Originating in Austria and taken over to Denmark in the 1800s by chefs, Danish pastries are a patisserie staple.
If you want to take your baking to the next level, making a batch of Danish pastries from scratch is one of the ultimate ways to test your skills and impress your friends.
What is a Danish pastry?
Danishes are a cross between bread and pastry – although they have many fine layers like puff pastry, they aren’t quite the same. The base dough is yeasted and enriched with milk, egg and sugar, providing an extra dimension in flavour and a sturdier texture. It is then interleaved with butter in a process of rolling and folding the dough, to make flaky layers when baked.
Are Danish pastries hard to make?
Making the perfect Danish pastry takes a lot of time, effort and consideration, so if you’re planning on whipping some up, clear your schedule for the next couple of days and check the weather. They are one of the hardest things to bake, so if you aren’t the most confident of cooks, you might want to get comfortable making pastry first, working your way up to making puff pastry, which has a similar technique to Danishes. However, if you’re ready, our step-by-step guide will take you through everything you need to know about making the best Danish pastries that you’ve ever eaten.
Tips for making Danish pastries
What flour is best for Danish pastries?
Both plain flour and strong (bread) flour can be used to make Danish pastries. Plain flour gives a cakier result, and pastries made with strong flour have a chewier texture. You can also use a mix of the two if you want the best of both worlds.
What kind of yeast is best for making Danish pastries?
Fast-action yeast is perfect for Danish pastry-making. Check it is in-date before using, as once you incorporate the butter, you can’t rectify the base dough if it’s not rising.
What fat is best for making Danish pastries?
Unsalted butter is best for making the layers, but we like to use a little lard in the dough too. If you prefer, you can use unsalted butter instead of the lard. We don’t recommend using salted butter as the saline flavour is very overpowering. We also advise against using margarine or vegetable fats as the flavour is bland and the texture of the fat at room temperature will be too soft.
Should you knead the dough for Danish pastries?
When making pastry, it’s usually impressed upon you that you mustn’t handle or knead the dough at all, because you’ll develop too much gluten and make the pastry tough. This isn’t strictly the case for Danishes. The yeasted base dough requires a decent kneading to form some gluten (about 5min) so that the resulting bakes are sturdy and don’t shatter. A little chewiness is desirable in a Danish pastry – just don’t go overboard and knead the dough for too long.
How do you add butter into the dough when making Danish pastries?
Make sure the butter is chilled, pliable, and never gets so warm that it’s melting. The butter should ideally be a similar texture to the dough. Fridge-cold butter that hasn’t been rolled will be too hard and tear through the pastry layers. To roll it, put it between two sheets of parchment and lightly tap it out into a large square that’s an even thickness, before encasing it in the dough.
How do I fold the dough for Danish Pastries?
The folding process is integral to creating all the layers of pastry. Use as little flour as possible on the work surface and rolling pin, and have a pastry brush to hand to regularly dust off any excess. Press the rolling pin down into the dough working from the top of the rectangle to the bottom to flatten it first, then roll it out once it’s flatter, into a long rectangle. Fold the dough into thirds, like a business letter. Bring the bottom third up over the centre third, then bring the top third down over the centre. Tap the edges with a rolling pin to seal, then wrap the dough and chill for 20min. When you come to roll the dough the next time, turn the rectangle so that the folded edge is on the left. Repeat the folding and chilling process three more times.
What should I do if the butter starts warming up too much when making Danish pastries?
If you can see the butter is beginning to get too soft and oozy during the folding process, simply refrigerate the dough for 10-15min to firm it up.
How do I shape the pastries?
Once you’ve completed all the folds, roll out the pastry into a sheet (make sure it isn’t too thin) and chill it until firm (overnight, if possible).
Danish pastries can be shaped in a multitude of ways (the recipe at the end of this article has a more detailed how-to). The classic shapes are:
Cut a square of rolled-out pastry, cut diagonal lines from the corners towards the centre, then place a blob of jam or custard into the centre, and fold alternating corners into the centre, over the filling.
Spread filling on to a larger sheet of Danish pastry, then roll up the pastry into a log shape, as you would for a Swiss roll. Cut the log into slices, then lay the slices out on a baking tray
Cut squares of rolled-out pastry, then put the filling in a diagonal line from one corner to another. Bring the unfilled corners up and over the centre, and press to seal.
What can I fill Danish pastries with?
Traditionally, Danish pastries are filled with a sweet vanilla custard or fruit filling (apricots and cherries are popular), or sometimes a rich nutty paste or a spiced butter and sugar mix. Chocolate and dried fruit also work well.
How do I prove the pastries?
After shaping, arrange your pastries well-spaced apart on a parchment-lined baking tray. Don’t be tempted to prove the shaped pastries in a warm place – it will melt the butter, and make the pastries greasy. Cool room temperature is ideal. Once the pastries have proved, you can chill them for 20min before baking.
How do I glaze the pastries?
We recommend an egg wash to glaze Danish pastries. Glaze the pastries after proving so that the glaze doesn’t stretch and become patchy as the pastries rise. It’s easier to glazed chilled proved pastries than ones that have been at room temp.
How do I bake Danish pastries?
Bake the pastries at 220°C (200°C fan) mark 7 for about 15min, until golden and risen.
Can I freeze Danish pastries before baking?
Seeing as you’re going to all that trouble, it’s a good idea to stash away spare pastries for another occasion. Alternatively, if you’re looking to prep ahead, you can make Danish pastries in advance and freeze them, so you can have freshly baked pastries in no time at all. Shape, prove and egg-wash the pastries, then freeze them on a parchment-lined tray (no need to space too well apart – they just need to not be touching) until frozen solid. Bag-up the frozen pastries, then store them in the freezer for up to two months. The pastries can be cooked from frozen on a parchment-lined tray at 220°C (200°C fan) mark 7 for about 20-25min, until golden and risen.
Can I freeze cooked Danish pastries?
It’s less ideal, but If you have leftover baked Danish pastries, you can also try to freeze them (once again on a baking tray until frozen solid, then bag them as required). To consume, warm them through in a low oven to defrost, warm and crisp-up slightly. They won’t be quite as good as the freshly baked ones, but it means your hard work won’t go to waste.
Why are my Danish pastries greasy?
If your pastries have gone greasy, it’s likely that the butter got too warm during the folding process. It’s also a good idea to chill the proved pastries before baking to set the butter and stop it from running out of the pastry during baking.
Why have my Danish pastries not risen?
Danish pastry not rising (especially during proving) might be due to expired yeast. If you rolled the pastry out too thinly, this can cause the pastries to be too flat. Overproving and underproving can also cause this, along with overbaking. Make sure to use a timer when proving and baking the pastries.
Why are my Danish pastries tough?
Overkneading (more than 5min), rolling the dough too vigorously and adding too much flour during the folding can make the pastry tough. If at any point the dough starts feeling elastic and won’t roll out during the folding process, cover it and allow it to rest for 5-10min – this will give the gluten a chance to relax.
Why aren’t there flaky layers in my Danish pastry?
If the butter broke through the dough layers during the folding, this will mean the layers will compress and therefore be less prolific and well-defined. This can happen if the butter was too cold, or if you were too heavy-handed when rolling out the pastry.
Step-by-step guide to making Danish Pastries
Hands-on time: 1.5hr, plus overnight chilling Cook: 20min
For the pastry:
- 450g (1lb) plain flour, plus extra to dust
- 50g (2oz) lard, chilled and cubed
- 2tbsp caster sugar
- 1tsp salt
- 1tbsp fast-action yeast
- 3 medium eggs
- 150ml (¼ pint) milk
- 275g (10oz) unsalted butter
- For spicy sultana filling, mix:
- 25g (1oz) butter, softened
- 2tbsp caster sugar
- 1tsp cinnamon
- 50g (2oz) sultanas
For nutty filling, mix:
- 25g (1oz) butter, softened
- 50g (2oz) light soft brown sugar
- 100g (31/2oz) chopped nuts (such as hazelnuts)
- 1tbsp honey
- 120g pot ready-made custard
- 1 can tinned apricots or peaches, drained and dried
- Apricot jam
- Put flour and lard in a food processor with sugar, salt and yeast. Pulse to mix ingredients together. Add 2 of the eggs and the milk, then pulse to form a soft dough.
- Lightly flour work surface. Knead dough for 5min until smooth. Put dough in a bowl, cover with cling film and leave to rest for 10min.
- Make sure your butter is chilled but pliable. If it’s too cold, it will be hard and break pastry layers you’re trying to create. If it’s too warm, it will ooze out as you roll dough and make the pastry greasy.
- Lightly flour work surface, and roll dough into a large square, about 1cm (½in) thick. Lay unsalted butter across centre of dough at a diagonal angle. Fold four corners of dough into middle of butter, so that butter is encased.
- Lightly flour worktop. Using a rolling pin, gently press dough to flatten, this helps butter to spread out evenly when rolling. Roll out dough to a rectangle, about 20.5cm x 40.5cm (8in x 16in). Fold bottom third of dough into middle. Fold top third over top, like an envelope. Neaten edges by pressing them with a rolling pin, to make a neat rectangle. Wrap dough in cling film and chill in fridge for 20min.
- Lightly flour work surface, lay out dough with sealed edge on left side, like a book. Roll out to a rectangle, about 20.5cm x 40.5cm (8in x 16in). Repeat folding process again, neaten edges and return to fridge for 20min. Repeat this process of folding and chilling twice more, then wrap dough in cling film and rest in fridge for 1hr.
- When making Danish pastries, split dough in portions before rolling to make more than one type.
- To make swirls, lightly flour work surface and roll out dough into a rectangle about 5mm (¼in) thick or about 20.5cm 30.5cm (8in x 12in). Make regular quarter turns when rolling to get an even thickness. Trim edges of pastry to straighten. Spread your filling of choice evenly over dough, leaving a small margin around edge. Roll dough up tightly from one long end to other, to make a roll. Slice across roll widthways, into 2cm (¾in) slices. Put flat side down on a lined baking sheet.
- To make pinwheels, roll out dough into a rectangle, about 5mm (¼in) thick. Trim edges to straighten. Cut into even size squares. Take a square and make diagonal cuts from each corner, about halfway into middle of square. Spoon a teaspoon of filling of your choice into middle. Fold every other point into centre and press down to stick them together. Put on a lined baking sheet.
- For fruit foldovers, roll out dough and cut into squares as per pinwheels. Put 2tsp custard in middle, at a slight diagonal angle. Top with halves of tinned fruit such as apricots or peaches , domed side up. Dot each with a small blob of jam. Pull two opposite corners of pastry over, so that corners meet between fruit halves, and pinch to seal. Put on a lined baking sheet.
- Once shaped and filled, let pastries rise for 30min until doubled in size. Chill the pastries for 20min. Brush tops with beaten egg and make sure to pinch any edges together again if needed.
- Bake at 220°C (200°C fan) mark 7 for about 15min, until golden and risen. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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