I might be pushing it a bit to insist that wienerbrød is Norwegian – in fact, they are more common in Denmark, then again the name itself implies it’s “Viennese bread”. This flaky pastry, often filled with vanilla custard, almond paste, dried fruits, raisins or raspberry jam, is not the easiest to make, requiring the dough, filled with pieces of butter, to be rolled out several times, chilled, and rolled out again. Much like a croissant, this is often an item people choose to buy at their local bakery rather than attempt themselves. Today, however, I felt really adventurous, and needed a somewhat challenging project. A bit of history and background about wienerbrød is in order before we go into detail about how to make this favorite.
Wienerbrød, really, is equal to a Danish, as we know it in this country, but have throughout the years become a bit of a bastardized version of the real thing. I mentioned that although the name might imply that wienerbrød is from Vienna, Austria, it in facts look as if it originated in Denmark (the Austrians have a similar pastry but it is called Golatschen, which again may have roots in Turkey!)
According to Danish sources, the pastry was created in and around 1850 when the bakers in Denmark went on a strike. Back then, it was common to compensate bakers with room and board only, and they had to work seven days a week. Eventually, the workers grew more and more dissatisfied, demanding a salary and one day off. When negotiations went awry, the bakers decided to strike. Bakeries had to employ foreign labor to keep their businesses running. Some of the foreigners came from Austria, and since the Austrians weren’t familiar with Danish pastries and recipes, they brought along some of their own from home. While the original recipe consisted of only flour, water and butter, later eggs, milk and more butter were incorporated and developed into the recipe we have today.
The reason why the Danish is so popular in the U.S., was that the Danish baker L.C. Klitteng, happened to be in the U.S. around the same time president Woodrow Wilson was getting married in 1915. He surprised the bride and the groom with his Danish pastries. Following this event, the Danish was featured in magazines such as Bakers Weekly and the National Baker, and as a result became a huge success in this country. Klitteng later opened his own culinary studio on 5th avenue on Manhattan and delivered Danish pastries to large restaurant chains, aiding in their widespread popularity.
With all of this history belonging to Denmark and the Austrian bakers, wienerbrød is also a classic in bakeries all over Norway. I recall this to be my dad’s favorite, and my mother would only get these when she had been in Ålesund, the nearest city to our hometown. At the time I grew up, most of the bakers in my town didn’t even offer these delectable, complicated pastries, so we had to go to fancier places to buy them. It was certainly not something my mom would attempt to bake at home – this was definitely a special treat we all looked forward to.
Don’t let this discourage you from trying these at home – it may take you a couple of times before you master the butter dough, but the most important thing is to not attempt to bake this in a very hot kitchen (and certainly not on a hot summer day!), as the butter in the dough will quickly melt and you will have a mess on your hand. Otherwise, these are not that hard, just takes a little bit of time. I am still working on getting them as beautiful as the bakery version!
(Makes about 30 pieces)
50 grams fresh yeast (or 2 packs dry yeast)
1 cup cold milk
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
4 tbsp butter
3 tbsp sugar
1 tsp cardamom
2 sticks plus 3 tbsp butter
Crumble the fresh yeast in a bowl and whisk it into the cold milk. Separately, in a big bowl, knead the butter into the flour with your hands until well distributed, add sugar and cardamom, and if using dry yeast, add the yeast here. Making an indentation in the center, pour the milk/yeast mix and egg into the indentation.
Combine everything quickly and shape into a smooth dough. Do not let it turn sticky or chewy. Let the dough rest in the fridge for about 10 minutes.
Grab the butter from the fridge, and cut it into 9 or 10 pieces, and place on parchment paper.
Remove the dough from the fridge, and roll out quickly with a rolling pin to a rectangle about 12 x 16 inches (30x40cm). Place the butter on one half of the dough, about 1- 1/2 inch away from the edge. Fold the edges over the butter. Fold the side without the butter over (imagine an envelope), and pinch together the inches.
Add some flour onto the table – turn the dough so that the envelope is placed at about a 45 degree angle. The “closed” part should be facing toward you. Roll out the dough carefully – there should not be any cracks in the dough. It’s also important to roll out gently and not too hard and long, otherwise the wienerbrød turns flat and hard. Fold the dough into three pieces. Turn it again 45 degrees. Roll out until you have about a 1/2 inch thick dough. Fold again into three parts and let the dough rest in the fridge for about 10-15 minutes. Repeat the rolling out and the folding one more time.
Roll it out one final time into a 1/2 inch thick piece. Divide the dough in two, and place the pieces in the fridge wrapped in plastic or foil while you make the filling.
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp all purpose flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp vanilla sugar (or vanilla extract)
2 egg yolks
Whisk all of the ingredients together in a small sauce pan and place over medium-low heat. Continute to whisk until you have a thick sauce. Let it cool.
120 grams/ 1/2 cup almonds
1 1/4 cup confectioners sugar
2 egg whites
Place all the ingredients in a food processor and combine until you have a rough paste. It should be firm, not too runny.
Returning to the dough – I chose two different shapes, one called “combs” and the other “spandaus” (Spandauer).
To make the comb shape:
Preheat oven to 500F.
Have a big bowl with the almond paste and some pearl sugar ready.
Roll out one of the pieces of dough to a 9×12 inch piece. Spread the filling of your choice along the middle and fold the edges over the filling:
Turn the dough so that the edges face the table. Cut the dough into about 2-1/2 inc pieces, brush them with egg white and roll them in pearl sugar and the almond paste. Place the pastries on a parchment lined cookie sheet, and let them rise, uncovered, for about 1 1/2 hours. Place the sheet in the middle of the oven and bake for 7-10 minutes.
To make the “spandaus”:
Roll out the second half of the dough you have reserved in the fridge into a 14×14 inch square. Dive the piece into 4 x 4 squares. Add a little spoon of the filling of your choice (vanilla custard, raspberry jam, dried fruits, or almond paste) in the center of each square, and fold the edges in towards the center, and pinch them together.
Place on parchment lined cookie sheets and let rise for 1-1/2 hours uncovered. Brush with egg whites and place in the middle of the oven and bake for 7-10 minutes.
Remove the pastries from the oven and let them cool. Mix about 1 cup of confectioners sugar with a few drops of water in a bowl until a smooth, runny paste, and drizzle over the pastries. Alternatively, you can also add some raspberry in the middle of the pastries well before serving.
These taste best the same day they are made, fresh out of the oven!