The Pleasure of Pastry

Cheese Danish

I woke up this morning with my fingers itching for a rolling pin. This sounds strange, I know, but dough relaxes me. I figure that taking out my stress and aggression on flour and butter must be healthier than some other vices (unless, of course, I eat all of the pastry, which has been known to happen).

It has been a while since I actually made puff pastry by hand since frozen puff pastry works perfectly in most recipes. But sometimes, like today, it’s about the journey, not the destination. I used Rose Levy Beranbaum’s puff pastry recipe from The Pie and Pastry Bible as a guide with some small tweaks. Actually, she features two recipes – one of which uses the food processor to do most of the work. I’m sure that this quicker version produces just as lovely a result, but I’m an all or nothing kind of gal, and would rather do it by hand or just buy it frozen.

In any case, puff pastry and the methodical folding, rolling, and folding again required for the flakiest dough appealed to me this morning. I love that such a decadent product is the result of simple ingredients; flour, butter, salt, water, and lemon juice. That’s it. So, of course, the quality of each and every ingredient counts. French butter, with its lesser water content, certainly produces the flakiest pastry (for more on French butter, take a look at Dorie Greenspan’s explanation). But I had only regular unsalted butter in my refrigerator, which actually worked just fine.

I often use puff pastry to make cheddar cheese straws, or cut rounds of it to form the base of smoked salmon canapés. But this morning, I went for something sweeter. Jeff is not much of a breakfast fan, nor does he generally like sweets, but he adores cheese danish. And while danish pastry is traditionally made with a yeast dough, puff pastry is an excellent stand-in, and what I always used when making danish at the Bed & Breakfast. These treats are surprisingly light, despite the rich filling, and with a dusting of powdered sugar are just sweet enough to be the perfect companion to my morning latte. And since they don’t keep well, I feel no guilt whatsoever at having eaten two of them!

Puff Pastry

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted cold butter, divided

11/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon lemon juice

8-10 tablespoons cold water

Cut 3 tablespoons of butter into small pieces. In a mixing bowl, rub together the 3 tablespoons of butter, 11/4 cups of the flour, and the salt with your fingers until no butter lumps remain. Add in lemon juice and 8 tablespoons of water, one by one, stirring with a fork to form a soft, shaggy dough. If the dough is still very dry, add remaining water by the tablespoonful. Knead the dough on a floured surface until it holds together. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the remaining cold butter, cut in large chunks, and remaining flour in a sealable plastic bag. Knead together the butter and flour through the plastic. Once most of the flour is incorporated, turn the butter out onto a floured surface and, working very quickly, shape the butter into a square about 4 inches by 4 inches. Wrap the butter in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator while you roll out the dough.

Dough Before Butter Additions

Take the dough out of the refrigerator and roll out on a floured surface to a large rectangle. Place the butter square in the middle on the dough. Fold each corner of dough to the middle (if the corners don’t meet and cover all of the butter, remove the butter and roll the dough out into a larger rectangle). With the butter inside the packet, roll the dough again into a rectangle, about 6 inches wide by 12 inches long. Fold the dough in thirds like a letter and roll again into a 6 inch by 12 inch rectangle. Repeat this process one more time and then wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 20 minutes. Take the dough out of the refrigerator and repeat the folding and rolling three more times.

Roll, Fold, Turn, Repeat!

At this stage, the dough may be used or can be frozen.

Cheese Danish

Makes 6 Servings

½ recipe of puff pastry (above) or 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, defrosted

4 ounces cream cheese

1/3 cup sugar

1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon of water

Powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Beat the cream cheese, sugar, egg yolk, and vanilla on low until smooth.

Roll out the pastry dough on a floured surface to a square about 12 inches by 12 inches. Cut the square in half horizontally and then cut each half twice vertically to create six rectangles.

Place a heaping tablespoonful of the filling in the center of each rectangle, and fold two opposite corners of the pastry to the middle, pinching them together over the filling. Brush the danish with egg wash and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes until lightly browned. Let cool slightly and dust with powdered sugar.