I can no longer remember why I had the urge to make Danishes this morning. I’m not sure I’ve ever even really wanted to eat Danishes; but whatever. Today was special. I craved a Danish, so Danishes it was.
For once, my usual recipe sources were entirely silent: nothing in Bread, nothing in the Gourmet archive, nothing on King Arthur Flour. And so I did an online search for Danishes. I’m always wary of this sort of thing because there are a lot of crappy recipes out there on the ol’ internet.
Happily, I stumbled across Beatrice Ojakangas’s version. Ojakangas is the godmother of Scandinavian cooking for us Americans, and I really want her baking book. I knew this would be a reliable recipe, so it was off to the races.
Well, the race hit a snag, and all the competitors fell down. Or something. There was no butter in the house, not even a tablespoon in the butter dish. Bad news, since Ojakangas called for two whole sticks. I hemmed and hawed, and finally threw in 1/2 cup of vegetable oil, knowing full well that my pastry would not be as delicious. I am not the kind of girl who bakes with vegetable oil. Butter. Just. Tastes. Better. And makes flaky pastry, more importantly.
But hey, no matter. I was also doing something else crazy with the recipe, which was using a liquid levain build that I had started the night before, imprecisely: 2 tablespoons of mature sourdough starter, some flour, and some water. It amuses me how much store-yeast I used to use!
I threw the dough in the fridge for a few hours while I went and did a time trial with the Eastern REG camp. (The time trial went well – skate rollerskiing is pretty much the thing I am worst at out of everything we do for training and testing, but I felt like I was skiing fairly well today, and I only got beaten by 2 juniors – better than I was expecting!)
Now. I had this mythical vision of a Danish in my head. But I realized that I had no idea how you would go about actually shaping one. Good thing I knew where to look: Joe Pastry had all the answers. I decided on a traditional sweet roll shape, which turned out looking pretty good. Here they are rising:
After an hour, they weren’t very puffy, but I wasn’t that worried. Sourdough often doesn’t rise much until you stick it in the oven. So I started the fun part – and here’s where the emptying out the kitchen part comes in – which was figuring out what to put in the middle.
I thought I’d use some things up.
So I made some cheese stuff first, using the mascarpone left over from the pavlova and mousse. Sweetened cheese filling is always a kind of make-it-up-as-you go thing. I added some sugar, half an egg, and some vanilla, and called it good. I put this as the first layer in the middle of my Danishes, and it looked pretty good.
I had run into a problem, though, which was that I wasn’t actually using up the mascarpone, or even the cheese filling I had mixed up (it went into a glass jar in the fridge…. sigh). And in trying to do so I really filled the depressions in the Danishes right to the top. I assumed the mixture would stay fairly solid, and put extra orange buttercream on top of half of the Danishes (and no I didn’t use that up either), and a dollop of strawberry preserves on the others (Hannah hates citrus and Lauren is allergic to strawberries – our house is complicated).
And…. my Danishes runneth over. Oh well! They still tasted delicious, and I still got my Danish fix. They were tasty, and although I am sure the dough would have been flakier and more delicious with butter, the vegetable oil wasn’t a disaster. More importantly, the sourdough worked well, and proved to me once again that anyone who says you shouldn’t use regular sourdough starter to make sweet dough is either unimaginative or a scaredy cat.
These babies are headed to YeastSpotting.
(adapted heavily from Beatrice Ojakangas)
Liquid Levain Build
2 tablespoons fed sourdough starter
all of the liquid levain build
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2-1/2 to 3 cups bread flour
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup white sugar
half an egg (save the other half as an egg wash)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Leftover orange buttercream, or lemon curd would work well too
Strawberry or another kind of preserves
First the levain build. Put your 2 tablespoons of starter in a bowl and add a bit of flour and a bit of water in t 2:1 ratio. It’s not super important how much you add. Mix it together – it will be fairly wet, not a stiff starter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit overnight.
In the morning, add the other dough ingredients to the bowl. I added the vegetable oil last, and then added a bit more flour as I kneaded it. You don’t need to knead (ha!) too long. Then, place the dough back in the bowl – you don’t even need to grease it because the dough is so oily. Cover it again with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours, or basically as long as is convenient.
Now, stretch the dough into a rectangle, and roll it a bit until it is thin. Fold the rectangle over on itself, in half, and roll it out again. Now fold it in the other direction. Repeat a couple of times. Now, roll it into a large-ish rectangle, fold one half over the other, and cut into strips (I made 17) on the short side. Pick up a strip and stretch it gently until it is 10″ or more in length – you don’t want it to be too thin, but more length is better. Now, twist the ends of the strip in opposite directions until it is tightly wound (better instructions are here). Finally, take the twisted strip and roll it around itself in a spiral. Once again, I can’t describe this very well, but hopefully you can tell what I mean by looking at the pictures above. Repeat with all the strips, and place the rounds on parchment-lined baking sheets. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise an hour or two.
After the rising time is up, preheat the oven to 375° and prepare the fillings. For the cheese filling, just mix everything together in a bowl and beat until smooth. Then, use your fingers to make a small but deep divot or depression in the middle of each round. Before proceeding, brush the whole thing with the other half of the egg – an egg wash will make the dough shiny once it bakes. Then our the cheese filling into these divots until they are full but not overflowing (or even on the brink!). Spoon a small amount of your second filling into the middle of your cheese-pools.
Bake 15-25 minutes or until they appear to be done.