The beloved has been asking me for years to make Danish pastries, but for some reason I have been dodging the challenge. I guess it was my first venture into the dough when I made croissants (which you also use for Danish) left me a little daunted. But 5 years has passed since then and a lot of baking has been through our kitchen, and this week the Signature bake on the Great British Bake Off was Danish Pastry which inspired me to face my fears and take them on.
The contestants in the show seemed to struggle with the challenge with criticisms for dry or under cooked dough, or fillings that weren’t to the judges taste. I love a challenge, me, so I wanted to see what the problem was. Well reading up the recipes it is obvious. These delights need time, and time on a competitive baking show is not what the contestants get. The dough needs to be worked cold (or else you don’t get lamination into it), and ideally it needs to be left overnight in the fridge to mature (for flavour), and the pastries then need time to rise from a chilled state (or else they rise too much in the oven and release all their butter and end up dry).
One of the things that I find a little frustrating with the Bake Off (I shall stay silent on the move to Channel 4 without the talent – let’s hope a much loved programme isn’t killed off or ruined), is when they set a task where frankly the bakers are being set up to fail. The final a few years ago where they had to make a tiered wedding cake in 6 hours was a case in point. The Baked Alaska challenge where they had to make their own ice cream and get it set within 6 hours on a baking hot day in a tent was another. This was one too, though maybe to a lesser extent.
Why am I saying this? Well the dough preparation involves the following:
- make the enriched dough and chill for 2 hours
- roll it out, place a pack of chilled butter on top and fold and then chill for 1 hour
- roll and fold and chill for preferably 1 hour (30 minutes at least)
- do the same 2 more times
- chill for at least 2 hours (preferably overnight)
- make up the pastries – that takes about 30 minutes
- allow to prove for 1 1/2 to 2 hours
- cook for 20 minutes
- glaze and cool
End to end the minimum time needed is 8 1/2 hours. Really it should be 6 hours up to leaving the dough it in the fridge overnight, and then another 2/12 hours in the morning.
Why all this cold? Well the dough needs to have layers in it by folding and rolling it with butter. Those layers you see in a croissant come from this, as the butter melting between the dough in the oven creates the lamination as it cooks. Everything has to be really cold when you are rolling or else the butter squidges into the dough rather than being layered through it. You will end up with more a brioche than a danish if you get this wrong. You can see what I mean in this cross section of my dough.
This then leads to the next problem which is the prove. You are doing this from cold so you need longer than you would normally need for a bread comestible this size. If you don’t give it enough time, the rise happens in the oven too quickly and all that butter leaks out rather than being held in the pastry, leaving you with a dry danish pastry. You will know if you have got it wrong because there will be butter oozing all over the baking tray.
There are a few other things to watch out for. If you are doing swirls like this and you want them all to be the same size, then you need to roll out the dough to the same thickness. That is harder than it sounds and as you can see from the pictures, you end up with very different sized pastries. You can use rolling guides which I use when rolling fondant, but that is only half the solution. The real problem is that the gluten means when you roll out the dough it springs back on itself. Rolling it feels like you are fighting a live animal that refuses to come to heel. The trick is to roll out the dough once and then leave it for 5 minutes before finishing it off.
Why? Well one very experienced baker explained to me that bread dough has 2 properties driven by the gluten molecules. When you first manipulate it, the molecules tighten up making the dough very springy. If you then leave it for 5 minutes to “relax” the tightening stops and you can roll out the dough into the shape you need. I really need to consult my scientist friend Paul for the science behind this, but as a technique it works. It is a technique that is important for this, and also if you are doing a plaited loaf like Chollah.
There is not much else to add at this stage. Oh yes – what you see here used just half of the dough in the recipe below. I really didn’t anticipate I would get so many pastries which 2 of us should not be eating on our own if our waistlines are not to explode any more than they have. Fortunately the finished dough can be frozen for at most a month, so the other half of the dough is going in the freezer so I can do some different one’s next week when my mother comes to stay. Some other shapes shall be tried I think, and I have a yen for Apricot ones.
And the result. He Who Shall be Obeyed was delighted. They were tasty and I have to say rather good. The inconsistent size would have been criticised as “Informal” by La Berry (great baking goddess that she is), but I managed to avoid the undercooking and dryness that the other contestants in GBBO fell victim to (but then I had plenty of time). So all in all a successful bake with a bit of room for improvement.
For the Dough
- 500g strong white flour
- 10g dried yeast
- 10g salt
- 50g caster sugar
- 1 large egg (55g worth)
- 250g semi skimmed milk
- 250g good quality unsalted butter (I use La President)
For the Pastries and Filling
- 1 egg for glazing before the bake
- Apricot Jam for glazing after the bake
- Creme Patissiere – you can find the recipe here
- A handfull of sultanas
- Ground Cinnamon
Prepare the Dough
- combine the flour, yeast, salt, sugar, egg and milk in a bowl, bring together and then kneed for 10 minutes until elastic
- wrap in cling film and chill for 2 hours
- take a pack of fridge cold butter, place it between 2 sheets of grease proof paper, and flatten using a rolling pin to a rectangle 15cm wide and 35cm long (you can take out all you frustrations on this one !)
- put in the fridge
- take the dough out the fridge and roll into a rectangle 50cm long and 20cm wide
- place the slab of butter on top of the dough at the far end
- fold the uncovered part over the top of the butter
- fold the butter and dough back over the top ( you now have 3 layers of dough and 2 layers of butter)
- seal the edges and put back in the fridge wrapped in cling film for an hour
- take the dough out the fridge
- place the end that was folded on top last time so it is facing to the right,
- press down gently on the dough with your rolling pin to start to flatten it
- roll out to a piece 50cm long and 20cm wide
- fold the top third over, and then the bottom third on the other (so you have 3 years
- place back in the fridge
- repeat the roll and fold twice more
- put back in the fridge for at least 2 hours, preferably over night
Make the Fillings
- while all this is happening this is a good time to make any fillings (provided they will keep overnight)
Make the Pastries
- Divide the dough in half (you can use the other half for croissants or different pastries)
- Roll out the dough to a square piece about 30cm by 30cm
- Spread the Creme Patissiere over the dough leaving a bare strip at the end
- Scatter with sultanas
- Sprinkle cinnamon over the mixture
- Roll up the dough towards the bare patch at the end
- Slice into pieces 1.5 to 2cm wide (you need a sharp knife or use dental floss like a cheese wire as the dough is very squidgy and gets misshapen easily)
- Place on a baking tray and cover with a tea towel
- Allow to rise for 1.5 to 2 hours until increased in size by about 50%
- Once risen you need to glaze the pastries
- beat an egg until white and yolk are fully combined
- brush over the top and sides of the pastries
- Bake in the oven at 200C/ 180C fan for 20 – 25 minutes until golden brown (watch out – the egg goes brown and you want to make sure the dough is cooked but not overcooked – this is a matter of minutes I am afraid)
- While cooking melt 4 or 5 tbsp of apricot jam in a pan and push through a sieve to take out the bits
- When the pastries come out to the oven, brush the melted jam over them to give them a beautiful sheen (you can see the difference it makes in one of the pictures)
- Allow to cool