The smell of melting butter amidst flaky dough fills the room. A slight hint of orange and vanilla. As I wait for the minutes to pass, I cozy up to my chair and read more about the famous pastry known in Norway as wienerbrød, or translated to viennese and commonly referred to as danish in English. The aroma is well-known across bakeries in Norway and the rest of Scandinavia. It’s a pastry that was indeed created from bakers in Denmark, but not solely by their own efforts. It was a result of inspiration and the borrowing of techniques, like most recipes today. By standing on the shoulders of others, they were able to create a new, inspired pastry.
It is said that during the 1850s, a strike broke out amongst bakers in Copenhagen. This forced bakery owners to seek help from bakers in Vienna. The help was given, as it was usual for a baker master’s son to take up an apprenticeship in Vienna, the baking capital, and therefore they had good relations. The bakers from Vienna had a long tradition of lamination, where dough is layered with fat and rolled out several times. The Danish bakers were inspired and they began to develop the techniques, adjust to own their tastes and increase the amount of rich butter. The fillings and shapes were only left to the imagination and the creation of the Danish pastry or ‘Viennese Bread’ was born.
I came across an article about the historic town of Nusfjord, situated on Flakstadøya in Lofoten. The bakery, which no longer is in use, was built prior to 1877. It produced breads and pastries to both fishermen and locals. When fishermen would come from the fisheries to supply fish, they often had to take upon debt for shelter, food and tools as they could not pay in cash. The second squire of Nusfjord, known as ‘Old Bernhard’ would hang out a little bag filled with wienerbrød to every fishing crew as a small reward for their work, despite the debts. (Source)
I like to think that, sometimes, it’s just the simple, kind gestures, like hanging bags of wienerbrød for the taking, are what brings us closer as a community. Filling the belly. Satisfying a need. Doing the unexpected. Showing kindness. Those are the measures which create good relations. And so, perhaps when we bake, we should consider to double the amount. A great excuse for taking a moment to sit down, converse and share something sweet and special.
There’s nothing quite like proper wienerbrød from a bakery, and even better when it is homemade. The idea of layering may seem off-putting, but the process is quite simple, and easy to do at home. The custard is inspired by the influx of spring oranges in Norway right now. These pastries can also be frozen after they are shaped (without the custard), and saved for another day.
Wienerbrød with Orange & Vanilla Custard
(Makes 20 pastries, easily doubles)
- 1 1/4 cups (300 ml) whole milk
- 2 ounces (50 g) fresh yeast
- 1 egg
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (500 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (250 g) cold butter, sliced thinly with cheese grater or mandoline
Orange & Vanilla Custard
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (112 g) sugar
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 vanilla bean pod
- 2 cups (480 ml) whole milk
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
To prepare the orange and vanilla custard, mix together the egg yolks and sugar in a medium bowl, then whisk in the flour and cornstarch.
Split the vanilla bean pod in half, and using a sharp knife, scrape out the vanilla bean seeds.
In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the milk, orange zest, orange juice, vanilla pod and vanilla beans to a boil. Remove from the heat and discard the vanilla pod. Pour the hot mixture slowly and evenly into the egg mixture.
Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and heat on low-medium heat, stirring constantly. Once the mixture is thick and boiling, remove from the the heat and set aside.
To prepare the wienerbrød, mix together the milk and yeast until dissolved in a large kitchen mixer or by hand.
Combine the egg and sugar in a separate bowl, then add to the yeast mixture and mix.
Stir in the flour, a bit at a time, until a good dough forms. I found that 500g of flour worked perfectly, but you may need slightly less or slightly more. Let the dough sit for 10 minutes.
Remove the dough, and lay flat on a well-floured surface. Roll out into a large rectangle, about 1cm thick.
Place the cold butter slices in an even layer on 2/3 of the rectangle.
Fold the part of the dough without the butter over the middle third with butter, and fold again over the last third, creating three layers of dough.
Roll out the dough again into a 1cm thick rectangle. Turn the dough and fold again in the same three layers as before. Continue to sprinkle flour lightly over the dough if it gets sticky. Roll out the dough into a rectangle again.
Fold one last time as before (a total of 3 times) and roll out into a rectangle. Cut the rectangular, vertically, into ½ inch thick strips. Roll the dough around your fingers to create a ‘rosette’ shape as shown in the photos, or shape as desired.
Preheat the oven to 220º C/425ºF. Place the pastries on a non-stick baking tray and top each one with a dollop of the custard. Place in the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown and flaky.