Sunday, October 28, 2012

Fig, Pistachio and Goat Cheese Danish

I have this theory that the bulk of electric items that malfunction do so because they are, on some level, either:

1. unplugged
2. dirty

Sure, I understand that there are a wealth of complex problems that afflict larger machinery (as my recent $1,600 car repair bill can attest). But when a bike light/toaster/mixer stops working, I find that if I unscrew the back plate, and then either blow out a clot of dust or reconnect some wires that are clearly no longer connected, nine times out of ten the thing will blink back into life. It's enough to give a girl a false sense of prowess. I can fix things! Okay, maybe I don't fully understand how a circuit works, but still! I can fix things! Similarly, I have no culinary degree, and don't really understand the intricacies of pastry and what-have-you. But with a few small tweaks, I managed to come up with a breakfast creation that makes me feel like I've got this whole cooking thing down backwards and forwards. I can fix breakfast!

To be clear, I'm not usually a big fan of figs. Or so-inviting-yet-so-often-one-dimensional-and-disappointing sticky buns. Yet somehow, I bravely soldiered through these twin adversities and came up with a sweet figgy breakfast that is crazy good: the fig, pistachio and goat cheese danish.

Figs have a lot going for them. Namely, they grow all over Portland, plopping down on sidewalks (or, in this case, your neighbor's yard), free for the taking. And they're beautiful, especially the Adriatics, with their light green skins hiding comically bright fuscia centers. But flavor-wise? Meh. As someone who always likes a bit of punch to my desserts (well, to all my meals, really), figs are just a bit too one-note for my tastes. They're all syrupy sweetness, no citrus sourness or berry brightness or appley snap. But luckily, these problems can be solved. With pistachios and goat cheese.

Instead of the stales-within-minutes standard sticky bun dough, I started off with a rich danish dough instead (I used Nigella Lawson's brilliant cheater method, which is really just an easy combination of cutting butter into flour like pie crust, and then mixing in a yeasty, eggy slurry and giving the results a few turns). After folding and rising (you can stretch this out between a few days), you roll it out and spread on a rich-and-nutty-but-not-too-sweet pistachio paste, crumbles of tangy goat cheese, and those figs. The end result is perfect: the sweetness of the figs kept from becoming too cloying by the slight sourness of the goat cheese and the buttery, yeasty lightness of the dough. The pistachio paste keeps everything rich and creamy without overwhelming, and the figs are also just plain pretty. Yes, I'll acknowledge that creating this recipe didn't really take too much specialized knowledge — I just unscrewed the back plate off the standard sticky bun, and connected it with some of my favorite flavor (and, if we're being honest, color) combinations. But the end result is so good, I'd swear I actually knew what I was doing.

Fig, Pistachio and Goat Cheese Danish

yields 12 danish
dough adapted from Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess, the rest of the bad ideas are my own

The danish dough isn't difficult to make, but it does take time, between the cutting and folding and rising. You can divide the stages across several days, or double the recipe, and then freeze half of it to thaw out at a later date.
For the pastry:
3/4 cup milk 
2 tsp active dry yeast
1 large egg, room temperature
2 1/4 cups flour (I like a split of 2 cups white flour, 1/4 cup whole wheat flour)
3 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, cold, cut into pats

3/4 cup shelled raw pistachios (you can use roasted if that's all you can find, but the subtler flavor of raw works a bit better)
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 stick butter, softened to room temperature
1 Tbsp flour
1 egg
pinch salt
splash rosewater (optional, but adds a nice perfume)
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
6 large figs — cut 4 into a small dice for the filling, and the remaining two into slices for garnishing the top

1 egg, beaten with a splash of water (aka 'the egg wash')
coarse sugar

In a small bowl, mix together the milk, yeast, and egg. Let sit for a few minutes for the yeast to soften.

In a food processor or large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and salt.  Add the butter, and pulse or press with the heel of your hand until the butter is reduced to 1/2" pieces (you don't need it quite as well-mixed as for a pie crust). If using a food processor, transfer to a bowl at this point. Add the yeast mixture, stirring until it's well-combined (it'll be a fairly goopy mass with lumps of butter — don't fret!). Cover the bowl, and refrigerate overnight or up to four days (if the latter, you might need to punch it down to deflate every day or two if it's rising a lot).

To turn the dough into pastry, remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. Dust a work surface with flour, and turn the dough out onto it. Roll until it forms a rectangle, about 18" in length (no worries about being terribly precise). Fold into thirds, like a business letter, then rotate 90 degrees. Repeat the process three more times — the clumps of butter will roll out into nice long flakes, and the dough will begin to become more cohesive and dough-like. Cover and let rest half an hour (you can also re-refrigerate for another day or two at this point if needed).

When you're ready to assemble the danish, line an 8-inch square pan with parchment and make the filling. Place the nuts and sugar in a food processor, and process until reduced to bits. Add the butter, flour, egg, salt and rosewater, and process until it forms a relatively smooth paste (scraping down the sides of the mixer as needed).

Roll the dough out into a rectangle about 18" in length. Spread with the pistachio filling — go right up to the short side edges, but leave about 1/4" on each long edge. Sprinkle the chopped figs and crumbled goat cheese, then roll the long side in and pinch to seal. Using a sharp knife, cut the roll into 12 equal pieces. Place the pieces, with either swirled cut side up, into your prepared pan (you may need to squash them down slightly). Top each roll with one of the fig slices. Let sit for ~30-40 minutes to rise (they will have some space between them, but that will be filled in as they rise and then bake).

While the Danish are rising, preheat your oven to 375° Farenheit. 

When the Danish are slightly risen, brush with the egg wash, and sprinkle generously with coarse sugar. Bake until browned, ~20-25 minutes. 


  1. I am a huge fan of homemade cinnamon rolls, yes I am. And I also adore figs! Your sophisticated Danishes would be an enchanting change from the family favorite of Cinnamon Rolls. I just may have to surprise then with your stellar recipe!

  2. Is it possible to let the the cut rolls rise overnight in the refrigerator instead of the last 30-40 rise before baking?

    1. I am of the opinion that retarding dough in the refrigerator is never a bad idea. I might cut the yeast down a wee bit just in case, and let it come to room temperature before baking.

  3. I appreciate the direction on the length to roll out the dough, however what is the width?

    1. Sorry about that! I'd say about 12 inches, but it doesn't matter too much.