ", cut 3" circles then cut egg white and sugar coated 18" X 1/2" strips of dough, twist it and wrap it around the 3" circles securing with egg white glue. Then I proof, dimple the centers, and continue with the recipe as written. Gorgeous Danish is the result. No blowouts or misshapen pastries, just perfect, beautiful results. Recipe makes 24 4" pastries using this method.
  • star rating 11/12/2013
  • Jessica from Lincoln, NE
  • 4 stars only because the instruction to ball the dough up for forming doesn't produce as nice of a pastry as just cutting and leaving as squares/rectangles. The flavor is wonderful. Having read the reviews I tried the recipe as written. I used 1/3 of the dough rolled out and cut into 12 roughly equal pieces. I took 3 pieces and rolled into balls and made circles as instructed. These 3 didn't puff as much so were denser. I did 6 where I folded the piece an additional time and roughly made them circle-ish. These puffed nicely, but lost their filling. The remaining 6 I simply left as whatever shape they were cut into, pressing the center thinner. These puffed a good 1 1/2 inches at the edges. A lot of work, but worth every minute. I think this is a recipe that will get better every time you make it.
  • star rating 10/24/2013
  • Scott Davis from North Slope, Alaska
  • While I agree that this is a very good recipe, I can't help but wonder why you'd deviate so much from the original Copenhagen? For all the steps involved in making a laminated dough, I'd recommend the base filling of marzipan cut with caster sugar and margarine, and do a two step glaze starting with apricot glaze. Isn't that much more work, and gives credit to the origins of the pastry. Just my 2 cents.
  • star rating 06/02/2013
  • from
  • star rating 05/07/2013
  • ChefRGreen00 from KAF Community
  • I made these tonight my filling variations were: lime curd topped with fresh blackberries, sweet cream cheese, dulce de leche, and sweet cream cheese with fresh blackberries. The dough was very easy to work with but the only problem I had was the bottoms browning too fast, I turned me oven down to 375 to prevent burning and I also brushed them with simple syrup as I was taught to in culinary school. These have a great flavor and texture, I will definitely use this recipe again with different flavor variations. Thanks for a great recipe!
  • star rating 03/16/2013
  • R.L. Wallace from New York City
  • Because a batch of folded pastries popped open during baking, this recipe tells you, in effect, that classical Danish pastries just don't work; and after you've gone to all the trouble of making a laminated dough, you are told to wad it up in little balls and squash them into mini-pizzas. That is just plain silly. This recipe repeats the flaws of the KAF croissant recipe: it tries for too many "turns" and too thin a lamination. Puff pastry can achieve 6 triple turns, for (theoretically) 729 butter layers; but laminated yeast doughs like Danish pastry or croissants are harder to roll out (more rubbery from the gluten, more moist), and their dough layers are made more fragile by the yeast action. One professional text says that "croissant dough is given a total of two and one-half to three [triple] turns, very rarely four turns, never more" (Bilheux and Escoffier, "Doughs, Batters, and Meringues," page 181); that means 27 butter layers (3 to the third power) or "very rarely" 81 butter layers. By contrast, this KAF recipe calls for 2 butter layers to start with, plus 3 quadruple turns, for a total of 128 butter layers -- almost 5 times the usual maximum! The almost inevitable result is that the dough and butter layers simply amalgamate, producing a baked pastry that may taste fairly good, but that lacks the flaky exterior and honeycombed interior of a well-made laminated yeast dough. Moreover, the refrigeration times between turns ("20 minutes," "another short rest") are way too short, at least outside a Vermont climate, and make a lamination breakdown still more likely; and the Cabot butter referred to in the blog, extra-easy to slice even when cold, is also extra-difficult to work with in this dough. The photos in the blog bear this out: the rolled-out dough with its 128 imaginary layers of butter looks more like rolled pizza dough (BlogPhotos54, top) and the limp pieces of cut-to-size dough are retracting badly (same, bottom). Instead, this dough should look exactly like rolled puff pastry: smooth and even on the surface, with cut edges that stay sharp. This recipe shares another flaw with the KAF croissants: the unbuttered dough is not given a chance to develop flavor through a pre-lamination rise. (Compare KAF's baguette recipe, with its overnight starter plus a 3-hour pre-forming rise.) No wonder this Danish recipe thinks a spoonful of "buttery sweet dough flavor" is necessary! As for the change in shape during baking, to some extent that is normal: my Danish envelopes (4 corners folded to the center as in BlogPhotos48) expand from 3 inches before rising to more than 4 inches after baking, and the corners pull away from the center somewhat). But the main culprit here is probably too much yeast, and instant yeast at that. KAF's croissant recipe, with the same amount of flour, calls for 2 1/4 teaspoons of yeast; this Danish recipe nearly doubles the yeast to 4 teaspoons. And because instant yeast is engineered to be extra-vigorous on the first rise, this one-rise recipe results in more yeast action, teaspoon for teaspoon, than a classical Danish recipe. Also, most echt-Danish cut-and-fold shapes involve pastry stuck onto pastry, like my 4-corner envelopes, the 2-corner variant suggested in another blog comment, or the cockscombs pictured here; expecting a dough with a double rising action (yeast and lamination) to stick to a soft, damp filling is mostly wishful thinking. It also helps to lightly moisten the dough and press the fold down very firmly, slightly indenting it. Finally, the fold is more likely to open if the dough is too thick for the length of the flap; for a 4-inch square of dough with its corners folded in, the thickness should only be about 3/16 inch. The yeast is not the only excessive ingredient in this dough formula; while the salt and sugar proportions are sound, the minimum amount of cardamom (1/2 teaspoon) is almost double what I use, and 1 teaspoon is ridiculous unless your cardamom is stale by several years. All in all, this recipe recognizes some of its own problems, ignores others, and solves none of them. It should never have been published.
    We appreciate how much time you've spent to analyze this particular recipe; I do, however, wonder if you have tried it yourself to see how it actually worked (or didn't!) for you at home--your review sounds based on how the recipe reads and what the pictures indicate in our blog. Should you wish to give it a try even considering the potential flaws, I'm sure we would be glad to know what your results would be. I have also forwarded your comments to our Web Team directly to share this information with them and see if we should take another look at this particular recipe (and perhaps our croissant recipe, too). This will certainly benefit us to know how to improve things for future bakers! Thank you for your feedback. Kim@KAF


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