Danishes are close cousins to croissants. They are made with the same method of laminating the dough, or folding in a block of butter until it is in many thin layers. The moisture contained within these thin layers of butter evaporates during baking, resulting in many flaky layers of pastry. The main difference between Danishes and croissants is that Danishes contain less butter and so are a little less rich. However, they make up for this by being easier to make (relatively easier, that is--you’re still making pastries, so that takes time), and they are fashioned into fanciful shapes and usually filled with something.
Here we combine a sweetened cream cheese filling and a tangy roasted rhubarb filling. Our favorite danish shape is the pinwheel because they’re just so darn adorable and fun to make. While you’re having fun making danishes, there are a few tips to keep in mind when working with this kind of pastry dough.
- If you are working in a very warm kitchen, you may not be able to do 2 turns in one go. If the butter is very soft or starting to ooze out of the dough, wrap it up and refrigerate it for at least 20 minutes to get the butter to firm up.
- The butter shouldn't be too cold either. If you refrigerate the dough for too long, the butter will become cold and so hard that when you try to roll out the dough, the butter will break up and possibly even tear the dough. If your dough is very cold and not pliable, let it sit for several minutes on your counter to make it easier to roll out.
- Apply steady, even pressure when rolling out the dough. You don't have to roll it out in one attempt. Start gently and get a little more aggressive as the dough warms up.
- Make sure the dough isn't sticking to your work surface--frequently lift it up and throw a little flour underneath to prevent sticking and tearing.
- This is one of those baking projects that is best done over the space of two days. On day one, make the dough and fold in the butter. Then make the fillings. On day two, shape the Danishes and bake them. The dough benefits from the extra resting time, and you can take a breather too.
Rhubarb and Cream Cheese Danish Pinwheels
About twenty-four 3-inch Danishes
Place on a work surface:
2 sticks (8 oz or 225g) cold unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Sprinkle the butter with a little of the flour and begin to beat it with a rolling pin. Scrape the butter from the work surface and the rolling pin as needed and fold it over itself into a heap. Continue to work the butter until it is a smooth and malleable mass. Knead the rest of the flour into the butter with your hands, working quickly to keep the butter cold. Place the butter on a sheet of plastic wrap and shape it into an 8 × 5½-inch rectangle. Wrap and refrigerate the butter while you make the dough.
Whisk together in a small bowl and let stand until the yeast is dissolved, about 5 minutes:
½ cup (120g) warm (105° to 115°F) whole milk
1 envelope (2¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 tablespoon (10g) sugar
Mix together in a large bowl:
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (265g) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons (25g) sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, softened
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour the yeast mixture into it. Mix lightly with a fork to form a thin batter in the well. Beat together and add to the well:
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
Then mix with a fork or your fingers to make a dough. Transfer to a lightly floured work surface and knead for a few seconds, until smooth. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.
Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour. Roll out into a 14 × 8-inch rectangle, sprinkling additional flour underneath it as needed to prevent sticking. Position the dough so that one of the short sides is facing you. Cover the upper two-thirds of the dough with the rectangle of butter, leaving a 1-inch border of dough on the sides and at the top. Fold the bottom third of the dough over the butter. Fold the top third of the dough, with the butter on it, down over the first third, as if you were folding a business letter. Press the edges of the dough together on all 3 open sides to seal in the butter. Rotate the dough so that the folded edge is on the left and the sealed edge is on the right.
Sprinkle the dough lightly with flour and press it gently with the rolling pin to flatten it slightly. Keeping the short side of the rectangle facing you, roll into a 16 × 8-inch rectangle. Fold the bottom third up and the top third down again. (This rolling and folding is called a single turn.) Rotate the dough so that the folded edge is on the left and the open edge is on the right (like a book about to be opened). Give the dough one more single turn, rolling it into a 16 × 8-inch rectangle and folding it in thirds. Sprinkle the work surface lightly with flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking. If at any time the butter gets soft, refrigerate the dough for 10 to 15 minutes. Mark the dough with 2 finger imprints to remind yourself that you have given the dough 2 turns. Wrap the dough loosely in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Give the dough 2 more single turns, always making sure that the folded edge is on the left and the open edge is on the right before beginning the next roll. Make 4 imprints, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Give the dough a final single turn, wrap, and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. (At this point, the dough can be frozen or refrigerated overnight. Before freezing, wrap in plastic, then foil, then airtight in a zip-top bag; thaw overnight in the refrigerator before rolling.)
Now, prepare the fillings. For the cream cheese filling, beat in the bowl of a stand mixer until smooth:
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons sugar
(½ teaspoon ground cinnamon)
(Finely grated zest of one small lemon)
1 tablespoon heavy cream
Set aside. For the rhubarb filling, preheat the oven to 375°F. Toss on a parchment or silicone-lined baking sheet:
5 ounces rhubarb, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons sugar
Roast until the rhubarb is soft, about 15 minutes. Let cool.
Roll the dough out into an 18 × 9-inch rectangle. Cut into eighteen 3-inch squares. Lightly brush the squares with:
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Make a 1½-inch slit from each corner toward the center. Starting at the bottom left, fold one corner of each triangle to the center and press it down, forming a pinwheel. Place a teaspoon of the cream cheese filling and a teaspoon of the roasted rhubarb in the center of each danish, and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Place the pinwheels 2 to 3 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Let rise until puffy, 30 to 60 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Bake until golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes.
If desired, glaze the baked danishes while still warm with:
⅓ cup apricot jelly, warmed in a small saucepan until runny
These pastries are best they day they are baked, but you can keep the leftovers in an airtight plastic bag or container. Reheat before serving.