Perhaps my favorite weekend occupation is puttering, quiet here-and-there noodlings between my waking up and my being ready to enter the world. Things like sweeping my apartment, doing some writing, doing last night’s dishes, but mostly making coffee. That, and finding some little something to go with my coffee. Had I my druthers, it would be danishes. Which, as it turns out, are nothing like the cakey, enjoyable but slightly congealed Entenmann's thingies we are sold as danishes. No, they’re flaky, not necessarily very sweet, and are ideally anchored by the tangy heft of cream cheese. (I love cream cheese, and cannot be trusted or left alone around it.)
Making danishes is the idea sort of party trick to whip out for a brunch. The fillings can largely be made ahead, and the puff pastry dough (which you can absolutely buy frozen, as I do) needs to thaw. That means you can pull it out of the freezer and pop it in the fridge before you go to bed, and it will be ready for you by the time you’ve sipped from your first mug of coffee the following morning.
These danishes do have a good smear of cream cheese enriched with an egg yolk, which makes the resulting filling custardy and lighter than you’d expect a cream cheese-egg yolk mixture to be, almost fluffy. I do not sweeten the cheese because I like the slight savoriness of it against the sweet fruit, but you could add a little sugar or honey if you'd like.
On top of that goes a spoonful of a quick strawberry compote since it’s spring, almost summer, after all. Honey sweetens without it tasting overly sweet, strips of lemon zest brighten and help it gel just slightly, and adding half the strawberries at the very end of cooking gives you identifiable strawberry shapes in a glossy sauce.
But the special ingredient here is rosewater. Strawberries are a part of the rose family, and the flavors really sing together. You won’t taste it much in the final danish, but it lends a floral quality that feels very summery to me. And no, it’s not absolutely necessary, but rosewater is inexpensive, widely available—especially at Middle Eastern groceries—and you’ll find lots of uses for it, like adding it to icings, rice pudding, or a smoothie.
But don’t let me forget to talk about the pastry itself. Find the best-quality puff pastry you can, roll it very thinly to ensure crispy, flaky layers, score around the edge to give the pastry a guideline for puffing up and taking shape, and keep the dough as cold as you can. When the cold butter in pastry hits the hot oven, it will turn to steam, and that’s what makes pastry light and delicious. Don’t skip the freezer time before baking the pastries because it helps them maintain their shapes.
Strawberry-Rose Cream Cheese Danishes
- Yields: Makes 16 4-inch danishes
If you haven’t thawed your puff pastry yet, do it now. You could, if you like, prepare the cream cheese and strawberry fillings while your pastry thaws; that way, your strawberries will be cool by the time your dough is ready. Please do thaw the pastry dough in the refrigerator because it will thaw more evenly that way.
To make the strawberry-rosewater filling, combine the honey, half the strawberries, strips of zest, and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat about 20 minutes, stirring regularly, until the strawberries have become a fairly smooth sauce. Add the rest of the strawberries and simmer gently about 5 minutes, until softened but still holding their shape. Remove from the heat, stir in the rosewater, and set aside to cool to room temperature.
To make the cream cheese filling, beat together the cream cheese and the egg yolk. Set aside. That’s it.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Unfold the puff pastry and cut it into 8 equal pieces on a clean work surface. Carefully set 7 of the 8 pieces on a dish and keep them in the fridge while you work with the first 1/8. The colder you can keep your puff pastry before it bakes, the better—you don’t want the butter in it to melt while you’re working it.
Roll the puff pastry 1/8 into an approximately 4-x-9-inch rectangle on a sheet of parchment. Use a 4-inch-wide cookie cutter, bowl, or ramekin as a stencil for the danishes; you will be able to get two danishes out of each eighth of pastry. Use a small sharp knife to cut out the circles and set them on the parchment-lined sheet trays. Repeat, working as quickly as possible, until the first baking sheet is full, leaving about an inch between circles.
Lightly score a circle ⅓ inch in from the edge of each pastry circle. Dollop a scant tablespoon of cream cheese filling into the center of each pastry circle. Put the entire tray into the freezer for 20 minutes while you preheat the oven to 400°F and whisk together the egg and and water with a fork.
Remove the very cold pastries from the freezer and brush the edges lightly with egg wash. Spoon a very heaping teaspoon or so of strawberry filling into the center, on top of the cream cheese.
Bake the pastries 15 minutes at 400°F, then reduce the heat to 375°F and bake 10 minutes more, until the pastries are deeply golden. Don’t worry if you hear the fillings hissing—they’ll be fine. Remove the pastries to a wire rack and let cool. Repeat the above process until all of the dough has been used. Any scraps of dough can be tossed with sugar—or cinnamon sugar—and baked at 400°F for 10 minutes and 375°F for 5 until gold, crisp, and puffy. They're the cook’s treat.
These beauts are best day of, but are still tasty the next day. Revive them on a parchment-lined sheet tray in a 350°F oven for 5 or so minutes, until hot and flaky once again.