Danish? Danishes? Dani? From Baking Illustrated.
Having done croissants with favorable results, I felt I was ready to take my pastry skills out for a drive to see what they could do. The sourdough bread starter was still fermenting anyway, so why not, right?
The butter square on this one was smaller (only 5 inches square), and I started with butter out of the fridge and not the freezer. Goodness, what a difference! I also borrowed a technique found in another book where you use the end of your rolling pin to gently beat the butter into submission, er… get it started. Worked like a charm, and this time I remembered to square the thing off once it was wrapped in plastic.
The dough on the other hand, gave me trouble from the start. The book mentioned that the dough would be a little sticky, but unless I goofed and skimped on the flour (which I measured by weight), this dough was completely unworkable, even after several hours in the fridge. Not good. I kneaded in about another quarter cup of flour and returned the mass to the icebox for a second rolling attempt after lunch.
My second try was much better. I managed to get it rolled out (even a pretty good square) and wrapped up my butter square. The last time I made puff pastry, I was pushing it a bit to get it back into the fridge again before the butter/dough became too soft to work with. This time it was a snap.
After another turn set followed by a period in the fridge, the dough was ready for the final roll-out and braiding. The recipe called for the dough to be rolled into a 14 inch square on parchment paper. My first reaction to this was, “cool, what a great idea!” But I quickly found that the parchment paper was a royal pain in the rear. The problem was, most dough is elastic. You can roll it out just fine, but it will shrink back slightly. On a normal fixed and floured surface, this isn’t a problem. But for me, the parchment was buckling under my dough and causing all sorts of trouble. To make matters worse, the dough still stuck to the darn paper!
The sticking wasn’t terrible, but it was enough to complicate things during the actual braiding. In retrospect, lightly flouring the parchment might have worked. I tried to fix the corners of the paper with tape to reduce the buckling, but that stuff is designed to resist sticking (well… most of the time, obviously) and the tape just popped off. I’m almost tempted to just roll and braid on a floured surface and then carefully slip a sheet under the whole thing at the end. But if the dough did stick to the table, it would be disaster.
The braid itself was a little weird. You sort of end up cutting a pretty goodly amount of dough from the “front” of the braid in order to get the strips at an angle. Well, I’ve always hated wasting perfectly good dough, so I covered a bit of the “front” with strips made from the “extra” dough. It looked okay.
Baking went over very well, and the results out of the oven looked nicely puffy and crispy-brown. However, I think my Baking Illustrated cookbook seriously flubbed the amount by weight of the confectioners sugar needed in the glaze. 6 ounces of sugar compared to a measly 5 teaspoons of milk yields something that could barely be mixed, let alone brushed onto a pastry. I think they meant tablespoons perhaps. The icing (which called for a single tablespoon of milk, came out better. I have enough extra glaze for six such danishes however. Drat. What else can I cover with sugar?
Then there was the very long wait while the danish cooled enough to drizzle the icing. It sure looked good sitting there all delicious and warm… that was a very long hour. But it was worth the wait.
All in all, I think the danish could have used a few more minutes in the oven. It’s really hard to tell if your pastry is going to “puff” more, or just start burning. Even just a little “doughy” (my wife said they were perfect – but she’s biased) it was delicious, if not heavy. The cream-cheese filling really lent a nice compliment to the sweetness of the pastry and icing. I think that contrast could be increased even more though, with the addition of a bit more zest and lemon in the filling. Not bad for my first danish.