Preparing for the Holidays: Cheese Danish

Christmas was always a special time for my family when I was growing up.  Even now, as an adult, I still have vivid memories of the twinkling lights of the Christmas trees at midnight mass, the smell of gingerbread in the oven, and the holiday music my mother started playing the day after Thanksgiving at all of our family meals.

As Jason and I start building our lives together and shaping holiday traditions, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I want to preserve from my childhood.  The first thing that comes to mind is Mom’s cheese danish.  Cheese danish, in my family, is a holiday staple.  My mother would make several batches weeks in advance, bringing it to holiday parties at school (she is also a teacher), and saving three or four thick loaves for our own Christmas breakfast.

The night before Christmas, after the traditional reading of that eponymous tale, she would whisk it out of the freezer, where it would warm on the counter until the next morning, when she would frost it and serve it up in front of the tree with cinnamon rolls for my younger brother (allergic to eggs), as something to tide us over until Christmas brunch with my grandparents.  I still remember getting up early with my sister, to make coffee so we could lure mom out of bed to help us whip up the frosting and get Christmas morning started.

This recipe is older than I am, and though I know at one point it was torn out of a magazine and adapted, I couldn’t tell you which magazine or what adaptations mom made to it.  I have included a few variations below the recipe, so you can adjust it to your tastes.

Mom’s Cheese Danish: (This is a two-day recipe!)

One the First Day
Dough:
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. white sugar
1 c. sour cream (regular or low fat, but NOT fat free)
1 t. salt

2 T yeast
1/2 c. warm water
2 eggs, beaten

4 c. all purpose flour

  1.  Place butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan over low heat. Once  butter is partially melted, add the sour cream, sugar, and salt. Stir regularly until completely incorporated. Cool for 30 minutes.
  2. Once dairy mixture is cool, dissolve 2 T of yeast in  water in a large mixing bowl (I use my KitchenAid stand mixer for this). After 5 minutes, add the dairy mixture and the two beaten eggs and mix on low to combine completely.
  3. Add all four cups of flour and mix until fully incorporated. You will be left with a moist dough.
  4. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night.

The Next Day…
Filling:
16 oz. cream cheese
3/4 c. white sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/8 t. salt
1 T vanilla

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut into four equal pieces, then roll into large balls and place on a floured surface.  Prepare two cookie sheets by lining them with aluminum foil and greasing the foil.

  1.  Remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut into four equal pieces, then roll into large balls and place on a floured surface.
  2.  Meanwhile, beat together the cream cheese and sugar until fully incorporated, then add the egg, salt and vanilla. The result will be a smooth creamy mixture.
  3. On your floured surface, roll the dough into approximately 12” x 8” rectangles, about 1/4” thick.
  4. Using a rubber spatula, gently spread on the cream cheese mixture.
  5. Roll into a log and tuck the ends underneath the danish. Place on a greased cookie sheet (2 danish per sheet, about 4 inches apart).  Note: Greasing the cookie sheet is crucial!  I use shortening, softened butter or Pam, depending on what I have available in my kitchen.
  6. Cover with a lint-free dish towel and allow to rise for 1 hour.
  7. 30 minutes into the rise, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  8. Gently score each danish about 3/4 of the way through in five or six places with a sharp knife.
  9. Bake for 12 -15 minutes until golden brown.
  10. Cool completely

Frosting:
1/2 c. shortening
2 – 3 c. confectioner’s sugar
1/8 t. salt
1 – 2 T milk
1 t. vanilla

  1. In a mixing bowl, beat the sugar and salt into the shortening.
  2. Add the milk and vanilla until a creamy frosting emerges.
  3. You may need to add more or less sugar depending on you preference.
  4. Frost and serve danish.

Variations:

  1.   You may substitute 1 t almond extract for 1 T of vanilla in the cheese filling.
  2.   You may add 1/4 c. strawberry or raspberry jam spread thinly onto each danish (in addition to the cheese filling).
  3. For the holidays this year, I hope to add some chopped sour cherries that I have frozen in the basement to see how they change the taste.
  4. You may also crush walnuts or almonds and sprinkle them over the frosting before it sets.

Happy baking & Happy Holidays!

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