Sunday, June 29, 2008

Respect, or, Walk A Mile In My Clogs

We’ve all seen them before. On the lounge area table of the discount motel chain. Huddled in miserable groups next to giant, cottony muffins, an urn of burnt coffee and pitchers of watery orange juice serving as sentinels. You probably bypass them in favor of a puffy, doughy bagel. Occasionally, someone will be foolhardy enough to select one, but can only muster a handful of bites before consigning it to the trash. They are often prepackaged in cellophane, like members of a suicide cult. Their fillings are congealed white globs of “cheese” or, even worse, dark brown smears of “prunes.” It’s as if they had been created by someone who had no sense of taste or smell, and, in fact, they served as punishment for those that do. Indeed, why would anyone willingly subject themselves to such abasement?

I speak, of course, of the Danish.

Prior to this month’s challenge, my experience with Danish consisted of the exact scenario above: repulsive, overly sweet and artificially-flavored discuses of pastry found primarily in the hushed and awkward breakfast areas of motels. I readily admit my preference for sweet things for breakfast, but even these Danish defied my palate. In short, they were awful. Yet, Danish come from a long and storied baking past, so surely in their original incarnations they must have actually tasted like, you know, food.

The announcement of the challenge, Danish Braid, actually thrilled me. Laminated dough! Yeast! Braiding! This is why I signed on to be a Daring Baker, to expand my baking repertoire, become a better person. Surely I would develop a new respect for these much-maligned pastries if I had to make them myself.

The process proved to be a good deal more manageable than I had anticipated. By dividing the actual mixing and shaping of the dough into two days, I was able to tackle each step without feeling overwhelmed. Detrempe (dough)—check. Beurrage (butter block)—check. Turns (rolling and folding the dough to create layers)—check. I’d always wanted to try making puff pastry, and this was a good introduction to the process. Perhaps I might attempt croissants de boulanger soon. (Or maybe that should wait until the mercury drops below a drillion degrees, and my apartment without air conditioning.)

Just a little bit-AmyS

To fill the Danish, I took fresh cherries and made an extremely easy but appallingly tasty jam, following a recipe from Baking With Julia, and also made a frangipane (almond filling) from the same book. Smeared on the frangipane, topped it with the cherry filling, and then it was time to braid. Braiding is the social currency of little girls. What would sleepovers and summer camp be without the constant braiding and unbraiding of each other’s hair? Like grooming chimps, girls seal social networks through French braids and fancy, princess-like hair arrangements. Throughout elementary school, junior high and high school, I had short, pixielike locks, which meant that, in addition to being mistaken for a boy, my own braiding capabilities were sadly compromised. Or maybe I’m blaming my hair for me being unpopular. Anyway, when it came time for me to do my Danish Braid, there was a small glitch. I miscalculated the measurements and had a slightly different number of dough strips on one side of the pastry than the other. Ah, well, it’ll sort itself out in the oven.

There was extra dough left over, so I experimented with making small Danish, using strawberry jam, frangipane and mini chocolate chips in sundry combinations for the fillings. A rise, an egg wash, a sprinkling of pearl sugar, and into the oven, me pretties!

While they baked, the apartment filled with the evocative scents of cardamom and orange, the traditional Scandinavian flavorings for Danish. And when I pulled them from the oven, they did, indeed look like actual Danish only, you know, edible. Whilst the pastries were hot, I brushed on a simple glaze of powdered sugar, lemon juice and milk. It melted into the dough, creating a lovely sheen.


Waiting to taste the Danish was an exercise in self-control, and my gluttony won, so that I cut and ate my first piece before it was cool. And lo, a revelation. I wondered why anyone would label the motel monstrosities “Danish,” when the difference between those and what I had produced was as sizable as me slapping on shoulder pads and calling myself a defensive lineman for the Cincinnati Bengals. (I am, dear reader, a mere five feet tall, and flinch when a Nerf football is tossed gently in my direction.) Z. took the remainder of the Danish into work the following day, and many declared it the best Danish they had ever eaten, or so I am told. It did not last long on the craft services table. The piece I had set aside for my mother-in-law was eaten by yours truly. (I’m sorry, Pauline!)

(You may be wondering, what happened to the individual Danish? Dear Reader, I accidentally burnt them into hard briquettes. Vanity prevented me from having them photographed.)

So, thanks to the Daring Bakers, I learned a new lesson in respect. Mock not the true Danish. It is a noble beast that deserves a far greater tribute than being relegated to the rubbish bin of the Motel 6.

I remain,
Yours, &c.


Anonymous said...

Ami---MMMMMM. Even the photos emit a perfume good for dabbing behind your ears and other places. And, the Danes are the happiest of all earthly people, according to Yahoo/news. No wonder with pastry like this!

Dolores said...

Ah, Svenhardts, the curse of the "American Industrialized Danish". I'm glad you broke through the myth of tasteless pastry and found happiness in this month's challenge.

That and I love, love LOVE the way you write. :)