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Putting Denmark Back in the Danish

 We are wondering just what the definition of Danish is. You know, you want a coffee and some "Danish." Is it the type of dough that is used, or must there be some sort of compote or gooey stuff on top of any dough to be considered Danish?

 In Britain and the United States, we eat Danish. In Denmark and northern Germany, the pastry in question is called Wienerbrød (Vienna bread). In Vienna, they sell pastries called Kopenhagener, named after Denmark's capital city. But the geographic challenge is not nearly as confused as the pastry.

True Danish is made from a yeast-leavened, butter-laminated dough (like a croissant dough, only with more sugar), that forms a light and crisp pastry. The most traditional filling is a sugar-butter-almond paste called remonce. Other toppings and fillings include pastry cream, jams, other nut pastes, and other sugar-butter-flavoring combinations. There are also often dried fruits and candied peel in the filling and the pastries are also often iced, glazed, and/or sprinkled with nuts.

There are traditional shapes for the filled Danish pastry — the spandauer, where the corners of a square are folded to the center, with a little filling peeking out of the cracks; the three-corner, folded into a triangle; the packet, where the four corners are pulled together and twisted into a topknot; a pinwheel, where a slash is cut from each corner toward the middle, and then every other pastry point is folded to overlap in the center; and a comb or kammar, where the pastry is rolled into a strip and nicked in horizontal stripes with a knife to make teeth. The pretzel-shaped kringler is not filled.

Because Danish bakers take their Danish pastries so seriously, they may bake two or three times a day to ensure that the pastries are fresh, light, and crispy. The Kopenhagener in Vienna is a heavier, sticky pastry, and the Danish in this country can be almost anything (and often not particularly special). But unless there is a light, crisp, layered pastry, you are not eating a Danish.

Our favorite (and quickest) recipe for Danish pastry dough comes from Beatrice Ojakangas, in Dorie Greenspan's Baking With Julia (Canada, UK).

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