my experience of denmark is two fold – danish copenhagen vanilla ice cream (in which even as a young child, with a penchant for campbell’s bolognese sauce from a tin and wendy’s flake shakes, i was able to discern a superiority and even while lacking the requisite language and therefore knowledge to identify those black seeds of vanilla which speckled my hitherto harmonious and uninterrrupted sea of white, i knew they were somehow doing very significant things.) the second is danish pastries – which, ill admit, never really blew my hair back. neither conceptually nor in reality. chocolate and almond croissants always just seemed to make made more sense. but it gets cold, you may not have a kitchen aid, you might also not have 48 hours in which to attempt and invariably wish you hadnt attempted croissants and all the while wintery dreams of europe and its fancies fill the void between where you are and where you want to be. so something had to be done, made and eaten. and therein lies the secret of the danish – what i had been missing all this time – ease. you can create something close to perfection in a matter of minutes (joy: this is figurative…it actually took about an hour, including but not exclusive to, standing still and thinking what to do next time). in the hierarchical and elitist world of pastry (you cant really do much without a kitchen aid, a commercial oven and a number of pastry chefs)…danishes are the great leveller. and in the timeless and poetic words of snow: “pastry is a right, not a privilege”.
puff pastry (shop bought because who in their right mind would attempt otherwise)
any fruit you like (but for this i used 2 apples, 2 pears, 1 punnet of strawberries, 2 plums)
caster sugar (for sprinkling)
1 egg for egg wash
…for the pastry cream
1/2 cup sugar (50g)
2 egg yolks
4 tblsp cornflour
1 vanilla bean
1 cup milk
1 cup cream
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
first make the pastry cream. pour milk and cream into pan on the stove. put vanilla bean and its constituent seeds into milk and bring to just before boiling point. remove from heat and set aside. in a separate bowl whisk together the eggs, sugar and cornflour until pale and fluffy. the cornflour will make this ordinarily easy task much tougher and so you may need your kitchen aid, who should be conveniently located on the other side of the kitchen bench at all times, to finish it off.
slowly and carefully pour some of the hot milk over the eggs and sugar and whisk til it hurts. then you can more liberally pour in the rest of the milk. then return this to the pan and bring back to the boil, stirring constantly. boil for one minute. then strain through a sieve and add the butter and stir until melted. set aside to cool. when it has cooled to warm, cover with gladwrap (or clingfilm, depending on what side of the world you come from and to what extent your language has been victim of imperial cultural domination) and let it cool completely.
preheat the oven to 180 degrees. then prepare the fruit. in any way you like. cut, quarter, chop, dice…whatever feels right.
then get your pastry out of the freezer, or the coldest part of your fridge if your freezer has frozen over. and cut into squares. i cant give measurements here because i dont really do numbers. what i do do, and know a great deal about, is the size of a pastry and so too should you. so i will just say, these squares should be danish size. spread a layer of the pastry cream on the base.
finally place the fruit on the pastry cream in any way you wish. fanning and arraying worked well.
then you will need to use some egg wash for the sides with the new pastry brush you finally acquired and place them on a baking tray. put in the oven and cook for about twenty minutes or until golden brown. (do not get distracted during this time, wander off to pursue other interests or pleasures and return to find an ovenful of blackened pastry…salvaging only one, cursing yourself and your attention deficit tendencies. i wouldnt do such a thing. and my best advice to you is not to either.)
then remove from the oven …
theres something to be said for modesty and humility. likewise, a little self-consciousness in writing. but i think it is fair and accurate to say that with this, i have reached a culinary peak. so too has my photographer reached an artistic apex, the likes of which you are not likely to witness again. that is to say, this is as good as it gets. and i think thats good enough.