I love to bake. I’m told, however, that my first attempts were not well received by my family. This may have something to do with the fact that not only did my first efforts contain flour, sugar, and eggs, they also included sand. I was 3 or 4. Apparently I was just old enough to find a bowl, pilfer flour and sugar out of the large under counter bins (we lived in an old farm house) and purloin eggs out of the ever present bowl in the refrigerator. (We lived on a chicken farm.) I also knew where the muffin tins lived, and how to turn on the hose. I’m told that on more than one occasion, I became seriously upset (read here hissy fit) when I was told not to “bake” anymore sand pies.
It was about then that my mother decided (I assume) to start teaching me how to bake “real” goodies. And I’ve never stopped. So when I decided to serve brunch for our last pre-concert meal, I was in heaven thinking about what pastries I could serve our guests.
And the first pastry that came to mind was this recipe. And what I usually do when I think about preparing one of my own recipes, I signed onto this site to print a copy. What?!?! No cream cheese Danish on my blog. How had I been so remiss? So ladies and gentlemen, I am correcting that appalling omission right here and now.
Now I know what some of you are thinking. “Patti, you want me to make a cream cheese Danish? Are you out of your unbleached, all-purpose flour lovin’ mind?” And believe me, I get it. I was quite intimidated the first time I contemplated making pastry too. But as I prepared this recipe, I realized it wasn’t difficult at all. You simply needed to know how to read and follow instructions. (Heck, everyone who has been in the kitchen, even if only to prepare Top Ramen, has learned how to follow directions!) So get over your fear and give this decadent pastry a try. You don’t even need a mixer. But, if you don’t have the time or inclination right now, save the recipe and consider making it ahead for Christmas morning.
I always make something fun for Christmas morning. This year I’ve already decided that this Danish filled with the Dried Cherry Compote (recipe below) will be on our breakfast table. Hope you make a similar decision. Then, when asked where you got the amazing pastry, tell them Mrs. Santa sent it along with all the other gifts.
Christmas is such fun! Part magic, and part an indecent amount of work for Mrs. Santa. So what’s one more task? You can always sleep later, that is after all the wrapping paper has been cleared away, the turkey is nothing but cleaned skin and bones, and the left over wine has mysteriously disappeared!
- ½ c. milk, room temperature
- 1 T. or 1 pkg. active dry yeast
- 3 T. sugar
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. vanilla, divided
- 3½ c. bread flour
- 1 c. cold unsalted butter
- 2 packages (8 oz.) cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 c. granulated sugar, plus more for dusting
- filling (see filling suggestions below)
In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, yeast, sugar, eggs, salt, and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla. Set aside. Pour the bread flour into a bowl and grate the butter over the flour. With a table knife (yes, just a plain old table knife), cut the butter into the flour. (There will still be lumps of butter, but generally distribute the butter as best you can. Actually you want some lumps. They help keep the dough tender.)
Pour the milk mixture over the flour and butter mixture, and using your table knife again, run your knife through the dough until the mixture holds together. Remove dough from bowl, shape into a rough ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Meanwhile whip the cream cheese, sugar, and remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla together.
When ready to roll out the dough, cut the dough ball into 2 portions and roll each into a 10×14 rectangle. Place each on a parchment paper lined baking sheet*. Mentally divide the dough into thirds running the long way. Spread the cream cheese mixture down the middle third of each pastry. (Yes it will be quite thick.) Then spread a thin layer of your filling of choice over the cream cheese.
On the outside 2/3rd of the dough, cut 1-inch strips from the edge of the dough to the filling. Starting at one end, braid the strips over the filling. Sprinkle with just a dusting of sugar, cover each with a tea towel, and let sit for 30 minutes.
Bake the Danish in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 25-35 minutes or until the top is lightly browned. Do not over-bake. There is so much butter in the dough, that if you bake it too long, the bottom will be over-browned. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Cut and serve at room temperature. Can be made a day ahead and left on your counter overnight lightly covered with a tea towel.
*I use the kind of cookie sheet that has three flat sides. That way, after the 2 Danish have baked, I can slide them right off onto cooling racks.
Dried Cherry Compote
- 1 c. dried cherries, finely chopped
- 2 T. granulated sugar
- 2 T. brown sugar
- ¼ c. water
- 2 T. brandy
Combine the chopped dried cherries, both sugars, water, and brandy in a medium sized saucepan. Heat on medium, stirring occasionally. Allow mixture to thicken and cherries to cook down slightly, but still maintaining their shape, 10-15 minutes. Allow mixture to cool completely before spreading on cream cheese filling.
Other Filling Suggestions
Any type of Jelly, jam, or fruit spread – raspberry, Marionberry, strawberry, blackberry, boysenberry, etc., or orange marmalade, apricot preserves, lemon curd, etc. You could even try Nutella. Go for it! It’s all good.