A cheese danish is a sweet, flaky pastry that is popular around the world, especially in the United States. It features a rich cream cheese filling wrapped in layers of delicate, buttery puff pastry. With its contrasting textures and flavors, the cheese danish makes for an utterly delicious breakfast treat or snack.
The exact origins of the cheese danish are unclear, but most food historians trace it back to Vienna, Austria in the 19th century. According to legend, when Danish bakers went on strike around that time, Austria sent replacement workers and wienerbrod – also known as “Vienna breads” – to Denmark. These pastries, precursors to the modern-day danish, were an instant hit and the Danes quickly embraced them.
Over time, Danish bakers started experimenting with different flavor combinations and eventually created what we now know as the cheese danish. Its popularity spread across Europe and eventually made its way to the United States in the early 20th century.
While the cheese danish became an American breakfast staple, back in Denmark it is more commonly enjoyed in the afternoon with a cup of coffee. The pastry was likely introduced to the US breakfast menu by Danish immigrants looking to keep a taste of home.
A perfect cheese danish consists of three main components:
- Puff pastry – Flaky layers of butter and dough create the pastry’s signature texture. Most cheese danish recipes call for store-bought puff pastry for simplicity, but ambitious bakers can try homemade.
- Cream cheese filling – A blend of sweetened cream cheese and egg yolk fills the center of the pastry. Butter, lemon, and vanilla are also commonly used to add flavor.
- Toppings (optional) – Though a simple glaze is most traditional, cheese danishes can also be topped with fruit, nuts, streusel, or a dusting of powdered sugar.
Creating the characteristic shape of the cheese danish requires a bit of pastry acrobatics. The basic technique is:
- Roll out puff pastry dough into a square and cut into smaller squares
- Brush the edges of each square with egg wash or water
- Lift and fold the corners of the square into the center and press gently to seal
- Add a dollop of filling into the middle
- Bake until golden brown
This folding technique allows the filling to ooze out slightly while baking, resulting in the perfect cheese danish shape.
Tips for the Best Results
Follow these simple tips for scrumptious, bakery-quality cheese danishes every time:
- Allow refrigerated puff pastry to thaw gradually before use; this prevents the butter layers from melting prematurely.
- Grease the corners where the puff pastry will be pinched together to help seal in the filling.
- Chill folded danishes for 15-30 minutes before baking for optimal rise.
- Rotate pans halfway through baking to ensure even browning.
- Cool completely before adding any glazes or toppings so the filling can firm up.
Key Takeaway: Allowing the chilled puff pastry to thaw slowly, greasing sealed edges, and cooling completely before glazing/topping are simple tips that ensure cheese danish success.
The classic cheese danish gets even better with creative mix-ins. Some popular variations include:
- Fruit danishes – Fresh berries, stone fruits, citrus, and dried fruits all pair beautifully with the tangy cream cheese filling.
- Nutty danishes – Finely chopped nuts add delightful crunch and flavor. Almonds, pecans, and walnuts are excellent choices.
- Chocolate chip cheese danishes – Melty morsels take these pastries over the top. Use semisweet or even white chocolate chips.
- Cinnamon cheese danish braids – Intertwining strands of filled puff pastry creates a stunning presentation. Finish with a cinnamon sugar topping for extra flair.
- Caramel pecan cheese danishes – Buttery caramel and toasted pecans levels up the sweetness.
The possibilities are truly endless when it comes to jazzing up cheese danishes. Add mix-ins straight to the filling or sprinkle them on top of the pastry before baking. Get creative!
How to Make Cheese Danish Step-by-Step
Making cheese danishes from scratch can seem daunting, but it’s surprisingly straightforward. With a few simple steps, you can have a batch of flaky, cheese-oozing pastries ready for the oven.
- 1 package store-bought puff pastry, thawed
- 8 oz cream cheese, softened
- 1⁄4 cup sugar
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Flour for dusting
- 1 egg, beaten with 1 tbsp water (for egg wash)
- Make the filling: In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, egg yolk, vanilla and lemon zest until completely smooth and creamy. Set aside.
- Roll out the puff pastry: Dust a clean work surface lightly with flour. Unfold the puff pastry sheet and roll it into a large rectangle, about 1⁄4 inch thick.
- Cut into squares: Use a sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut the rectangle into 9 even squares.
- Shape the danishes: Brush the edges of each square lightly with egg wash. Lift up each corner and pinch together in the center.
- Fill the centers: Use a small spoon to dollop a heaping tablespoon of cream cheese filling into the middle of each danish.
- Bake and finish: Arrange danishes on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 400°F for 15-18 minutes until golden. Cool completely and dust with powdered sugar before serving.
Following this easy cheese danish recipe, you’ll have a tray of flaky, sweet treats ready in under 30 minutes active time. Customize them by adding chocolate chips, nuts, caramel or fresh berries to the filling.
Key Takeaway: Making cheese danishes only requires 6 simple steps: Make filling, roll puff pastry, cut into squares, shape/seal, fill centers, and bake until golden.
How to Store and Reheat Cheese Danish
Like many pastries, cheese danishes taste best freshly baked and still warm from the oven. However, they also store and reheat remarkably well for up to 5 days.
- Allow danishes to cool completely before storing
- Keep cheese danishes in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days maximum. The filling may weep slightly.
- For longer storage, freeze baked cheese danishes up to 2 months. Flash freeze first on a baking sheet before transferring to an airtight freezer bag or container.
Oven method: Preheat oven to 300°F. Arrange frozen danishes on a baking sheet and bake 8-12 minutes until warmed through.
Microwave method: Microwave individual frozen danishes on half power in 30 second intervals until thawed and slightly warm, checking often to prevent overcooking.
Storing cheese danishes properly ensures they retain their fabulous flavor and texture for later enjoyment. A brief reheat and they taste like you just pulled them fresh from the oven!
Unique Cheese Danish Inspiration
While traditional cheese danishes are hard to improve upon, home bakers are continuously coming up with new shapes, flavors and techniques to make this classic treat even more drool-worthy.
Savory Cheese Danishes
Most cheese danishes lean sweet, but you can also take them in a more savory direction. Try mixing sharp cheddar, crumbled bacon, caramelized onions, roasted garlic or fresh herbs into the filling. Top with sesame seeds, poppy seeds or everything bagel seasoning before baking.
Cheese Danish Wreaths
For a beautiful presentation, braid strands of filled puff pastry into round wreaths. Brush with egg wash, top with pearl sugar, flaky salt or sesame seeds and bake until deeply golden.
Overnight Caramel Pecan Cheese Danishes
Let the dough's flavors develop overnight for extra depth. Shape and fill cream cheese danishes with chopped pecans and salted caramel. Refrigerate overnight, then bake and finish with more caramel and pecans.
Cheese Danish Croissant Hybrids
Crisscross strips of puff pastry and croissant dough before shaping into pastries. The hybrid dough bakes up unbelievably flaky with crisp, buttery edges.
Cheese Danish Monkey Bread
Skip shaping individual danishes and mix cubed puff pastry right into a cream cheese cinnamon sugar mixture. Bake in a Bundt pan for a pull-apart bread that makes its own decadent topping.
Cream Cheese Danish Bread Pudding
For a morning-after revival of leftover cheese danishes, cube them up and combine with egg custard, milk and extra mix-ins like chocolate or nuts. The danishes absorb the custard as it bakes into a luscious bread pudding dessert.
The unique flavor combinations are endless when you start dreaming up cheese danish recipes. Embrace the possibilities and watch your pastry game soar to new heights!
Can I make cheese danishes ahead of time?
Yes, cheese danishes freeze exceptionally well either baked or unbaked, allowing you to make them in advance for easy weeknight or holiday breakfast treats. Fill and shape the raw pastries, then flash freeze on parchment paper before transferring to a freezer bag. Whenever you want fresh danishes, bake straight from frozen and they will taste like you just prepped them.
You can also completely bake cheese danishes, let cool completely, then freeze up to 2 months. Reheat frozen baked danishes at 300°F for 8-10 minutes.
What are some tasty cheese danish filling ideas?
The most popular cheese danish fillings include different cream cheese flavors like honey or maple flavored, chocolate hazelnut spread, lemon curd, vanilla or chocolate pastry cream, dulce de leche, and fruit pie fillings like cherry, apple, or blueberry.
Can I make cheese danishes with crescent roll dough?
While puff pastry is ideal for delicate, flaky layers, in a pinch you can absolutely use cans of crescent roll dough. Roll it out into a large rectangle, cut out squares, fill and fold into triangles. The final texture will be more like a breakfast pastry than true danish, but still tasty!
What do they call cheese danishes in Denmark?
Danishes go by many names in Denmark depending on the region, including spandauer, bakker, wienerbrød (Vienna bread) and kleiner. No matter what you call them, cheese danishes remain a popular afternoon coffee break snack across the country.
With its distinctive shape, flaky texture, tangy cream cheese filling and sweet finish, the beloved cheese danish has secured its status as a world-famous breakfast pastry.
While its exact origins are murky, Denmark and Austria both lay claim as creators of some early version of this treat combining rich, yeasted dough with creamy filling.