Friday, January 23, 2009

Danish Almond Pastry

Lately, I've been obsessed with pastries - croissants, pain au chocolat, bear claws, you name it. And while you can get some good stuff here in the US, nothing really beats the real deal: Danish pastry or what we in Denmark call wienerbrød (literally "Vienna bread"). By all accounts, however, Danish pastry is a bit of a pain to make, because you have to roll out layers of dough, cover with a layer of butter, chill, and repeat the process several times to get the flaky goodness that characterizes good Danish pastry, and while I love to bake that just sounded too fussy.

Thus my excitement when I saw that Nigella (God bless her!) has a recipe for food processor Danish pastry where you basically just throw all the ingredients together in the food processor and voila: pastry dough! I had to give that a try.

Making the dough was surprisingly easy. Don't be alarmed that it looks like a big gooey mess with big butter lumps - it will turn into dough once it's been in the fridge overnight.

Rolling the dough out proved to be a bit more difficult. It kept sticking to the board and the rolling pin, and I had to use a pastry scraper to keep it from getting stuck while trying to get to that 20-inch square. But with some patience (not my strong suit!) and a bit of flour, I managed to roll it out, fold it, roll it out again etc. until I had repeated the steps the required three times. Then off to the fridge again for 30 min.

While the pastry rested, I made the almond filling. Again, the recipe calls for throwing almonds, sugar and other ingredients into the food processor, whizzing for a few seconds and you're all set. Rather than buy already toasted almonds, I toasted my own which is easy to do. Just throw the almonds or whatever nuts you're using into a warm skillet and toast over medium heat. Make sure you keep an eye on them, though, cuz nuts can burn surprisingly fast, and nobody likes the taste of burnt nuts. When you can smell them, they are probably done or perhaps even too done. Transfer to a plate as the nuts will continue to cook if you leave them in the skillet. Once cool, process with sugar and other ingredients.

So now I had my pastry dough and my filling - time to make the actual pastries. Rolling out again proved somewhat difficult, but by then I was getting the hang of it, and I decided not to roll it out too thinly to save myself some trouble. The filling was placed in the middle of each square, opposite corners pinched together and lo and behold - they actually looked like pastries! The recipe said to brush with egg wash now, which I did, although I usually don't do that until after the dough has risen, but Miss Nigella probably has her reasons, so who am I to argue with that? I left them to double in size on a baking sheet and then baked them in a 350F degree oven. My oven runs a bit cold, so I ended up baking them a bit longer than then recipe calls for - almost twice as long in fact, about 25 min. By then they were golden and puffy and looked like this:

Once they had cooled a bit, I added the clear glaze which is basically a simple syrup and makes the pastry deliciously sticky. When they had cooled completely (and believe me, this requires discipline!) I zigzagged white icing across them as well.

For a first attempt at pastry making, I have to say that these came out pretty well. Alas, they were not as flaky as I had hoped for, but I think that has to do with my problems with rolling out the dough. The flavor, however, was there, and they actually taste a lot like the bear claws you can buy at say Peets.

I tested them on my friend J, and she loved them as did her husband, so this is definitely a winner. I still have half a quantity of pastry in the freezer, so next time I'm thinking maybe a chocolate filling...yum!

Danish Almond Pastry
from Nigella Lawson How to Be a Domestic Goddess

For the dough:
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 1/4 cups white bread flour
1 package (1/4 oz.) rapid-rise yeast or 1 tbsp fresh yeast
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, cold, cut into thin slices

For the pastry:
A half quantity of pastry dough, rolled out and ready to use
Baking sheets lined with parchment paper

For the filling:
5 oz blanched almonds, toasted
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
½ tsp almond extract
1 large egg white, beaten lightly

For the egg glaze:
1 large egg, beaten with
2 tbsp milk

For the clear glaze:
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water

For the sugar glaze:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1-2 tbsp warm water

Pour the water and milk into a measuring cup and add the egg, beating with a fork to mix. Put to one side for a moment. Get out a large bowl, then put the flour, yeast, salt and sugar in the processor, and give one quick whizz just to mix. Add the cold slices of butter and process briefly so that the butter is cut up a little, though you still want visible chunks. Empty the contents of the food processor into the large bowl and quickly add the contents of the cup. Use your hands or a rubber spatula to fold the ingredients together, but don’t overdo it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, put in the refrigerator, and leave overnight or up to 4 days.

To turn it into pastry, take it out of the refrigerator, let it get to room temperature, and roll it out to a 20-inch (50 cm) square. Fold the dough square into thirds, like a business letter, turning it afterward so that the closed fold is on your left, like the spine of a book. Roll out again to a 20-inch square, repeating the steps above three more times. Cut in half, wrap both pieces in film and put in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. You can keep them for up to 4 days if you haven’t already done so at the earlier stage or you can refrigerate one to use now and put the other one in the freezer to use later which is what I did.

To make the almond filling, process the almonds and powdered sugar together until finely ground. Add the butter, pulse again, then add the almond extract and 2 tbsp of the egg white. You can make this in advance and keep it in the fridge for up to a week.

Roll the pastry out to a big square and cut into thirds horizontally. Then cut it half down the middle, giving you 6 squares. Take each square and put a tablespoon of the almond filling onto the pastry at a diagonal. Bring up the opposite corners and pinch together.
Place on the baking sheet and brush with the egg glaze. Leave them to rise until they double in size and feel like marshmallow, about 1 ½ hours.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Cook for 15 minutes or until golden.

Remove to a wire rack and make the two remaining glazes. To make the clear glaze, heat the granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil then take off the heat. To make the sugar glaze, add the water to the confectioners’ sugar a little at a time to make a runny icing. Brush the pastries with the clear glaze first once they have cooled a bit; then when almost cold zigzag the sugar glaze over them.

1 comment:

  1. Those look delicious, I would like to try one!