Call me hyperbolic if you must, but these cheese Danish are the best thing I have ever made. And my husband agrees, despite being one of the more critical people I know...but I digress. The pastry is one of the flakiest, tenderest, and butteriest around. Danish dough is like puff pastry with the addition of yeast and an egg. Traditional recipes involve a literal block of butter that you wrap in dough—a time-consuming, tricky process called lamination.
But this recipe employs some major shortcuts, removing all of the finicky steps, inspired by my pals Shauna Sever and Samantha Seneviratne, as well as Beatrice Ojakangas, whose famous Danish dough recipe was beloved by none other than Julia Child. The dry ingredients—including instant yeast, which requires no proofing (you’re welcome)—are processed with butter, then mixed with egg and milk. Rest, fold, rest, fold, fill, bake, done. Yes, the dough must undergo a few stints in the fridge, but the active time (and overall trickiness) is cut at least by half.
The Danish that emerge from the oven, golden, puffed, and filled with a tangy, slightly sweet cream cheese filling (that you really should dollop with jam), are ethereal. Just ask my husband. —Jessie Sheehan
- Prep time 12 hours
- Cook time 25 minutes
- makes 9 Danish
- Danish dough
large eggs, divided
(76 grams) whole milk
(128 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
(79 grams) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons
kosher salt, divided
unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
large egg yolk (use the other 1/2 for the filling)
- Cream cheese filling
cream cheese, at room temperature
freshly squeezed lemon juice
kosher salt (heaping!)
Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling (optional)
Your favorite jam, for dolloping (optional, but strongly encouraged)
- In a small bowl, whisk 1 egg and the milk, then place in the refrigerator.
- Add the flours, sugar, yeast, 1 teaspoon salt, and butter to the bowl of a food processor and briefly process until the butter cubes are both walnut-sized and pea-sized. Transfer to a large bowl and add the egg-milk mixture. Stir with a flexible spatula until there are only a few bits of dry flour.
- Turn out the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap. Wrap the dough as best you can, forming a rectangle about an inch or so thick. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for 4 to 24 hours.
- Here’s how to do a letter fold: Generously flour a work surface and roll the dough into an 8x15-inch rectangle, with the short side closest to you. The dough will be quite dry in spots and quite sticky in others—do not be afraid to re-flour as you roll or to use your fingers to press and shape the dough. Once you have formed the rectangle, use a bench scraper (or the flat side of a chef’s knife or pie server) to lift the bottom third of the rectangle closest to you and fold it up and over itself. Then bring the top third of the rectangle down to cover it, as if you were folding a letter. Now, rotate the dough clockwise so the short side of the rectangle is closest to you.
- Repeat the letter fold, described in the step above, two more times (for a total of three letter folds). Use a pastry brush to sweep any excess flour from the dough. Wrap the dough and return it to the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, do three more letter folds. Wrap the dough and return it to the refrigerator for 2 to 24 hours.
- Heat the oven to 375°F. Roll the dough into a 12-inch square. Use a sharp paring knife (and ruler if you’d like to be exact) to cut 9 (4-inch) squares.
- In a small bowl, whisk the remaining 1 egg, the 1/2 yolk, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Brush this egg wash on all four corners of each square, and fold each corner into the middle of the square, pressing down so it adheres and you end up with a little divot in the center. Divide the Danish between two sheet pans lined with parchment paper (they expand a lot when baked) and lightly cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place for 30 to 45 minutes, until slightly puffy.
- Meanwhile, make the filling: In a small bowl, vigorously whisk all of the filling ingredients until smooth.
- After the Danish have risen, press down the hollowed center of each (as it will have puffed up a bit). Brush the Danish with the egg wash. Sprinkle with the turbinado sugar (if using). Place a scant tablespoon of cream cheese filling into each divot.
- Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the pans at the halfway point, until golden brown. Once removed from the oven, top the cream cheese with a teaspoon of your favorite jam (if you know what’s good for you). The Danish will deflate a bit as they cool. They’re best the day-of, especially still warm.