April 1, 2011

Cheese Danish

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love puff pastry. Who can resist those light, buttery, flaky layers? It’s crispy and tender and so indulgent.

Puff pastry is one of those things that gives you a big payoff for just a little effort. It instantly fancies up whatever you’re making. And it tastes so darn good.

You can take puff pastry in so many directions. Top it with crème fraiche and caramelized onions and serve it as an appetizer. Wrap it around beef tenderloin for a fancy entrée. (Be sure to impress your guests even more by telling them you're serving their beef “en croute”!) Or layer it with whipped cream and berries to make strawberry napoleons.

I recently used puff pastry in a yummy recipe for cheese Danish. I love cheese Danish. Store-bought cheese Danish is fine, but it usually contains raspberry jam, cinnamon swirl or something else that (IMHO) detracts from the sweet cheese filling.

In this recipe, the focus is on the pastry and the cheese. That’s it. I forgot to take a picture of the inside of the Danish (sorry!) but trust me, you get a generous filling to pastry ratio. It tastes like a little cheesecake pillow tucked into a delicious pastry blanket. 

These Danish are great to serve for breakfast or to take to a potluck brunch. You can assemble them the night before and then bake them the next morning. And they stay puffed up even after they’ve cooled.

I used a recipe by Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa). She calls it Easy Cheese Danish, and she’s not kidding! I only made a few tiny changes to her recipe. I left out the lemon zest, because I wanted to really taste the vanilla in the filling. And I sprinkled a little bit of sugar on top of the Danish to give the pastry a hint of sweetness. The result is a tender, flaky pastry with a rich, not-too-sweet filling that you will love.

This recipe requires a bit of preplanning. Defrost your puff pastry in the fridge for at least six hours. You can also defrost it more quickly at room temperature, but I’ve had better results with the fridge. You also want to leave the cream cheese and eggs out for a few hours to bring them to room temperature.

You begin by assembling the ingredients for your filling – cream cheese, sugar, egg yolks, ricotta cheese, vanilla extract, salt, and lemon zest (if you’re using it).

First cream together the sugar and cream cheese.

Add the rest of the filling ingredients and mix until they are well combined.

You will end up with a mixture that looks like this.

Now it’s time to work on the puff pastry. Place the dough on a lightly floured board (I used my counter top) and roll it out slightly until it’s a 10-inch by 10-inch square.

Cut the puff pastry into four equal squares. Then place a heaping tablespoon of the cheese filling in the middle of each square. (You’ll have some filling left over, but don’t be tempted to overfill the Danish or they will leak.)

Brush the border of each square with egg wash.

Fold one corner of the square over to the opposite corner so that it forms a triangle. (The recipe calls for folding the two opposite corners to the center, more like traditional Danish. I folded mine like turnovers, so that the filling would be completely nestled within the pastry.)

Then firmly seal the edges. I did this by pressing down with a fork. 

Place the pastries on a baking sheet. Brush them with the egg wash, then sprinkle with sugar if you’d like.

Now you need to refrigerate the pastries for at least 15 minutes. Both times I’ve made this recipe, I’ve refrigerated the Danish overnight. Chilling the puff pastry before baking it ensures that the pastry will get tall and flaky when it bakes. All that’s left is to bake the Danish until they are puffed and golden brown.

Easy Cheese Danish

Recipe by Ina Garten

8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
2 extra-large egg yolks, at room temperature (I used large egg yolks)
2 Tbsp ricotta cheese
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
2 sheets (1 box) frozen puff pastry, defrosted
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

1.       Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. (I used two sheet pans.)
2.       Place the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and cream them together on low speed until smooth. With the mixer still on low, add the egg yolks, ricotta, vanilla, salt, and lemon zest and mix until just combined. Don't whip!
3.       Unfold 1 sheet of puff pastry onto a lightly floured board and roll it slightly with a floured rolling pin until it's a 10 by 10-inch square. Cut the sheet into quarters with a sharp knife. Place a heaping tablespoon of cheese filling into the middle of each of the 4 squares. Brush the border of each pastry with egg wash and fold 2 opposite corners to the center, brushing and overlapping the corners of each pastry so they firmly stick together. (I folded one corner up over the filling to the other corner to form a triangle.) Brush the top of the pastries with egg wash. (I sprinkled some sugar on them at this point.) Place the pastries on the prepared sheet pan. Repeat with the second sheet of puff pastry and refrigerate the filled Danish for 15 minutes.
4.       Bake the pastries for about 20 minutes, rotating the pan once during baking, until puffed and brown. Serve warm.

Makes 8 Danish

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