Ella – August 13, 2018

I love to bake but have never exactly mastered the light, flaky crust of the Danish pastry I grew up enjoying. Recently, at The Danish Home’s Summerfest event, the Women’s Auxiliary hosted their annual tent, selling the Danish Kringle and other Danish sweet treats they lovingly make by hand. This is one of the most popular attractions and a treat visitors and residents alike look forward to all year. These women have clearly perfected the art of Danish desserts.

I got to wondering how the “Danish,” a term used often for a delicious pastry, became synonymous with Denmark. It’s like saying you are going to “Google” a question, even if you use another search engine. Many will say they want a Danish, using it as a general word for a tasty pastry.

Dough is rolled out thin on a floury surface, with a spatula spreading a filling on it.

Making Danish pastries takes time, patience and a lot of love.

Just as it is often questioned whether Chicago is really home to deep dish pizza, there is some uncertainty surrounding the birthplace of the Danish. Turns out, it actually has its origins in Austria. Flaky, buttery dough with fruit, custard, cinnamon, jellies and other special treats in the center was brought to Denmark from Vienna in the 1850s.

Apparently, Danish pastry makers went on strike, and waiting for them to return was not an option. Other bakers were brought in, but because they didn’t know the Danish traditions, they used their own recipes. These recipes became popular throughout the country and remained a favorite even after the strike was over. That is the reason they are referred to as Viennese (wienerbrød) in Denmark.

I also found out that the Kringle is traditionally pretzel-shaped and reminiscent of the royal crown, a symbol that is hung outside bakers’ shops. In fact, the baker’s guild in Denmark is now the only one in the world with official authority to display the crown as part of their baker’s guild trade symbol. But those of us from the Midwest are more familiar with the oval shape. Racine, Wisconsin, where the oval Kringle is very popular, was once home to more Danes than anywhere else in the U.S.

Kringle ingredients are very simple, but I think the most interesting discovery I made along the way is that the dough is folded many times, some say as many as 27 or more. This labor-intensive process sometimes takes days, with as many as 30 layers. It requires slow rolling to get the pastry thin and thin layers of butter in between the yeast-raised dough. I have trouble slowing my roll and tend to move full steam ahead into whatever project I am working on. This is my biggest hint as to why my Danish pastries don’t come close to matching the light, flaky goodness I experienced at Summerfest.

A round, mint green cake with a frosting rose sits on a table.

In homage to the green princess cake (made by Chicago’s Swedish Bakery until it closed after 88 years), a new Chicago bakery, Lost Larson, is still upholding the tradition.

Many were sad when Swedish Bakery in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood closed after 88 years, but there has been a revival of its famed green princess cake.  A new bakery that opened in the neighborhood this past spring, Lost Larson, offers pastries from around the world but made sure to retain the princess cake, green marzipan and all, as an homage to the beloved Swedish Bakery. The green princess cake is a staple at special occasions for many families, including mine. A slice of princess cake reveals a soft sponge cake, a layer of raspberry filling and pastry cream, and whipped cream. My mouth is watering as I write!

The thought of princess cake also reminds me of the raspberry roll cakes we used to offer as a treat when my mom entertained guests. These yummy cakes were swirled through the center with raspberry filling and sprinkled with powdered sugar.

I am so grateful that these recipes have been handed down through the generations. But I realize some of the art that has been lost is taking the time and patience to make something special with love that reflects your heritage and those who came before you. So, when the weather begins to cool in the weeks ahead, I may get out my butter and powdered sugar and take my time creating something worth waiting for.

This recipe nets two Kringles (serving 10-12 each) and will require time and patience. Enjoy!

Danish Kringle

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

1 package active dry yeast

1/4 cup warm water (110 degree F. to 115 degree F.)

1/2 cup cold butter

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 cup warm milk (110 degrees F. to 115 degrees F.)

1 egg beaten

Nut Filling (recipe follows)

Glaze (recipe follows)

2 tablespoons chopped pecans or walnuts

Instructions:

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water.

Using a pastry blender or two knives, in a large bowl, cut butter into flour and salt until particles are the size of small peas.  Add yeast mixture, sugar, warm milk, and egg; beat until smooth (dough will be very soft).  Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours but not more than 24 hours.

When ready to use, remove from refrigerator.  Punch dough down and divide in half; return other half to refrigerator.  On a well-floured board, working quickly before dough softens, roll into a 15 x 10-inch rectangle, approximately 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick (if dough gets too warm from handling, return to refrigerator).

Spread half of the prepared Nut Filling down the center of the rolled-out dough rectangle in a 2-inch strip. Fold sides of dough over filling, overlapping 1-1/2 inches; pinch edges to seal.

Oval Shape:  Form roll into a circle and pinch ends together.  Place seam side down on a large greased baking sheet.  Repeat same process with remaining dough and filling.  Cover and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes or until double in size.

Pretzel Shape:  Lift the filled roll from both ends firmly and center the middle of the roll onto the baking sheet as if you were forming a circle. Pull the ends of the roll so that they make a cross above the roll, then pull the ends down and tuck the ends under the top part of the roll so that the ends stick out from under the roll.

Cover the dough and let rise in a warm place approximately 30 minutes or until double in size.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

After the dough has risen, bake approximately 20 minutes until golden brown or when the internal temperature registers approximately 205 to 209 degrees F. on your cooking thermometer.  Remove from oven and let cool for 15 minutes.

Spread prepared Glaze over the warm Kringle.  Sprinkle with chopped pecans or walnuts.  Serve Kringles warm or at room temperature.

To re-warm, preheat oven to 300 degrees F.  Slide a whole, uncut Kringle onto a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.  Cover loosely with a large piece of aluminum foil and heat for 12 to 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and remove aluminum foil before slicing.

Nut Filling:

1 1/2 cups finely-chopped pecans or walnuts

1 cup firmly-packed brown sugar

1/2 cup butter, room temperature

In a large bowl, combine pecans or walnuts, brown sugar, and butter.

Glaze:

1 cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar

4 to 5 teaspoons water

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, combine powdered sugar, water, and vanilla.