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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Homemade Almond Danish Pastries

About a month ago it was my mum's birthday, and I thought it would be a good time to finally try making the almond Danish pastries in Nigella's Domestic Goddess. Mum loves Almond croissants, especially from Laurent, and I was keen to use up the other half of the processor Danish pastry I'd made earlier.
It would be inexact of me to say this was an ordeal, but it definitely was an advantage that I wasn't working at the time, as it was a multi-day project that involved a series of steps. None of them were hard, but you had to be content with the idea of being close to the kitchen for the afternoon.
I'd say the result was worth it though, as they tasted really buttery and light with a strong taste of almond. Those readers familiar with the strong marzipan-like taste of European sweets will know the flavour in the filling; personally I've never really enjoyed that overpowering almond-essence flavour and I found the taste a little overwhelming. It reminded me of those Italian birthday cakes we bought for dad each year at the 'Continental' bakery that were all rum soaked sponge cake, layered with almond filling laced with almond essence and iced in funny gritty frosting. Yes, I didn't like those much as a child, and the idea of one doesn't inspire me much now. But those who tried these Danish pastries loved the strong almond taste, and said it was just the sort of thing they liked. So, it's up to you whether you halve the amount of almond essence in the recipe or not. I would, but I'm not planning to eat a whole batch myself!

The filling is darn easy to make in the processor, and gave me my first experience of grinding my own almonds. Not something I'd do for anything other than pastries, despite my strong feelings about the monopoly of the ground almond industry in Australia (the cost of one 200g packet is a TOTAL RORT!!! There must be some very wealthy ground almond magnates sunning themselves in the Bahamas by now). The result is grittier and stickier than the packets of ground almonds and wouldn't create the same result.

Here's the toasted almonds ground with icing sugar and butter. Yummy. Try not to eat it all before using it.

Nigella's instructions for folding the pastry around the filling made me go 'huh???' and encouraged me to create my own folding method, and one with which I was pretty happy. Yes, they all look a bit different and some are definitely bodgy, but that's what home-cooking is all about (don't contradict me here....).
After they've had the filling added, and the first glaze is added, and they've sat for 1/5 hours until they didn't double in size and feel like marshmallow (I tell you, I have serious yeast issues), they're ready for baking, then cooling, and then the application of the second, shiny, glaze

So, then you let them cool even further and add the third lot of glaze, which is the sugary drizzles you see in the top pictures. I used my fabulous Billington's unrefined icing sugar, which is toffee brown in colour, and toffee-like in taste. Gorgeous stuff.
So, then you're just about finished. Cut one open to check that it's all ok inside...and maybe just have a little taste test to make sure nobody is going to choke or die.

Mmmm....nice thick almond filling and buttery pastry.
It would be best to serve these as soon as you've applied the final glaze, so they still have the crispiness and warmth of the oven about them, but I was planning to serve them for an early-morning breakfast so that was impossible. I finished them the day before, and chilled them overnight. When I needed them, I steered well clear of the microwave (don't even think of it. You'll just get flabby, wet pastry and sloppy filling) and put them under a hot grill for a few minutes. The pastry crisped up, as did the sugar glaze, which I actually expected would slide right off. A nice bonus.
Currently I still have a few in the freezer for another occasion, and I'm fairly confident that they freeze well, which is good to know as there are not many occasions when you will eat 6-8 Danishes at a sitting, unless you have a house full of guests. If you're going to put in that effort, it's nice to know you can enjoy the rewards later too. I'm really pleased I went through with this, as the results were tasty and the whole process made me feel like a 'real' home baker. :-)
Read on for the recipe:

Almond Danish Pastries
Nigella Lawson 'How To Be A Domestic Goddess'

1/2 quantity of
processor Danish pastry dough, rolled out and ready to use
150g blanched almonds, toasted
80g icing sugar
2 tablespoons butter at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (or maybe 1/4 tsp?)
1 large egg white, beaten lightly
Egg glaze:
1 large egg, beaten with
2 tablespoons milk
Clear glaze:
100g caster sugar
60ml water
Sugar glaze:
100g icing sugar (unrefined if you have it)
1-2 tablespoons warm water

-For the almond filing: process almond and icing sugar until finely ground. -Add butter, pulse, then the extract and 2 tablespoons of egg white. This filling can be made ahead and stored in the fridge for a week.
-Roll out the pastry into a big square and cut into thirds horizontally, then cut down the middle to get 6 rectangle shapes.
-Place a tablespoon of the mixture on each square in the centre and bring up each opposite corner to meet, so you have a roughly diamond-shaped package. It doesn't matter if filling remains uncovered, as it won't leak out during baking.
-Place on baking sheets and brush with the egg glaze. Leave to rise for about 1/5 hours until they double in size and feel soft and marshmallowy.
-Preheat oven to 180c and cook for 15 minutes until puffy and golden-brown.
-Transfer to a wire rack and let them cool slightly before brushing with the clear glaze; then when they have cooled much more, drizzle over the sugar glaze.
Makes 6-8.


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