Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Lemon Danish

Sunday mornings at grandma and grandpa's house in Fresh Meadows always consisted of two elements: jazz and lemon danishes from the Cake Box. Gretel, the baker, would make fresh pastries in the morning and my grandfather would bring my mother a jelly doughnut, my father a piece of pecan pie and for me well a lemon danish. That is until Gretel moved upstate to be closer to her family and in protest, all the bakers of America boycotted the lemon danish.
A few years ago, I found a nice version at the 'French' chain, "Au Bon Pain", which has since deteriorated primarily because they stopped making lemon danishes and resorted to apricot, cheese and cherry ones. No place else in New York City seems to make them and so Sunday mornings at grandma and grandpa's house now consist of jazz and cherry almond cream danishes. I scoop the cherries out with a spoon because in addition to my prejudice against raisins, I don't like Maraschino cherries either.
I did however come upon them in one of the oddest of places: Nerd Camp at the Johns Hopkins University. Every morning I could look forward to a banana and a lemon danish from the Fresh Foods Cafe referred to as the FFC by JHU kids. Each morning I would rush to the pastry cart and locate the lone lemon danish, which even in a pile of its own was unpopular. I rescued it. That is of course one of the reasons I chose Hopkins after all! No, ok, it was the neuroscience but the danishes definitely help.

In my Freshman Seminar class last semester (our version of a college english class), when we began "Hamlet", my professor decided to have us draw Hamlet because his age and physical appearance is never explicitly referred to by Shakespeare. I drew a hipster (I do go to school on the Lower East Side after all) wearing iPod buds and listening to Bob Dylan, who happened to be reading "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" by Tom Stoppard and eating a lemon danish. I thought that was ruther clevah.
Since I am on break I had enough time to dedicate to the arduous process of danish making. I started yesterday and finished this morning, mostly because my first batch did not work out very well, although my second more than made up for it. The trick to danishes, not that I am a seasoned pastry chef, is butter.  I took 1 cup of softened unsalted butter (I used Breakstone but Irish butter might be better) and creamed it with 1/3 cup of flour.
I flattened it lightly with my rolling pin (the mixture is mostly butter so it's not a dough like consistency at all) and put it the fridge. Next up I added 1 packet of dry yeast to 1 1/2 cups of flour and mixed it. In a pot I warmed up (just so it's warm not hot) 1 1/4 cups of milk, 1/4 cup of sugar, 1 tsp of salt and then added it to the flour/yeast mixture. I added 1/2 tsp of almond and lemon extract and 1 egg and whisked it all together. Gradually I poured in 2 1/2 cups of flour to this mixture and knead. I left this dough to rise for a few hours but all you need is one.
When my dough had risen to nearly double its original size, I split it into two equal parts and took out one of the butter/flour sheets from earlier. I rolled one of the dough halves into a square and placed the butter sheet onto it and folded it over, then I pressed around the edges to enclose it within the dough. Then I rolled the dough out into a long rectangle and folded it into thirds. Roll again and fold it in thirds but this time put it in the fridge for 30 minutes and repeat with the second half. When I removed it from the fridge I repeated this process two more times and then put it in the fridge again for 10 minutes.
Now it is time to shape the dough into danish pastry like structures. The most common structure I used was the flower, which I found a tutorial for on youtube. You cut the dough into strips (the width depends on your taste but I had three-four inch strips) and then into squares. Roll out each square and then fold into a triangle and make two cuts one on either side. Unfold it and you should have little arrow tips on either vertex. Fold it into a triangle the other way and make the same cuts. Then unfold and draw up two ends and press together until they stick and then draw up the other two ends and do the same.
You can add the filling before you do this or after depending on what you're using. I chose to fill afterwards since I didn't want my lemon curd cooked in the oven! Bake your pastries at 450 F for 8 minutes until the bottoms are golden brown, make sure they don't burn. Depending on size this should yield about 18 pastries according to my recipe from
To make the lemon curd filling I used "Tea and Sympathy's" recipe, which calls for 1/4 cup of butter melted in a double boiler. Then I added 1 cup of sugar and stirred until I had a smooth texture. I added four eggs and the juice and zest of three lemons. Stir every few minutes until the consistency is thick (25-30 minutes). Once it is thick enough, put it in the refrigerator for about an 1 hour or until it is cold. This thickens it even more.
I used an icing bag (or rather a ziplock with its tip cut off) to add the curd to each danish. I also made a glaze for the crust, which I added after they cooled off a bit, consisting of 3/4 cup of confectioner's sugar, 1/2 tsp almond extract, 1/2 tsp lemon extract, 1/8 cup of melted butter and a bit of water to make it smooth. I drizzled the glaze onto the pastries Jackson Pollock style and asked my mom fourteen times if she liked them or not. She liked them the first twelve times but the last two were resounding no's (but not to my pastries). 


  1. Deep in thought and concentration, my mouth watered with the aroma of lemons in the kitchen. I patiently waited to lick the spoon of whatever was being stirred in the bowls and pots. It's one of my favorite things to do when one is cooking (not me), and I have been licking many most recently. The danish were finally ready. Nika added the curd into the delicate danish and as soon as it hit my lips, the journey of flavours began. Teeth sinking into the danish revealed many layers of textures and the curd housed lemon rind hiding in its very folds, adding yet another delight to the bite. Yum!

    1. you're a poet and you didn't know it!

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