How to bake the best breakfast pastries

Buttery, rich and flakey – but be careful about keeping ingredients cool when baking

The process involves butter encased between two layers of chilled, sweet yeast dough, which are repeatedly rolled and folded into thirds. Photograph:  Harry Weir Photography

The process involves butter encased between two layers of chilled, sweet yeast dough, which are repeatedly rolled and folded into thirds. Photograph: Harry Weir Photography

 

A good Danish pastry is an irresistible breakfast treat – buttery, rich and flakey. The prepared dough can be shaped into umpteen fancy styles and sizes, then flavoured with custard, marzipan, sweetened apple, apricots, peaches and dried fruit. While some are finished with apricot glaze, I like mine drizzled with bride-white icing.

This isn’t a quick and easy bake. It is similar to sweet croissant dough, both are referred to as yeast-raised layered pastry and considered a technical bake where the creation of flaky layers of pastry is achieved by a process known as “lamination”. The process involves butter encased between two layers of chilled, sweet yeast dough, which are repeatedly rolled and folded into thirds. 

Taken one step at a time, it is certainly doable by the novice baker, but best attempted after you have learned to make yeast dough (pizza dough). However, if you are in the mood for some serious baking it is a very enjoyable weekend project with a bit of mathematical excitement as your layers multiply from three to nine and then 27.

The main pitfalls surround keeping the ingredients at a cool temperature when layering (so avoid a warm kitchen). The butter should be just chilled, yet pliable. If it gets too warm, the butter will melt into the dough and ooze out when baked making the pastries greasy. If you are in a rush and want to speed the process up, you can chill the dough for 20 minutes in the freezer, instead of the fridge between folds, as long as you don’t forget about it.

Cinnamon Danish pastries

Makes 10

Ingredients

100ml warm milk
7g easy dried yeast
250g strong flour pinch salt
25g caster sugar
1 egg, lightly whisked
140g unsalted butter (small dice, chilled)

For the filling
1 egg, lightly whisked
1 tbsp milk
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp caster sugar (or demerara brown)
50g sultanas, soaked and drained

Glacé Icing
60g sieved icing sugar
Few drops boiling water

Method

1. Divide the warm milk in half and add the yeast to 50ml of the milk (leave to sponge for 5 mins).

2. Sieve the flour, salt and sugar together in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre, add the egg, the yeasted liquid and remaining milk and stir to form a stiff dough.

3. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes.  Place the smooth ball of dough into a bowl, cover and leave in a warm place for 1 hour until slightly risen.  

4. On a lightly floured surface, roll into a neat rectangle 32cm x 12cm with the short end closest to you.  Evenly cover two thirds of the rectangle with butter pieces, leaving a third un-buttered on the short end closest to you.  Fold the butterless third over the butter, and then fold the top third over it (like folding a letter), pinch the side edges closed, then press firmly with the rolling pin, wrap in clingfilm like a packet, refrigerate for 40-60mins (to firm the butter and relax the dough). 

5. To repeat, start with the short end closest to you, re-roll the dough to a rectangle and repeat the folding and chilling process 3 times until all the butter is incorporated into the dough.  Once this is complete it is preferable to rest the dough in the fridge for 6-8 hours before shaping.  

6. To make the filling whisk the egg and milk together and brush over the rolled out dough (save the rest for basting). Sprinkle with cinnamon, sugar and sultanas and roll up like a swiss roll (pinch the dough to secure the long seam). Cut into 2cm discs, place on a lined baking tray, baste and allow to prove (edges will feel marshmallowy to touch when proofed) for 40 minutes.  

7. Bake in an oven preheated to 220C fan for 15-20 mins depending on size, until golden, soft and crisp.

8. Mix drops of boiling water into icing sugar to make a glaze, drizzle over while still warm.

Variation: To shape into jam stars, start with a coaster size square, cut 1cm from the centre to each corner.  Pull each right corner tip inwards, press together in the centre and spoon a dollop of delicious jam in the middle, baste, prove and bake.

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