Cardamom and Tahini Custard Danishes and how I once applied for a stage in Ottolenghi’s test kitchen

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One thing that fascinates me to no end about developing recipes is the recipe-testing part of the process, more specifically, knowing when to stop. In fact, I once applied for a stage in Ottolenghi’s test kitchen purely because I wanted to see that process in action. Ottolenghi is probably the chef I consider to be most vocal about the importance of recipe-testing – in part I am sure given how many people always accuse him of overcomplicating things with his long ingredient lists. Sadly the stage did not work out – I received a very lovely ‘no’ explaining that while Ottolenghi offers stages in his various restaurant kitchens, the test kitchen does not normally accept stages. I would of course still happily go on a stage if this ever changes (I actually emailed them again while working on this post and sadly they still don’t accept stages)!

How long it takes me to test a recipe for the blog (or when I develop recipes for magazines) depends on various factors: how complicated (or simple) the recipe is, whether it is based on a tried and tested formula, and also just how well the first rounds of testing turn out. While I don’t religiously stick to a strict number of tests before I am done with a recipe, now that my parents are not the only readers of my blog, I will only ever publish things I am super happy with and recipes that I know work. My personal telltale sign that I am done testing? When I feel that a bite of whatever I have made gives me one of those ear to ear grins and makes me want to dance.

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Recipe testing is also useful in teaching me more about the recipe itself. E.g. for these Danishes with Cardamom Custard the various rounds of testing taught me the following:

  • As much as I love saffron-anything I did not care for a saffron custard version of these Danishes, at all;
  • You can easily make the custard using non-dairy milk but the custard won’t have nearly as nice a colour or be as silky in texture as when made with cow’s milk;
  • You can make the custard with whole eggs or by replacing 2 yolks for each whole egg – the latter does not magically result in a more yellow-hued custard (sad, I know);
  • I also learned about the German baking tradition of using 2 different types of dough (so called ‘Zwillingsteig’ – twin dough). One of the most common recipes for this uses enriched dough with yeast and a simple shortcrust pastry (like in this Braided Poppy Seed Roll from Luisa Weiss’ Classic German Baking ). Another version involves combining enriched dough with yeast and puff pastry – a sort of cheater’s version of Danish dough – which is what I settled on for this recipe.

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As I fear is blatantly obvious from this blog, I was born with a raging sweet tooth. Not an easy fate to bear as the only one in a family of six to be so afflicted. But that is not to say I did not manage to get my sugar fix. Be it through spending my weekly allowance on a Gemischte Tüte (similar to pick’n’mix) at the neighbourhood kiosk or the Teilchen (German for pastries), which would always await us on the backseat of my grandmother’s car when she picked us up from sports practice.

Sometimes the Teilchen would be deep-fried raisin-studded Krapfen rolled in lots and lot of sugar (a type of raisin fritter, sometimes made with fresh curd cheese), other times a Kirschplunder (a sourcherry studded Danish covered in slivered almonds and heaps of icing sugar), or a Mohnstriezl (not unlike a poppy seed studded babka but with lots of icing on top) or a Puddingbretzel, one of my favourites, a pretzel shapped Danish pastry filled with a custard so thick it holds its shape once baked.

I have been doing some reading into Puddingbretzeln and it turns out there are about as many different ways of making Puddingbretzeln as there must be bakeries in Germany. This is my version – a grown-up twist using a cardamom-spiked custard and plenty of tahini layered into the dough.

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Cardamom and Tahini Custard Danishes

Notes: These are a grown-up version of one of my favourite childhood treats, German Puddingbretzeln (Custard Danishes). The dough is a mix of an enriched yeasted dough and puff pastry, with Tahini layered into it, resulting in an utterly buttery and flaky yeasted dough, not entirely unlike Danish dough (but quicker and easier), yet nuttier in flavour thanks to the Tahini.

Makes 10

Ingredients

For the dough

250g flour
125g milk
25g butter, melted
1 egg
3.5g dried active yeast (a generous teaspoon)
1/2 tsp salt
25g sugar

1 batch puff pastry (approx. 250g)
10 tbsp tahini

For the custard

800ml milk
24 cardamom pods
60g sugar
2 egg
60g cornstarch

Egg wash: One egg mixed with a little bit of milk to brush on the pretzels before baking (alternatively you can just use a little milk)

To finish

50g sugar
25ml water

1 tsp of toasted white sesame seeds

Alternatively you can use a simple icing (see recipes and ideas here) as shown in the photos below.

Directions

Start by making the dough. Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and knead until the dough is smooth and very elastic (ca. 5-10 minutes). Cover and let proof overnight in the fridge or 1-1.5h somewhere warm (e.g. in the oven with only the pilot light switched on) or until the dough is doubled in size.

While the dough is proofing, make the cardamom custard. In a medium saucepan heat the milk until it starts to steam. Turn off the heat. Crush the cardamom pods in a mortar and pestle and add to the milk. Set aside to infuse for 15 minutes.

Strain, discarding the cardamom, and return the milk to the saucepan. Heat on medium until the milk starts to steam. Pour 1/3 of the milk into a bowl and whisk in the eggs, cornstarch and sugar. Return to the saucepan with the remaining milk. Whisking frequently, cook the custard on medium heat until very thick; this should only take a couple of minutes. Pour the custard into a bowl and cover the custard with clingfilm, pressing the clingfilm right against the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Set aside.

Knock the dough back and, on a floured surface, roll out the dough to a 50x30cm rectangle. Spread one half of the dough with half of the tahini. Roll the puff pastry into a rectangle just under half the size of the yeasted dough. Carefully place on the tahini-covered side of the yeasted dough then spread the remaining tahini over the puff pastry. Fold the other half of the yeasted dough over the puff pastry, enclosing the puff pastry completely by pinching together the borders of the yeasted dough.

To create some additional layers in the dough alternating between the yeasted dough, tahini and puff pastry, you now need to do two so-called turns of the dough:

For the first turn, turn the dough so that you are facing one of the shorter sides of the rectangle and the seam of the dough is to your right. Roll out the pastry until it is ca. 30 per cent longer than it was to start with. Now fold the top third of the rectangle of the dough towards you and then fold the bottom third over this.

For the second turn, roll out the dough until it’s roughly three times the length you started from (so going back to the size of the rectangle you had before you started folding the dough for the first turn). (If the dough is very stiff, it helps to carefully bash it with a rolling pin to flatten it a bit before you can roll it out.) As for the first turn, fold the top third of the rectangle of the dough towards you and then fold the bottom third over this.

Note, this repeated folding and rolling out can get a bit messy, meaning some of the tahini might start leaking out of the layers, so don’t be alarmed if this happens to you.

Now roll the dough out to a 50x30cm rectangle. Using a pastry wheel or a sharp knife carefully cut the dough into 10 strips alongside the long edge of the dough. Then, cut each strip in half lengthwise. Twist 2 strips of dough together as shown above, then carefully shape into pretzels. Place on two sheet pans lined with parchment paper, cover and prove for a further 1h to 1.5h minutes until risen some more and the dough will only spring back slowly if pressed with a finger.

While the pretzels are proofing, pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

Stir the custard with a balloon whisk (and some elbow grease) or an electric whisk to loosen and place a heaped tablespoon of custard into each pretzel cavity (I find this is easiest with a pastry bag). Carefully brush the dough with the egg wash (or milk if using), making sure to avoid the cut sides of the dough so the layers do not stick together.

Bake the Danishes for 15-20 mins, or until the pretzels are well-risen and light brown in colour. The custard will puff up in the oven but will settle once the pretzels cool down. Repeat with the second sheet pan.

While the pretzels are in the oven, heat the sugar with the water until the sugar has melted completely and the mixture has turned syrupy. To finish, brush a little bit of the bun wash over each pretzel and scatter some sesame seeds over the dough.

Note that it’s best to leave the pretzels to cool down on the trays they were baked on. As the custard cools it will form a skin (something I found utterly fascinating as a kid) and once the pretzels have cooled down you can remove them easily from the tray without (god forbid!) half the custard sticking to the tray.

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