When I was a boy I often dreamt of the day when I’d visit Sweden. Something about that majestic Scandinavian kingdom captured my imagination and filled me with wonder. Fur-lined hats and snow covered streets. Reindeer, sleigh bells, rosy-cheeked beautiful people, northern lights, the royal family,
(home of IKEA, ABBA); and as an adult, the design, the furniture, the food and the tall rosy-cheeked beautiful people, IKEA, the ABBA MUSEUM!
In fact I knew very little about Sweden or much about any Scandinavian country, other than one day I would visit and discover for myself the wonders of the north.
Somewhere deep in the braches of our family tree there is a throwback to Sweden, a distant great-great-great grandfather or so the story goes. You can see it in my cousins, tall, blonde, cheek-boned and blue eyed. I missed out on the blue eyes and my hair has darked from the childhood blond it once was, but for sure there is something lingering there. The other side of the family hails from Ireland, with a decent spattering of red hair in the mix which has to be a throwback to the Viking invaders – well that’s how the story goes.
But, the fact is, even though I’ve visited Scandinavia many times, I’m yet to make it to Sweden.
Finland, check, Norway, check, Iceland, check… Sweden… well… if you count Arlanda international airport a couple of times…
Then, one night dancing to an ABBA remix at a 70s themed disco revival night at the local club district (no judgement), I met and fell in love with a Finn.
We regularly zipped back to Finland to visit the family; relocated and set up house, studied the impossible language (which I adore, and The Finn thinks sounds not dissimilar to a machine gun) got married, and was welcomed into a new Finnish family. And that’s when it happened. I was home. And I was Scandinavian. It might not be the land of my forebears, but something in the light, water, forests and people in Finland got under my skin.
But the allure of Sweden has never ebbed. More on that later.
So this leads me to 24 hours to Denmark.
This is my culinary journey through Scandinavia. I’m a baker from way back, (since I won the blue ribbon for my apple tea cake at age six) and adore the tastes and smells of bread, cakes and pastries from across the world. When my local bakeries didn’t offer what I was after I set about teaching myself how to recreate the extraordinary delights in the bakers windows of Europe.
Danish pastries are my weakness. I love them, always have. My Dad and I used to frequent our local Hot Bread store on Saturday mornings to buy said hot bread; usually a Vienna loaf or similar, scorched a little on the crust. We’d eat it piled high with paper thin slices of pastrami from the deli next door and I couldn’t imagine a better lunch at the age of eight. Pastries would also be bought for afternoon tea (or the ride home) – always apricot for me.
Since then my tastes have somewhat evolved to enjoy more complex fillings like the ones below, although give me a good apricot jam filled pastry at a market and I’m liable to lose a sense of what’s appropriate to say in public while eating it. (More on that later)
Don’t be put off by the time this recipe takes. The length of time needed is to let the dough very slowly prove in the fridge before the magic really happens. It takes barely five minutes to slap it all together in the first step and then go about your business or whip up a loaf of Finnish rye bread while you wait.
This recipe comes via a Brit from a Finn. It’s based on Nigella Lawson’s recipe, which is based on one from accomplished commentator on all things Finnish and edible, Beatrice Ojakangas.
You can certainly use ricotta cheese, custard or almond as the filling, but I love the tang of sour morello cherries (although not really Scandinavian) balanced with a simple pastry cream.
A colleague of mine hailing from Denmark tells me that fruit is not a common filling for the ubiquitous Viennebrot, and also these pastries are never called a Danish in Denmark. The translation is Viennese Bread, hailing from Vienna, but what the hey. They bake em , we eat em.
You’ll need to begin this recipe the day before, but don’t panic, it’ll be done before you can say Lentokonesuihkuturbiinimoottoriapumekaanikkoaliupseerioppilas.
60 ml warm water
125 ml milk, at room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature
350g plain white flour
1 sachet (approx 7g) rapid yeast
1 teaspoon salt
25g golden sugar
250g cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
Optional: I’m obsessed with cardamom, so if you want to spice up your mix a little and give it a Finnish twist add a teaspoon of ground cardamom or some crushed seeds to the dry mixture. This is totally not traditional, but delightful nonetheless.
Tools: Jug, large bowl, food processor, spatula, cling film, sense of adventure.
Pour the water, milk and egg into a jug and mix until combined.
Place the flour, yeast, salt and sugar into the food processor and pulse to mix for a second or two. Add the cold butter and pulse again until the butter is cut up and mixed in a little. Don’t over mix. It should be chunky.
Empty mix into a large bowl and add all the liquid at once. Fold the mixture together briefly to make a gooey, lumpy dough. Cover with cling film and pop it into the fridge for 24 hours, or longer if you need to.
When you’re ready to transform your goo into pastry remove from the fridge and let it get to room temp. NOTE: if you live anywhere remotely hot (like me) then keep it a bit cooler than room temp and it will be much easier to handle.
Flour your bench (this is essential) and roll, stretch, flatten the pastry as best you can into a square (50cm x 50cm). Fold the dough into thirds like you would a letter and roll out again to a square.
I do this a few times, but if your pastry is getting really gooey stop here. Fold it up into a rectangle again and cut in half. Wrap each square in cling film, then pop straight back into the fridge while you make your filling.
Sour Cherry and Custard
1 jar of sour morello cherries
6 egg yolks
Vanilla bean or 1tsp extract
¾ cup of caster sugar
Dash of milk
100g icing sugar
1-2 tbsp of water
Scald milk and vanilla in a saucepan. Beat egg yolks, sugar and corn flour together in a bowl until well combined and ribbony-thick. Pour in hot milk and whisk until smooth. NOTE: pop a tea town under your bowl to stop it flying out from under you and frightening the cat. Return mixture to the wiped out saucepan and gradually heat until it has thickened and come to a boil. Beat for 1 minute and then pour into a bowl. To prevent a skin forming cover with cling film and press down to touch the custard. Allow to cool.
To make your Danish take the dough and roll out to a 50cm square again. Cut into roughly 6 even pieces. In the centre of each piece pipe or spoon in a dollop of custard (about a tablespoonful) and place 5 or 6 cherries into the custard.
Take opposite corners of the pastry and pinch together. Do all four if you like or stick with two for a longer looking result. Place onto a baking tray and let rise until doubled in size.
Once rested and risen, brush with an egg glaze.
Bake at 180c for 15 to 20 minutes until golden. Once cooked, allow to cool a bit then drizzle with sugar glaze.
Try to not eat all six.