I wasn't surprised when the Danish pastries won this week’s Facebook poll. They crossed the finishing line with the competition lagging way behind. I've wanted to make them for ages as I know how delicious pastries are. However, I couldn't help but feel daunted by the prospect; I kept putting it off! Seeing that they won the vote, I was forced to swallow my fear and get on with it! I made some fairly simple pastries around six years ago when Neil and I were in the first flushes of love and I was still at the stage where I wanted to impress him! I thought I would make him some pastries so that he could take them to work to share. I'd had no idea how long the pastry process took and soon regretted my decision. Unfortunately Neil loved them and ever since keeps nudging me to make some more! Sadly for Neil I haven't since felt the need to impress him; we are married now after all!!!!!! However, I was pleased to see his face light up when I announced that I'd be making Danish pastries; finally he had his wish!
I thought the best time to make the pastries would be late evening. That way Neil and his work mates could have them relatively fresh the following day. Also, my little boy would be in bed and I could spend all evening in the kitchen! By the time we had eaten our evening meal and watched something on TV, it had gone 8pm – oops! I peeled myself from the sofa and trudged to the kitchen. I had a sense of foreboding! The first part of the pastry process I found to be very straightforward; I simply had to measure some strong flour into a large bowl and rub in a small amount of butter. Next, I needed to add a sachet of yeast and some sugar. When eyeing up pastries in a bakery I find it hard to believe that they are actually very closely related to bread. The fact the dough contains yeast but is called pastry is hard to get my head round! Now it was time to bring the dry ingredients together to form a soft dough by adding some warm milk and beaten eggs. At first the dough was very sticky to work with but, once I'd put it onto the worktop to knead, it soon became soft and manageable. I didn't want to overwork the dough so, as soon as it felt soft and springy, I placed it into a bowl, covered it with cling film and left it to rise for around an hour. Sadly there was no resting on my laurels as I had three different fillings to make. I didn't want to use marzipan. I wanted to try all the variations and make my Danish pastries a bit more exciting. Hopefully there would be something for everyone.
The almond filling was super quick and easy. I found a small bowl and tipped in some ground almonds and sugar. A little beaten egg was used to bind it all together. It didn't look or sound that tasty, but I felt sure Mary wouldn't let me down! I placed the almond filling to one side and moved on to the vanilla cream. I had high hopes for this particular filling; the vanilla aspect appealed to me. I have never made it before and the method did seem a little faffy. It seemed similar to how you make custard. I had to mix a small amount of plain flour, a teeny tiny amount of cornflour with an egg yolk and sugar. I then heated it up with a good amount of milk. My vanilla cream ended up to be not very vanillary as I had completely forgotten to add the vanilla essence. I think my finger was in too many pies, or pastries in my case! The last filling to make was apple. By this point I was losing the will to live. However, the apple filling is such a favourite of mine that I soldiered on! I sliced up some cooking apples. I loved Mary for saying that I needn't peel them. This seemed odd, but I was more than happy to follow the instruction. I popped the chunks of apple into ANOTHER saucepan with a little butter and lemon juice. I covered the pan and left it to cook. The reason for cooking the apples unpeeled became clear as I pushed the cooked apples through a sieve back into the saucepan; the skins got left behind in the sieve, excellent! I was left with a mushy purée which needed to go back onto the heat until it thickened. This didn't take long. To sweeten things up a bit, I stirred in some muscovado sugar and then left the mixture to cool. By this time I had to go back to my dough which had, to my delight, doubled in size.
It may appear that I am now approaching the end of my pastry tale, but alas there was still a lot of work to be done! I punched down the dough. I always find this satisfying; I love hearing the air come out of the dough. I gave it another knead until it was smooth once more. I hadn't thought rolling out the dough would be difficult, but I admit I found it rather taxing! It was so springy, every time I rolled it out it sprung back. I fear I may have overworked it at this stage; I ended up being rather heavy handed with the rolling pin! Now to add a quite frankly terrifying amount of butter! I dotted half of the total amount over the top two thirds of the dough. This took ages, and my small dots of butter grew increasingly large as my patience wore thinner! Finally I could fold the bottom third up and the top third down to form a buttery parcel. I re-rolled the pastry as before and then dotted on the remaining butter in the same way. I was very glad to put the dough in the fridge for 15 minutes to rest. I thought I would also have a rest and collapsed in an aching heap on the sofa. Sadly I couldn't fall asleep as I was tempted to do. I had to trot back to the kitchen to collect the chilled dough from the fridge. I rolled it out as before (this time without adding butter) twice more. Yet again it needed a rest in the fridge; this is one seriously lazy pastry! I almost didn't dare look at the clock, and I was horrified when I did. It was past midnight; I had been making Danish pastries for almost four hours and I still wasn't finished! At least when I retrieved the dough I knew the next part would be the fun part of shaping and filling.
First of all I shaped the dough into pinwheels; they looked tricky in the diagram, but I actually found them to be rather easy. This was good news as my hand-eye coordination was by now not up to much! The crescents and the envelopes were again easy peasy. I didn't think much of the kite shapes though! The different fillings were all easy to add. It was tempting to dollop large spoonfuls onto each piece of dough, but I made myself refrain. I didn't want it all leaking out. The completed pastries had to be left to prove for around 20 minutes. I wondered if I would ever make it to bed! As I was using three baking trays, I put the pastries into the oven in shifts, one proved, while the other cooked etc.. I was really pleased when each tray came out of the oven. The Danish pastries looked as I hoped they would. They were far from perfect, but they did look tasty! Whilst they were still warm, I drizzled glacé icing over the tops and sprinkled flaked almonds and chopped cherries over a few. I soon got bored! I waited for them all to cool and then proudly tucked them up for the night in a container, ready for the morning. I finally staggered up to bed just before 2am. I then had to endure nightmares that my pastries congealed together and shrunk to a tiny lump. I was scared to look in the morning, but thankfully they were just as I had left them.
Sadly the pictures didn't turn out as well as I had hoped as it was such a dark and miserable morning we'd had to use the flash. Neil happily took the pastries in to work and I heard back that they were all thoroughly enjoyed. I have a lingering cold and, rather frustratingly, I couldn’t taste a thing in the morning. I could have cried as I had put so much work into these pastries. However, my strong greedy streak wasn't going to let me give up. In the afternoon I located some Olbas Oil and, with some frantic sniffing and some star jumps, I managed to get my taste back long enough to wolf down some Danish pastries! The moment was only fleeting but long enough for me to experience utter bliss! Oh my goodness, they were yummy. Light, buttery pastry complimented with lovely sweet fillings. Apple is still my favourite! The glacé icing drizzle is worth doing, I feel, as it sweetened the pastry just a little. I tried not to think about all the fat I was consuming as I crammed the pastries into my mouth!!! Neil really loved these Danishes, but I now have a problem; he wants me to make them again – uh oh!