Whenever my mind begins to wander, it inevitably finds purchase in two concepts—wilderness and time. On my best days, these daydreams help me take on the day with my head held a little higher.
On particularly bad brain days, I become fixated on time, or more specifically, a lack of time. I wonder if I’m sleepwalking through life, wasting precious moments without realizing their preciousness. It can cause me to question my choices and pull away from relationships that might otherwise shake me out of this space.
When I was younger, I would take this as a sign that I needed to do more—and do it better and faster—to push as much experience into as little time as possible. Like attempting to squeeze an elephant into a mason jar. Now that I’ve lived and learned a bit, I still battle these isolating thoughts, but I’ve found that instead of speeding up, my mind and body crave slowing down.
Living slowly is a mini act of rebellion. It flies in the face of our fast-paced world and demonstrates the incredible value in moving thoughtfully and with intention. It does not signify a moldering life, but rather a life that sees beauty in processes. That’s where pastry comes in.
I am by no means an expert in pastry, but I continue to come back to it time and time again because I always learn something new; and the time-intensive, repetitive process focuses my hands, with my mind following close behind. These special confections are a masterclass in precision and patience.
The dough for these danishes is incredibly versatile, capable of both sweet and savory uses. I find myself making it at least once every few months, and marry it with seasonal produce and herbs to create a particularly satisfying time stamp. This recipe is a double batch of dough because it freezes beautifully and once thawed, you’ll be surprised at how fast you can bake up a danish.
As summer is upon us, I’ve paired the pastry with a sweet cheese filling and ripe strawberries, but the world is truly your oyster with this one. Play around with guava or blueberries or coconut, or sub out fruit altogether for something like Nutella or peanut butter. Seriously, you will hear zero complaints from me.
Croissant or danish dough can be an intimidating process, at least I know it was for me when I first started. So, my one request to you is, if this is your first try at pastry, don’t put a hard deadline on it. Don’t make this as a treat to take to aunt Linda’s 60th, going down in a mere 12 hours. Instead, slow down. Allow your hands and mind to become familiar with each new layer that develops in your pastry with every turn. Remind yourself that you are making something incredible out of nothing more than a few meager ingredients.
Makes 15 danishes
For the danish dough – Makes 5lbs of dough (or enough for 30 danishes):
32oz (905g) bread flour
3.625oz (105g) sugar
.5oz (15g) instant yeast OR 18.75g active dry yeast
.5oz (15g) salt
3oz (85g) butter, soft
6.5oz (185g) eggs
14oz (395g) milk
24oz (680g) butter, cold – for roll in
Egg wash: 1 egg, ¼ C milk, pinch of salt
For the cheese filling:
12oz (340g) cream cheese
3oz (85g) sugar
1.5oz (42g) cornstarch
½ t orange zest
½ t vanilla extract
2oz (57g) eggs
4T (55g) unsalted butter, melted
3C strawberries (sliced to your desired thickness)
2T brown sugar
¼ t kosher salt
Notes: When making the strawberry filling, taste your berries. If they are on the tarter side, feel free to up both the brown sugar and granulated sugar from 2T to 2.5T each.
If using active dry yeast: Heat half of your milk in the microwave until temp reaches about 100 degrees. Mix the yeast in and let it sit for 5 min or until you see bubbles forming. If you are using instant yeast, no need to do this step.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix the flour, sugar, yeast, salt, butter, eggs, and milk on low speed for about 2 minutes. Increase the speed to medium for an added 4 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Cover the dough with a clean towel or plastic wrap and ferment for about 2 hours or until doubled in size.
Fold over the dough and spread it into a 12×16-inch rectangle. Wrap the dough tightly with plastic wrap and let it rest overnight or for 8 hours.
It’s time to make the roll-in: Using a rolling pin, pound out the roll-in butter and shape it into a rectangle 8x24x1/2-inch. Keep the edges as straight as possible to ensure you have even folds later on. Chill the butter block slightly to make sure it is the same consistency as your dough.
Flour your work surface and roll out the dough to a 16×24 rectangle and place the roll-in on half. Fold the remaining half of the dough over the roll-in and seal the edges. Turn your dough 90 degrees and reroll your dough to a 16×24 rectangle.
Perform a four-fold or book fold. Cover the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes
Turn the dough 90 degrees from the last position and roll it out into the same sized rectangle (16x24x1/2-inch) and administer a three-fold or letter-fold. Cover the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 30 min again. Once chilled, perform one last three-fold and refrigerate again for at least 30 min.
Make the cheese filling: Cream together the cream cheese, sugar, cornstarch, orange zest, and vanilla extract with the paddle attachment on medium speed until smooth. Add the eggs gradually, scraping down the bowl, and beat until light and smooth. Pop in the refrigerator until you are ready to use.
Make the baskets: Split your dough in half. Save one half in the refrigerator or freezer for later use. Roll the other half of your dough out into a rectangle 12×16-inch. Cut the dough into 15 squares
Turn one square 45 degrees, forming a diamond and fold the bottom edge over the top, making a triangle with the main point facing away from you. You are going to make two slits, one on the left and one on the right. Keep your cuts about ½ inch from the edge. Open up your diamond, and fold over the right cut corner, so the outside edge aligns with the inside edge of the left corner. Repeat on the left side, folding it over to the right.
Brush the pastry with egg wash and let sit on a baking sheet for an hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees as you make the strawberry filling: combine the melted butter with the strawberries and then add both sugars and salt, tossing thoroughly to make sure an even distribution.
Dock the very center of your pastries and fill each one with cheese filling and then top with the strawberry filling. Arrange your strawberries in whatever dang way you’d like, even dumping a spoonful on top will deliver delicious results.
Brush the pastries again lightly with egg wash and bake for about 17 minutes.