Pomegranate Almond Cheese Danish Pastry

From 6 Bittersweets
Adapted from Joe Pastry, Gourmet, The Pie and Pastry Bible, and Simply Recipes
Makes 18 danishes

XIAOLU'S NOTES: You can replace these fillings with a number of other things. Just aim for 2 to 3 teaspoons of 1 or 2 types of filling in each danish. Try other preserves, almond cream, poppyseed filling, pastry cream, or even something savory like sun-dried tomatoes! Also feel free to explore all the fun shapes out there.

Danish Pastry Dough (Recipe below)
Cream Cheese Filling (Recipe below)
1/4 cup Pomegranate Jelly (Recipe below)
1 large egg
2 Tbsp water
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp water
2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Remove dough from the refrigerator; divide in half. Rewrap and chill one half as you work with the other. Let dough sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. Flour your counter, then roll the dough into a 12 x 9-inch rectangle (1/4-inch thick). Transfer to a cookie sheet, cover, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to relax the gluten. Meanwhile, repeat the above for the other half of the dough.

Put 1st dough back on the counter, flour the top, and roll into a 12-inch square (1/8-inch thick). Brush off excess flour. Use a ruler and sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut the dough into nine 4-inch squares. Cover squares, then repeat the above for the remaining dough.

Keep all squares covered except the one being worked on. To shape each pastry, bring 2 opposite corners of a square together to fold it in half into a triangle. Starting 3/4-inch inwards from each end of the base of the triangle, cut through both layers as if to make a smaller triangle BUT stop cutting 3/4-inch before the 2 cuts would meet. Now unfold the triangle back into a square. Turn the dough over, brush off any excess flour, then reinvert the dough. Combine egg and 2 tablespoons water and beat together lightly to form an egg wash. Brush the border of the pastry with egg wash. Lift each of the 2 unattached corners of the dough and slip one under the other, crossing them over and pulling them out to line up with the remaining edges below. Repeat the above for remaining squares. (Shaping the pastries is really simpler than it sounds. Refer to the photo below to help visualize the process.)

Photo courtesy of Amber * via Flickr

Pipe 1/2 teaspoon of pomegranate jelly (if too solid, heat in microwave at 10-second intervals until pipeable) and 1 teaspoon of cream cheese filling into the center of each twist. Sprinkle each with 3 to 4 sliced almonds. Arrange pastries on baking sheets, leaving at least 1 1/2 inches between them. Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap and set in a warm spot to rise for about 2 hours (until almost doubled and very light to the touch).

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F at least 20 minutes before baking. Five minutes before baking, place a pan with 1 inch of boiling water on the lowest shelf of the oven. Press down on the twists of each pastry to help maintain the shape during baking. Place pastries in the oven, then immediately reduce the temperature to 375 degrees F. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.

While pastries are baking, prepare the sugar glaze. Combine powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon water, and lemon juice in a small bowl. The glaze should be about as thick as egg white; adjust with more water or powdered sugar as needed.

Transfer baked pastries to a cooling rack immediately and brush with glaze. Cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Enjoy your danish right away, store at room temperature for up to 2 days, or freeze for up to 3 months. To reheat, bake in an oven preheated to 300 degrees F for 5 minutes (8 minutes if frozen).

Danish Pastry Dough
3/4 cup warm milk, divided
1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/4 cups (10 oz.) PLUS 1 Tbsp all purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 large egg, room temperature
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cool room temperature

Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup warm milk and let stand for 10 minutes, or until foamy. Combine yeast mixture with remaining milk plus ingredients from sugar down to the egg (EXCEPT 1 tablespoon of the flour) in the bowl of a stand mixer and, using the dough hook, mix about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and uniform (it should be soft and somewhat sticky). Turn it out into a lightly oiled bowl, rotate the dough to coat it in oil, then cover loosely and let it ferment for 30 minutes at room temperature then 2 to 8 hours in the refrigerator.

Place the last tablespoon of flour on a large piece of plastic wrap then put the butter on top (1 stick on top of the other). Wrap plastic around the contents loosely and hit the butter with a rolling pin to make it flatter and softer. Next, as quickly as possible, knead the butter and flour together through the plastic wrap by using your knuckles (Avoid using other warmer parts of your hands that may melt the butter.). Form the butter mixture into a 5-inch square (3/4-inch thick at most) and chill it for 15 to 30 minutes, or until it is firmer but still malleable.

Roll the dough on a well-floured surface into a 10-inch square and lay the butter block diagonally in the center of the square. Lightly moisten the edges of the dough with water, then securely fold the corners tightly over the butter like an envelope, enclosing the butter completely. Brush off any excess flour and pinch edges of the dough together to seal them. Rewrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes only.

With the rolling pin flatten the dough gently with uniform impressions and roll it from the center away from you to within 1/2 inch of the edge. Turn the strip 180 degrees and roll the dough again from the center away from you to within 1/2 inch of the end. Continue to roll the dough in this manner until it forms a 16 x 7-inch rectangle. (It is important not to roll over the ends in this first rolling to help the later formation of even layers of butter and dough.) Brush off any excess flour, fold the top quarter of the rectangle down to the center of the strip, and fold the bottom quarter of the rectangle up to the center, leaving about 1/2 inch between the 2 ends. Fold the top half of the dough over the bottom to close the dough like a book. This is the first "turn." Rewrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 20 to 40 minutes between each turn.

Do 2 more turns for a total of 3 turns, making sure to position the short side of the dough facing you and closed side to your left before each turn. You may also want to occasionally flip the dough over and to use a pastry scraper to even the edges. Rewrap the finished dough and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before using. (Dough can also be kept refrigerated for 2 to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.)

Cream Cheese Filling
4 oz. (1/2 cup) cream cheese
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp egg yolk
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp lemon zest
Scant 1/8 tsp salt
2 tsp all purpose flour

In a bowl, combine all ingredients and beat until well combined. Chill the filling, covered, for at least 1 hour and up to a day.

Pomegranate Jelly
Makes 3 to 3 1/2 cups

XIAOLU'S NOTES: I used bottled pomegranate juice, but follow these directions to make your own.

2 1/4 cups pomegranate juice [bottled OR fresh]
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 package powdered pectin
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar

3 to 4 eight-ounce canning jars OR other sized jars with equivalent total volume

Prepare canning jars. Submerge clean, empty canning jars in boiling water for several minutes. Boil a few cups of water in a separate kettle and pour over lids in a small bowl to sterilize. Add pomegranate juice and lemon juice to a saucepan with at least 3 quart capacity. Add pectin, stir well, and cook over high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Reach a full rolling boil (one that can't be stirred down), add sugar, and stir well. Boil hard for exactly 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Let stand for a minute and skim off foam.

Fill jars to 1/2-inch of the top. Wipe rims with a clean towel. Screw on 2-piece lids.

Finish canning IF you plan to keep the jelly unrefrigerated. Place the filled jars, not touching, on a rack in a tall pot of boiling water. Water should cover tops of the jars by at least an inch. Boil for 5 minutes, then remove from the water. Let jars cool. Check seals, the lids should be sucked down (you'll hear a popping noise as the jelly cools). Once the jars reach room temperature, put them in the refrigerator for a few hours to complete the gelling. Each jar of jelly will last about 3 weeks once opened.