Ok, ok… I know the pastry in the recipe picture doesn’t look like a cinnamon roll. It looks like a… croissant!? And yes, it is a kind of croissant. A very special kind that is popular in Northern Germany and known there as “Franzbrötchen”.
It’s made from a flaky pastry called Danish pastry or “Plunderteig” in German. I refuse to call it puff pastry as many American recipe writers do because it is no puff pastry. Puff pastry contains no yeast and has more layers of butter. Croissant dough is no puff pastry.
Flaky pastries are not exclusive to France. They were introduced to Europe by Middle Easterners who invented Filo dough. It was probably through Vienna that laminated doughs like puff pastry and Danish pastry started to spread northwards to Scandinavia and Northern Germany where they remain insanely popular until today.
In general, German recipes for Danish pastry contain less butter than French or Scandinavian recipes. The German version is just as delicious as the ultra-decadent French or Scandinavian version yet it is much easier to digest.
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Danish pastry is easy to prepare
The biggest mistake you can make when working with laminated doughs is to be afraid of them. They are very simple to make. You don’t need to freeze your butter or use a ruler to perfectly roll out your dough.
I looked through some American recipes for puff and Danish pastry. Most of them are horrible in my eyes. They are complicated. They are full of unnecessary steps.
It’s no tough science to laminate a dough. You just need to work quickly and confidently. I always notice that a lot of American baking and pastry recipes make it seem like rocket science. The secret to preparing tasty pastries is to act confident and to follow your intuition.
The only thing you need to always keep in mind: Butter and dough need to have the same consistency. Don’t use a cold-spreadable butter that will melt at room temperature. Use a good European-style baking butter with high-fat content. American butter has more water than European butter and is softer: not good. The same goes for brands like Kerrygold which are also designed for good spreadability on bread. The best butter to use for laminated doughs in Germany is the cheap and good old “Deutsche Markenbutter”. Or you can buy a special butter for laminating called “Ziehfett” in German.
How to prepare Danish pastry
A picture says more than 1000 words. Here are some pictures that will show you how I laminate my doughs. Of course, if you use another technique that is also fine. Many roads lead to Rome.
How to prepare flaky cinnamon rolls
The last part of the recipe is easy and quick. You need to prepare cinnamon rolls, proof them, shape them, and then bake them until golden brown. Here are some pictures in case the written recipe instructions are unclear:
200 g (7 ounces) white wheat flour (German Type 550)
85 g (3 ounces) butter, for laminating the dough
For sprinkling the cinnamon rolls:
granulated white sugar, to taste
ground Ceylon cinnamon, to taste
Prepare the Danish pastry:
Take the butter that you use for laminating the dough out of the fridge.
Combine all the ingredients except for the butter used for lamination in a bowl and briefly mix the dough together either by machine or by hand. Don’t knead the dough to develop any gluten. Once it is homogenous, set it aside.
Roll out the dough on a floured work surface into a rectangle. The dough sheet should be about 1/2-inch (1-1.5 cm) thick. Flour another part of your work surface and roll out the butter into a square that is a little smaller than the short side of your rectangle. Place the butter on one half of your dough rectangle and wrap it inside by folding the other dough half on top of the butter. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and leave it to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Place the rested dough on a floured work surface and roll it out lengthwise into a long rectangle. Fold 1/3 of the rectangle inward. Then fold the remaining third of dough from the other side on top of the folded dough so that you have 3 even layers. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and leave it to rest for at least 30 minutes in the fridge. Repeat two more times so that you have laminated the dough 3 times total. It’s best to alternate the direction in which you roll out the dough during each lamination step to get an even result. Always roll out the dough against the direction of the last fold.
Let the finished dough rest in the fridge for at least 1-2 hours or overnight before rolling it out thinly.
Prepare and bake the cinnamon rolls:
Take your rested Danish pastry out of the fridge and roll it out into a thin rectangle, about 1/8 inch (2-3 mm) thick. Sprinkle with plenty of cinnamon and sugar to taste. Roll the dough into a tight long sausage as you would for American cinnamon rolls. Cut it into evenly sized pieces of your desired size and leave to proof, seam-side down, covered, at room temperature for 1 hour.
Preheat your oven to 375 °F (190 °C) and place a pan or glass container filled with water on the bottom of your oven to create steam.
Take a wooden stick and make a deep and wide indentation in the center of the cinnamon rolls so that the inner layers get pressed to the outside.
Place the cinnamon rolls on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake in the pre-heated oven at 375 °F (190 °C) for about 20-25 minutes or until browned to your liking. It’s best to use the convection setting of your oven for baking. If you have a spray bottle filled with water, use that to spray the surface of the cinnamon rolls once or twice during the first 5 minutes of baking. The more steam, the better the cinnamon rolls will puff up.
It’s best to let the cinnamon rolls cool down for at least 20 minutes before eating so that the butter has time to re-solidify.