Thursday, Jul 18th, 2013

It wasn’t development on a new dessert that brought Danish into our pastry department. It wasn’t a desire to explore the limitations of lamination, a lesson in classic technique for our cooks, or any previous experience on my own part that caused us to start rolling sheets of enriched dough around slabs of cold butter.

It was the introduction of an 11 o’clock staff meal for the morning team that inspired our team to dive into the deep end with Danish pastry.

Offering us a break from the status quo of contemporary desserts, A.M. staff meal opened up the door to breakfast pastries, a quadrant of the pastry department often left unexplored when your purpose is to conclude an evening meal. Pulling recipes of all sorts, some surfed from the web, some begged off friends, we began the wading through the muck of development. We found that even the most mediocre Danish was welcomed by our staff when warm from the oven which lessened the sting of failure caused by a string of chewy, dense, leaky pastries that came out of our ovens.

However, nothing that’s worth doing is easy, and within a couple weeks we had a working recipe that could be prepared in our kitchen, with just a stand mixer, a rolling pin, and two nimble hands. Once the dough was in place we began testing butters which demanded a lot of tasting butters. I know, we have it rough.

Your every day butter is required by law to contain at least 80 % butterfat, and most that you pick up in a grocery store will contain around 81%. This means 20 percent of your butter is actually water, which can encourage paper thin layers of dough to steam and stick together before the butter has it’s chance to melt and crisp the layers. End result? It’s a wee bit chewy.

European butters typically contain 85 to 86 % butterfat. Higher butterfat butters absolutely do make for a flakier laminated dough, thus they dominated our testing. My heart really wanted to slip a small batch churned butter from a dairy in Vermont with an 86% butterfat content between the sheets of dough, however the stand-out was a cultured butter from Grass fed Fresian cows made by Kerrygold. The butterfat content in Kerrygold is 82%, not as high as some European butters. However, the distinct flavor of the Kerrygold pulled it to the front when tasted the baked pastries. With careful handling, we have managed to preserve a crispy, flaky, deeply tasty product.

Once I found myself calling in samples of butters from all my sources, I had a feeling I wanted more for our Danish than a behind the scenes role at staff meal. We found a home for the dough at Avec, twisted, turned, rolled, pinwheeled, and baked fresh before every brunch.

However it is on Blackbirds dessert menu our Danish took on it’s most unlikely role. Rolled with cardamom and sugar, sliced, and baked in a wheel, the Danish is broken after the crispy layers grasp tensile strength and returned to the oven to ensure the newly exposed layers become ultimately shatter-y.

Toasted to order, the Danish perches above a roasted rhubarb compote and dollops of whipped Delice de Bourgogne, a French triple cream cheese that makes for a most grown-up take on cream cheese filling. Moist crumbs of a marzipan cake fall off one side of the dessert, a nod towards the filling of a bear claw. Petite anise hyssop sits in a tangle over the dessert nesting shaved green almonds and flowers from summer herbs.

The dish could not help but be informed by Jordan Kahn’s Croissant, featured here in a breathtaking stop motion animation film. Without seeing his torn croissant, our Danish dough may have slipped past blackbirds dessert menu, never making it’s evening debut.

Danish Dough Recipe

Roasted Rhubarb

Almond Cake Crumbs

Whipped Delice

Compressed Green Almonds