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I have a confession to make. My boyfriend, Amir, sometimes eats vile things.  As a case in point, on occasion he will devour greasy, textureless “pastries” you often see at your local grocery store, waning away in some dodgy deli corner.  Those things that dare to call themselves cheese danishes.  In Amir’s defense, he is perpetually busy  and a tireless hard-working entrepreneur.  He gets hungry.   He reaches for said things out of long-established habit.   I grimace and panic at the amount of preservatives and trans fats I imagine wreaking havoc on his body.  He amusedly waves greasy dough rag in my face.  I run.  We turn into spatting toddlers.  We laugh at our ridiculousness.  The end.

Recently, this scenario played out yet again and, instead of staring with intense disgust and seething in blind rage (yes, it drives me that crazy), I decided to do something about it.   I was going to give him the real thing- a homemade cheese danish. Granted, I’d never made a danish in my life, but I was certain I could make something better than that thing.  My first frenzied Google search for a recipe rendered a slew of instructions that required no dough preparation whatsoever but,  rather, the use of frozen puff pastry or crescent roll dough from a can.  Well, I thought, that can’t be right!  After flipping through many recipes, I settled on the Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking, a gift from my sister this Christmas.  There I found the answers.   The preparation of danish dough is exactly that of the dough laminating process you would use to make croissants, except with the addition of eggs,  more sugar, and a subtle hint of cardamom that drives me wild (I recently died and went to heaven and came back again in a non-Jesus way after making Dorie Greenspan’s Cardamom Coffee Cake).  Anyway, back to danish dough!  You literally fold a block of cold yet pliable butter (that you’ve beat into submission with a rolling pin) into a yeasted dough envelope of sorts and upon multiple foldings, rollings, and chillings (called turns), you have a package of multiple layers of dough and butter that create a light and flaky pastry that retains a bready interior upon baking.  Because butter plays such a significant role in the dough, I decided to use a high quality, low-moisture Plugra 8 oz. block of unsalted butter, which is also convenient for the butter packaging process- you don’t need to pound two 4 oz. sticks of butter together!  The handiest tool in this process was my ruler.   I have problems with squares and rectangles.  And counting.

For the filling, I wanted to add a little brightness to the rich dough while remaining somewhat true to the store-bought version in order to make something that Amir recognized as a cheese danish but I knew would taste loads better, so I decided on a citrus and cream cheese filling.

The result?  Buttery, flaky pastry to perfectly accompany your morning hot beverage of choice and a happy, trans-fat free boyfriend who loves him some homemade danish now. The flavors of citrus, cardamom, and butter are all pristinely clear.  These danish are not heavy in the least, and perfect for re-heating in the toaster oven (or conventional oven).  Most importantly, after a refresher course in dough lamination, I feel confident enough to say these will make a regular appearance in the “all I want to do is bake, and watch Lost in my PJs” Sunday morning routine.

Danish Pastry
This recipe makes enough dough for two recipes of 8 danish

Dough:

5 teaspoons active dry yeast (or 2 packages)

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup warm water, 105-115 degrees (I go by touch)

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

1 large egg, plus 2 large yolks, at room temperature

1 cup whole milk, at room temperature (2 percent milk works, too)

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading

Butter Package:

1 cup (8 oz.) unsalted butter

1/4 cup all purpose flour

Filling:

The filling recipe is mildly adapted from Ina Garten’s Easy Cheese Danish recipe

1 8 oz. package cream cheese, room temperature

1 egg yolk

zest of 1 lemon

zest of 1 orange

1/2 cup powdered sugar

pinch of salt

Pastry Assembly

1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water (egg wash)

1/4 cup coarse sugar, like turbinado (optional)

Danish Dough Preparation

1.  Sprinkle the yeast over warm water, along with a pinch of  sugar, in a small bowl.  Let sit until foamy (approximately 5 minutes).

2.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium speed, mix together the remaining sugar, the salt, cardamom, melted butter, eggs, milk and vanilla until combined.  Switch to the paddle attachment  on your stand mixer and add the yeast mixture and then the flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, while mixing on medium speed just until the dough comes together.  It will be a gooey, tattered clump.  At this point, your dough may too sticky to turn out onto your work surface.  If this is the case, you may mix in up to 1/4 more flour but no more.  (If you do not have a stand mixer, this dough is very easy to work by hand.  Use a whisk to mix the wet ingredients together and then switch to a wooden spoon once you add the yeast and flour).

3.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Pat the clump of dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick.  Place on a half-sheet pan and cover with plastic wrap.  Chill in the refrigerator for approximately 45 minutes (enough time for an episode of Lost, just in case you were curious).   A few minutes before you are about to take your chilled dough out of the fridge, make the butter package.  Place your butter on a clean counter (unfloured).  Whack the butter with a rolling pin until flattened and pliable.   Sprinkle the butter with the flour and continue to beat the flour into the butter.  Using your hands or the rolling pin, shape the butter and flour mixture into an 8×7 in. rectangle.  If the butter gets too warm during this process (ie, the butter gets at all greasy or mushy), wrap it up and stick it back in the fridge for a few minutes.

4. Retrieve chilled dough from the fridge and, on a lightly floured surface, roll it into a 10×16 in. rectangle.  With a short side (10″ side) facing you, place the butter package on the lower half, leaving a 1 in. border on all sides.  Fold the upper half over the butter and press the edges of dough together to seal the butter in the dough (no butter should be peeking out).  With the folded side to your left, roll the dough into a 12×20 in. rectangle.  With a short side (12″ side) facing you, fold the bottom third up,, then fold the top third down (like folding a letter).  You have now completed your first turn!  Return the folded dough to the sheet pan, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 15 minutes.   Return the dough to your lightly floured work surface with the folded side to your left and repeat the rolling, folding and chilling process 3 more times (for a total of 4 turns).  Once your 4 turns are completed, refrigerate the folded dough block for at least 1 1/2 hours or up to overnight before rolling out, cutting and shaping.

Filling

1.  Combine all ingredients together with a hand-mixer or stand-mixer until smooth.  Set aside while rolling and cutting the danish dough.

Danish Assembly

1.  Line 2 half sheet-pans with parchment paper.

2.  On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the pastry into an 8×6 in. rectangle.  Cut the dough rectangle in half lengthwise, and then cut each half crosswise into 4 squares to total 8 squares.  The dough thickness should be about 1/8 in.  Transfer 4 squares to each lined sheet-pan, leaving about 2 in. between each square.  Puddle approximately 2 tablespoons of the filling in the center of each square.  Tug on two opposing corners on the square to extend into little flaps for folding (your square will now look more like a diamond).  Fold one corner  to the center of the pastry, brush the end of the folded corner with egg wash and then fold the opposite corner of the square to overlap the first corner.  Press ends gently together to fasten corners.   Repeat this process with the remaining 7 dough squares.     Place the sheet pans in a warm, draft-free spot and cover loosely with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap.  Allow pastries to double in size, approximately 45 minutes.

3.  In the meantime, position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 425° Fahrenheit.

4.  Lightly brush the egg wash over the tops of the pastries and sprinkle with sugar, if desired.  One sheet at a time, bake the pastries until golden brown , approximately 15-18 minutes.  Transfer sheets to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely on the pan.  To store, place pastries in an airtight container and keep in the refrigerator.  They are best eaten fresh, but they can be kept overnight in the fridge and lightly toasted in the toaster oven (they just won’t be at their peak).