Danish pastry is a yeast variation of puff pastry, with buttery layers of light flaky crust filled with fresh fruit, fruit compote, dried fruit such as raisins or currants, custard, sweetened cream cheese or almond paste. The Danish shapes, as well as the fillings, are varied and up to the baker, although the international symbol for Danish bakeries is the pretzel shaped Danish called a kringle.
Based on the method for making puff pastry, it is important that the butter in the dough be cold and equally distributed to make the pastry properly rise and crisp as the moisture from the melting butter creates steam during baking. Work in a chilly room and roll the dough on a slab of marble to keep the butter from prematurely melting. True Danish always starts with the dough being spread with remonce, a creamed mixture of equal parts butter, sugar and nuts or marzipan, before the other fillings are added. Every recipe calls for a proofing or rising period of about 30 minutes before baking and Danish is always brushed with an egg wash and sprinkled with coarse sugar before baking.
This is the most common type of Danish found in American bakeries. It is made by spooning whole or pureed fruit onto one-half of a square spread with remonce and sealing the dough to form a triangle before proofing and baking.
Envelopes or Pockets
This variation on turnovers is most used for sweet cheese or lemon curd Danish pastries. After spreading a dough square with remonce and filling it, fold it from point to point, side to side and seal it. When baked, the pastry forms a crunchy crust over the half the filling, leaving half of it exposed at the top and bottom.
Although a bit more labor intensive, these pastries are one of the prettiest Danish shapes. With a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut a remonce covered pastry square from each corner to the center, stopping just short of the midpoint. Fold every other point into the center, overlapping each one and pressing each point firmly into the dough. After proofing, press the puffy center flat and fill rounded half teaspoon of jam or other filling before glazing with the egg wash and baking.
Other Types of Danish
Once you master the art of Danish pastry dough, you can shape it any way you prefer and make individual Danish or large ones to cut into serving pieces. Other popular Danish shapes include swirls, combs, squares, braids, crescents and horns. Fillings can be constant throughout the pastry or fruit, cheese and other ingredients can be mixed together or layered for added flavor and texture.
References and ResourcesBaking 911: Pastry 101: Danish
Saveur Magazine: "You Call This Danish Pastry?" By Karina Porcelli