17-44: Homemade Danish Pastries

Strap in ladies and gents, this one’s a long one. As part of my Mother’s Day brunch this year (MD2017), I thought I’d raise the bar and attempt some of the harder ones in the book–nothing impresses your mother like showing her you can cook (and bake). My mom LOVES pastries, so I made her 17-44: Homemade Danish Pastries to nosh on while I worked on trying to serve up 5-4: Eggs Benedict. Luckily, these turned out better than my hollandaise sauce attempt did.

Obviously, mine look a bit different than what’s pictured on their card–we’ll get into all the decisions and pitfalls that led to that being the case after the jump.

Again with the cake yeast. This time (knowing what I was looking for) we went to several stores, and NO ONE carried cake yeast. Apparently, it’s a seasonal thing around here–you can only get it regularly around the winter holidays when everyone’s baking. It doesn’t last long and not too many people use it, so I guess it makes sense from an inventory standpoint to only carry it when you know you’ll move it.  If you want to read more about my past adventures with (or without) cake yeast, read 17-48: Buttery Vanilla Rolls

Ingredients. Swapped active-dry yeast for cake yeast and decided to make a fruit version alongside the vanilla ones, so I picked out one of my favorite types of preserves for it (you can tell we buy a lot of those because I use the empty jars for EVERYTHING). I had bought dark chocolate to drizzle on top as suggested in Step #8, but ended up saving it for topping 17-23: Mocha Eclairs instead.

Blooming the active dry yeast. The milk doesn’t need to be cold if you’re going to use this kind of yeast instead of the cake version–but you don’t want it to be too hot either or you’ll kill your yeast. I actually had to go buy new packets of yeast for this meal, since the jar I kept in the fridge seemed to not be working well when I was making English muffins for 5-4: Eggs Benedict (they weren’t rising).

Can’t mix the dough much more quickly than with a food processor fitted with a dough blade.

I call this a “tonger”. That’s not what it’s ACTUALLY called (it’s a coil whisk), but one of my very first jobs in the kitchen when I was a little kid and would help my mom was to beat the eggs (in a Pyrex measuring cup just like this) with one very similar to this one. I gave it that name back in the late 1980s, and that it what it will always be to me.

I even had that original one from when I was a kid all the way up through most of college–an ex-roommate of mine made off with it when we were divvying up our stuff while moving out of our shared apartment at the end of junior year. I still have his colander though, so I suppose we’re even.

Mix your wet ingredients together, your dry ingredients together, and then combine the two.

Wrapped the dough with my trusty Costco wrap (I bought this box when we moved in almost 3 years ago, and it’s still going strong) and stuck it in the fridge to chill.

I tried to choose the least “chemical-ish” pudding for the filling–even the idea of using this one wasn’t my first choice. Ideally it should probably be a custard filling, but considering the difficulty level and time expended on the rest of this brunch, I let it go–mostly.

did however decide that I had to add something to it, so I started considering what I could do with some old tea I had. I wanted to make the pudding tea-flavored–perhaps I could make a tea-flavored glaze so I don’t thin the pudding itself out too much?

Tasted the pudding after it set up–seems like pudding, consistency looks good. However, I don’t know if it can take hot tea being stirred into it, so I’ll have to find another tea delivery method–glaze it’ll have to be.

Made the tea glaze to drizzle on the vanilla pudding pastries–it’s a similar process as making simple syrup, just using tea instead of straight water. I made about 2 cups of tea and then reduced that down with sugar until it was about half the volume.

While the glaze cooled and thickened, I let the “tea bag” sit in it to steep the flavor in even more.

This “Coco Truffle” tea was from a beautiful set I had received as a gift from a student during my teaching days (so it’s gotta be at least 5-6 years old at this point). I’ve consumed most of them by now, but I had a few odd flavors hanging around that I never could figure out what to do with. Chocolate tea never sounded great to drink, but it sounds AMAZING as a complementary flavor to glaze over a vanilla pudding-filled Danish pastry.

When they mean roll it to 1/16″ thickness, they mean it. If you want those thin, buttery, flaky layers, you have to do it. I didn’t pay attention to that as much when I made 17-1: Croissants, and they definitely could have been better if I had really followed that. I even bought myself a new rolling pin after this to ensure that I can measure without having to bust out the ruler.

Thin slices of butter are for real too–big chunks of butter are going to get you big gaps in your layers. It needs to be COLD butter too–warm butter will NOT yield the right results.

Even these butter slices could have been thinner, but we’ll go with that for now.

Delicate folds, even more delicate rolling to keep the butter slices from moving around and squishing out.

Using the ruler again to make sure I’m at 1/2″ thickness. Keeping the aspect ratios somewhat similar (straight lines as opposed to squiggly ones) helps keep things even as well.

Folds upon folds. I repeated this process twice more (including chilling).

After three rounds of folding/rolling/chilling, it’s ready for the cut. You can see the layers in the dough–like rings on a tree trunk.

I let it go long like this since that seemed to work best for the counter space I was working on–a pastry bench would be similar (except wooden).

I cut them as evenly as I could given the oblong shape I was working with–I had a few weird triangle shapes I combined into rough squares.

I totally missed the boat on their “envelope” folding method–instead I did a pinched “bowl” type thing that I thought would work out okay. The pinches didn’t stay together all that well, but I also overfilled them.

“Bowls” filled with preserves. I admit now–I filled them way too much. I had used like 2/3 of the jar for these and the fridge was bulging at capacity so I just topped them off. Probably should have just let them be.

My favorite proofing spot–on top of the fridge. Warm, dry, and away from pets/disasters.

Topped the vanilla ones with my tea glaze–squirt bottles are the best for this kind of stuff.

Tried to fill them up as much as possible–we’ll see what happens after a trip through the oven. Notice–I totally forgot to egg wash them, this is when I would have done it.

Like I said, the pinches didn’t stay together all that well. However, while not picture-perfect I think they’ll work.

These were…less attractive. Told you I overfilled them.

At this point I was ready to call them done–and then remembered I forgot another step: the glaze.

I had staged the pictures and everything when I realized I skipped the glaze stage–luckily that one’s easier to go back and fix than the egg wash problem. I used a disposable pastry bag to do this drizzle, but a regular Ziploc with the corner cut off will work just as well.

Setting up your glazing station with a cooling rack set into a sheet pan makes clean-up afterwards much easier–just another perk of buying standard-sized cooking equipment. No matter when or where you buy it, if it’s standard sizes (in this case half-sheet pan sized) it’ll always work well together.

You know what makes me the happiest about this (besides the fact that my mother didn’t believe that I had made the pastries when she first saw them)? I FINALLY got to use my impulsively-purchased lobster tray from IKEA. You can’t see the lobster under all the pastries, but it’s there.

I also got to use a coffee set I got from my grandmother that HAS to be at least from the 1960s or 1970s–my dad didn’t even remember her having it and it’s SO not her style–but it is mine. I’ve used a cup here or there, but never the full set including matching coffee pot. Here’s a glimpse of the table (complete with loosely-wrapped pastries) before my parents arrived–I’m a sucker for brown, blue, and orange together.

Grade: A

Interested in the other dishes that I made for this year’s Mother’s Day brunch? (MD2017)