The story of Danish pastry takes up where the history of Viennoiserie leaves off. In fact, what we call Danish pastries are known in Denmark as wienerbrød, or “Vienna bread.” That’s because, in 1850, bakery workers in Denmark went on strike, so bakery owners hired bakers from Vienna. They brought with them recipes for their traditional pastries made with yeast dough that has been layered with butter in what we now call laminated dough. By the time they went back to Austria, these pastries had become so popular that Danish bakers began making them, too. But Danes put their own spin on the Austrian recipes, adding even more butter and eggs to make it an enriched laminated yeast dough. Eventually, Danish immigrants brought these recipes with them to the U.S., which is why we call them Danish to this day.
The key to a pastry that is crispy on the outside and light, airy and buttery on the inside is all in the lamination. Lamination is the process of folding butter into dough, rolling it out and folding it again, over and over, to create micro-thin layers of dough and butter so that, when it bakes, the moisture in the butter evaporates, creating air pockets that give the pastry a light and flaky texture. Each time the dough is rolled out and folded is called a turn. There are three main types of folds used in laminating pastry dough: a single fold, letter fold and the book fold. They each result in a different number of layers with every turn.
There’s a formula to figure out how many layers you’ve achieved with each of the different folding techniques. For instance, with the letter fold, which I use, after rolling out the dough, you place on top of it a slab of butter that is 2/3 the length of the dough (see photo, below). By folding the top third down over the butter and then folding the bottom third up, you create five layers in this order: dough, butter, dough, butter, dough. (This first turn is called the lock-in.) Each time you roll it out, you repeat the same technique of folding the dough in thirds, tripling the number of layers, but you end up with a double layer of dough where it is folded over on itself. So with each turn, you’re tripling the number of layers, minus two.
Here’s the formula for the dough I made, with four turns following the initial lock-in:
- Lock-in: (5 x 3) – 2 = 13
- 1st turn: (13 x 3) – 2 = 37
- 2nd turn: (37 x 3) – 2 = 111
- 3rd turn: (111 x 3) – 2 = 109
- 4th turn: (109 x 3) – 2 = 325
If you don’t want to do the math yourself, you can use this handy calculator created by Ukrainian engineer Volodymyr Agafonkin here.
The brief for this challenge was to make two types of breakfast Danish, 12 of each. I decided to make one sweet and one savory, like Candice did. The sweet one is a simple pastry braid enveloping a layer of sliced apples and almond paste. For the savory one, I tried to reproduce the spinach and artichoke soufflé that I love to order at Panera Bread when I go there for breakfast. It’s like a puffy omelet flavored with spinach, artichoke hearts, a four-cheese blend, onion and bell pepper nestled in a soft bed of puff pastry.
After making the dough following Paul Hollywood’s recipe, I left it in the fridge to rest overnight. The next day, I assembled and baked the pastries.
Apple and Almond Braids
For the apple braid filling, I peeled and sliced a few Granny Smith apples, then made the almond paste from this recipe. I brushed the apples with lemon juice and set them aside while I prepared the dough.
Taking half of the dough out of the fridge, I rolled it into a 16-by-12-inch rectangle, which I cut into 12, 4-inch squares. Using a pizza cutter, I made marks half an inch apart down opposite sides of each square and used those marks as guides to make horizontal cuts, leaving a 1-inch column down the center of the square uncut (see photo, above). I rolled about half a tablespoon of almond paste into a 4-inch rope and placed it down the uncut center of one square. On top of that I placed a row of apple slices, overlapping each other like shingles on a roof.
I brushed the apple slices with melted butter and sprinkled them with cinnamon and sugar before bringing the cut strips from each side of the pastry square into the center of the row of apples, overlapping the strips of dough at the center so they look like a lattice braid (see photo, above). I repeated that with the rest of the pastry squares.
After letting them proof for about an hour, I brushed the apple braids with egg wash and baked them at 375°F for about 20 minutes, until they were golden brown. While they were still warm, I brushed them with some apple jelly that I had softened in the microwave.
Four-Cheese Spinach Artichoke “Soufflés”
To prevent the pastries from sticking to the muffin tin in which I planned to bake them, I lined the tin with these tulip-shaped parchment paper cupcake liners. I rolled out and cut the second half of the pastry dough like I did the first — into 12, 4-inch squares — and put one square in each of the paper liners, keeping the corners of each square pointing upward and pressing the dough into the liners. Then I left them to proof while I made the filling.
I started with this recipe for a “copycat” Panera four-cheese soufflé and adapted it based on the ingredients list on Panera’s website. After sautéing the vegetables, I made a béchamel sauce and stirred in the Neufchâtel cheese until it melted. Then I whisked the eggs with the béchamel, added the cheeses and vegetables, and spooned the mixture into the center of each puff pastry square. I then folded the corners of the pastry toward the center of the egg mixture and brushed the outside with egg wash. These pastries baked for 15-20 minutes at 400°F, until they were golden brown and the egg mixture was set.
Both turned out very good. Were the savory pastries as good as Panera’s? They were probably more bready than Panera’s — next time, I might roll them out thinner or dock the bottom of the pastry with a fork before adding the egg mixture so they don’t rise as much, but the flavor profile was spot on!
These two pastries could be served side by side at a brunch, or they make great grab-and-go breakfast options. I shared a few with our neighbors, but my husband and I had no problem finishing off the rest. Both pastries keep well in an airtight container in the fridge for two or three days.
Danish Pastry Dough
(Adapted for American bakers)
- In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt, yeast and eggs. Add the milk and half the water. Stir to combine. Add enough remaining water to bring the dough together, then start folding the sides of the dough into the middle for 1 minute. Continue to fold in the sides of the dough for another 3 minutes, turning the bowl 90 degrees each time.
- Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes, until smooth. Place dough back into the bowl, cover and leave to rise until at least doubled in size.
- Flatten the butter into a rectangle approximately 13×8 inches. Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 20×8 in. Place butter on bottom 2/3 of dough. Fold top third down over the butter, then fold the bottom third up. You now have two layers of butter and three layers of dough. Wrap in parchment paper and chill for at least 30 minutes to an hour.
- Unwrap the dough and turn 90 degrees, roll out again and repeat the folding. Chill for 30 minutes to an hour, then repeat the rolling, folding and chilling three more times. Then wrap dough again and leave in fridge overnight.
- Continue with recipes below.
Apple and Almond Braids
For the almond paste:
- 1 c. almond flour
- ¾ c. powdered sugar
- ¼ t. almond extract
- 1 egg white
For the pastries:
- Half a batch of Danish pastry dough (above)
- 3 apples, peeled and sliced thin
- 1 T. lemon juice
- 2 T. sugar
- ½ t. cinnamon
- 1 egg
- 1 T. water
- 1-2 T. melted butter
- 2 T. apple jelly
- To make the almond paste, combine almond flour and powdered sugar in food processor until smooth. Transfer to mixing bowl, add egg white and almond extract, and mix well.
- Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. In a small bowl, combine cinnamon and sugar and set aside. Prepare egg wash by lightly beating egg and water together.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a 16×12-inch rectangle. Use a pizza wheel or a sharp knife to cut dough into 12, 4-inch squares. Using a ruler, make seven marks, half an inch apart, down opposite sides of each square, and use those marks as guides to make horizontal cuts, leaving a 1-inch column down the center of the square uncut.
- Roll about half a tablespoon of almond paste into a 4-inch rope and place it down the uncut center of one square. Place a row of apple slices over the almond paste, overlapping them. Brush apples with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar. Fold dough strips over filling diagonally, alternating left and right. Pinch dough together at top and bottom of pastry. Repeat for all 12 squares.
- Place braids on the prepared pans. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and leave to rise at cool room temperature for about an hour.
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Brush pastries with egg wash. Bake in preheated oven for 15-25 minutes, until golden brown.
- Warm apple jelly in microwave until liquified. When pastries are done, transfer them to a wire rack to cool. While they’re still warm, brush with glaze.
Four-Cheese Spinach Artichoke “Soufflés”
- Half a batch of Danish pastry dough (above)
- 1½ t. olive oil (or butter)
- ½ small onion, diced
- ¼ red bell pepper, diced
- ½ clove garlic, minced
- 2-3 small artichoke hearts, diced
- 1 small handful spinach, chopped
- 1 T. salted butter
- 1 T. flour
- ½ c. whole milk
- 1/8 t. salt
- Dash pepper
- 2 large eggs, plus 1 more for egg wash
- 2 oz. (¼ c.) Neufchâtel cheese
- 1½ T. grated parmesan cheese
- 3 T. grated romano cheese
- 3 T. shredded cheddar cheese
- Prepare a 12-well muffin tin with parchment liners.
- Roll out puff pastry and cut into 12, 4-inch squares. Press each square into the lined muffin tin. Press down on the bottom and up the sides really well. Cover with plastic wrap and leave at cool room temperature for about an hour to rise. Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Meanwhile, make the filling: In a skillet, heat olive oil (or butter) over medium heat and add onion, sauté until translucent. Add red pepper and sauté until softened. Add garlic, artichoke hearts and spinach and stir until spinach has wilted and reduced. Set aside to cool.
- Place a heavy-bottom saucepan over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons butter. Once the butter has melted, whisk in the flour. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture bubbles and smells nutty, then whisk in the milk and stir until it has thickened. Season with salt and pepper. Remove pan from the heat and stir in the Neufchâtel cheese until melted. Leave to cool slightly.
- In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until light and fluffy, then whisk in the cooled béchamel sauce and the parmesan, cheddar and romano cheeses until well-combined. Stir in the sautéed vegetables.
- Spoon 2-3 tablespoons of the egg mixture over the pastry squares in the muffin tin. Fold corners of dough over egg mixture and brush with egg wash. Bake until they are golden brown, about 10-20 minutes or until egg is set and pastry is browned. Remove from oven and cool slightly before serving.