The Danes get a lot of credit for populating the world with pastry, but the whole idea for the fruity, sweet, and sometimes cheesy treats made with laminated dough was first brought to Denmark from Austria circa 1850, when foreign bakers were hired to replace striking local ones. Pastries made in the Viennese style caught on in Copenhagen, then developed into a national specialty, and finally headed west early in the 20th century to become a ubiquitous breakfast offering in diners and on breakfast tables across America.
Portable pastry expert, canning connoisseur and cheese lover Cathy Barrow, author of, among several other cookbooks, When Pies Fly: Handmade Pastries from Strudels to Stromboli, Empanadas to Knishes, has strong opinions about which fruits are suitable for the American danish set. “Peach is the wrong color, as is apricot, and those jams are often more pureed, anyway,” says Barrow, and a bit runny for a danish. “I think sour cherry is the best choice. After that, blueberry (wild, not big fat blueberries). Not raspberry, blackberry, or strawberry because their little, tiny seeds are not a nice combo with the smooth cheese filling.”
Ahh, the cheese filling! It’s typically cream cheese-based, sweetened with sugar, flavored with vanilla, and sometimes elevated with an egg yolk. Barrow says she could be convinced to use an alternative spreadable cheese—like sheep’s milk Brebis Blanche, fresh chèvre, fromage blanc, ricotta, or quark in her homemade danish pastries. But only if the texture in the resulting cooked filling remains the same.
To maintain that consistency, Barrow recommends keeping at least a bit of cream cheese in the mix. “It’s the secret glue for everything,” she says. How much is a bit? Well, as the recipe tester on three of Barrow’s books, I managed to get to the bottom of that question. With drier fresh cheeses like Brebis Blanche and supermarket logs of chèvre, you need to have 1 tablespoon of cream cheese to every 2 tablespoons of alternate cheese. For wetter fresh cheeses like fromage blanc, ricotta, and quark, you need to maintain a 1:1 ratio.
A couple of bonus danish-making deductions arose out of this testing. The first is that drier cheeses had a much more prominent tang than the wetter, fresh ones, which makes a nice counterpoint to the sweetness in the cooked fruit in the finished product. But if the fruit in play packs a sour note, you might want to run with more neutral tasting alternate cheese for a more perfect pairing. The second bonus danish revelation was that having powdery confectionary sugar instead of granulated sugar in any cheese base kept it from busting out of the rising pastry walls during baking. A neat and tidy danish is indeed a great way to start the day.
Velbekomme. (That’s Danish for “Bon appétit!”)
- 3 cups frozen pitted mixed sweet and sour cherries
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/8 teaspoon almond extract, optional
- 4 ounces chèvre, room temperature
- 2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more to garnish
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 (17.25 ounce) box frozen puff pastry dough, thawed in the fridge overnight
- ►Combine cherries, 1/4 cup water, lemon juice, sugar, and cornstarch in a medium saucepan and place over medium high heat. Stir gently until cherries release their juices and the sugar melts, about 2 minutes. Bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat to low and cook, stirring frequently until the liquid thickens, about 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in almond extract, if using. Cool to room temperature.
- ►Combine chèvre, cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on high, slowly incorporating sugar and vanilla, until creamy. Set aside.
- ►Preheat oven to 400°F.
- ►There are typically 2 rolls of puff pastry in one package. Lay out one roll on a silicone mat or piece of parchment paper. Divide it into 4 equal squares.
- ►Leaving a ½ centimeter edge, start ½ centimeter in from the corner and cut parallel to one side, not quite to the middle. Start from where you cut at the corner and make an L going down the other side but not all the way to the middle. Do this on each corner. Repeat on all 4 squares.
- ►Leaving a ½-centimeter border, make 8 total cuts along the edges of the square, with each cut going about ⅓ of the way through the length of the edge. Make sure the cuts do not touch in the middle of each side. These cuts will allow you to pull the edges of the dough to the center of the pastry to form a flower.
- ►Working with square at a time, put a scant teaspoon of cream cheese filling in the middle of each corner of the pastry. Place one cherry and small amount of cherry filling on each cream cheese corner. Fold each cut corner piece into the middle making sure to press slightly so it will hold. Put one cherry in the middle. Repeat for all four squares. Place in the refrigerator while you repeat the process on the second roll of pastry.
- ►Bake 12 minutes. Cool. Garnish danishes with a sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar just before serving.