Christianshavn Pie (Danish strawberry cream cake)

Warning: This post contains images of extreme baking

We’re back from a long weekend in Copenhagen, or as I now think of it, heaven on earth. Allow me to set the scene: a city of beautiful people, beautiful design and beautiful living, but not self-consciously so. It is a city seeped in wholesome-ness and good manners. Everyone rides bikes, not wearing lycra or any of that nonsense, but in their normal, beautifully stylish, clothes (jeans, an expensive coat, maybe a scarf, and definitely trainers). All the bikes means that there are few cars, so the air is clear, and there is a noticeable lack of road rage or rage in general, so people are relaxed and happy. The children – all beautifully well-dressed and well-mannered – play in beautifully-maintained playgrounds. The wide boulevards are peppered with naturalistic plants and flowers; nothing looks forced or overly manicured. The buildings, both old and new, are clean and tidy. There is no litter, ANYWHERE. The cafes are full, day and evening, of beautiful, wholesome people enjoying coffee and fika whilst tapping on their laptops.

Who are these people?! How can I live more Danishly?

Our few days of living Danishly, based in a tenement apartment in Vesterbro

How’s this for a playground? This wooden-based area was 10m from our apartment and is full of carefully-controlled danger and opportunities for creative play.

Central Copenhagen has two magnificent free-entry gardens, the Botanical Garden and the King’s Garden. The latter was established in the 1600s as the private garden of the King (hence the name) and is still maintained in that style, with knot garden, rose borders, espaliered apple trees and extensive borders. Note: this is FREE. What an amazing place to while away a lunch hour or take the kids for a picnic. I tell you, Copenhageners have it made.

Incredible long borders in the King’s Garden, the free park right in the centre of the city

Gorgeous avenue of light and shade, King’s Garden

Talking of horticulture, it’s a city awash with florists – this I was not expecting – and they are a lesson in abundance. Plants, shrubs, herbs and flowers spill out onto the pavement in a manner that is not what I expected from the usually pared-back Danes.

Florists were all a lesson in abundance

But of course the real reason to go to Denmark is for the baking. The Danish Pastry is not so-named for nothing. Oh dear God the baking.

On every street, pretty much, is a baker of such skill and brilliance that I wanted to applaud. Copenhagen’s answer to Greggs is Lagkaghuset – they are ubiquitous, albeit far more expensive – with the crucial difference that Lagkaghuset is REALLY GOOD. Their windows are a masterclass of sourdoughs, rye loaves, pastries, gateaux, cookies, muffins and buns. Beyond the chain, there is brilliant baking to be found everywhere.

As well as the dark rye tin loaves, the bakeries had a wide selection of rough, sourdough-style flattish loaves, all with a long prove and an open texture.

Danish pastry selection 1….

…and more….

There are two main types of Danish pastry: the first is an enriched bread-based dough, knotted or swirled, and the second is more pasty-style, with laminations and a crispy, flaky finish. The cinnabun pictured here was in the first style (my preference), and came topped with a cream-cheese icing.

The cinnabun was of note: bread-based cinnamon dough topped with cream cheese icing

This version is in the second style: more pastry-like, flaky and crispy, like a croissant.

This cinnamon-based pastry was more, well, pastry like – higher in butter content with a flakier finish

The Trasestammer is a favourite of Matt’s: an incredibly rich, rum-laced chocolate-nut truffle wrapped in marzipan and dipped in dark chocolate. They translate as ‘tree logs’, which is pleasing.

Special mention also to the ‘tree log’ cakes…

I was a fan of this rhubarb-and-custard filled pastry, topped with flaked hazelnuts and demerara sugar. Even if I practised every day for a decade, I am not sure I could achieve this level of mastery of the pastry-baking art.

…to this rhubarb-and-custard filled pastry…

There is room, though, for the simple sponge. In what we now refer to as ‘Copenhagen Cake’, a new favourite is a simple vanilla sponge topped with pink icing and freeze-dried raspberries. Suitable for gluttons of all ages.

…and to this simple treat: a light vanilla sponge topped with pink (royal?) icing and freeze-dried raspberries

At the airport I spotted these beauties. The Strawberry Pie has a chocolate pastry base, topped with a layer of marzipan and creme patissiere and finished with strawberries. The Christianshavn Pie has a nutty-sponge base, topped with strawberry mousse and finished with fruits.

A mere selection of gateax AT THE AIRPORT!

Well I may not be up to making a rhubarb-and-custard Danish pastry but a Christianshavn Pie I can do. Here’s my version – and dear Reader, if you want to eat amazing baked goods, then book yourself a trip to Copenhagen ASAP.

My attempt at Christianshavn pie, inspired by that incredible display at the airport

Christianshavn Pie (Danish strawberry cream cake)

Makes 1 cake. Recipe adapted from baketotheroots.de

For the topping:
120g strawberries
2 tbsp icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
1.5 leaves gelatine
300ml double cream

For the sponge:
80g hazelnuts
30g shortbread biscuits
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
2 egg whites

To finish:
Strawberries
Icing sugar
2 tbsp strawberry jam

First make the mousse. Puree the strawberries in a food processor, then transfer to a small saucepan. Stir the icing sugar into the strawberry puree. Soak the gelatine in cold water until malleable, then add to the strawberries. Warm gently until the gelatine has dissolved – do not boil. Transfer to a bowl and set aside in the fridge to cool completely.

Whip the cream until soft peaks form. Fold the strawberry mixture into the cream, cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge to set (1-2 hours).

To make the sponge, preheat the oven to 190c. Grease and line a sandwich cake tin (mine is 6-inches). Tip the hazelnuts into a dry frying pan and toast on a medium heat until golden – be careful not to let them burn. Tip into a food processor with the shortbread biscuits, and blitz to a crumb. Add the sugar, vanilla, baking powder, salt and egg whites and pulse until combined. Tip into the baking tin and bake for around 20 minutes until firm and golden. Leave to cool.

To make the topping, hull and half your strawberries and place in a bowl with icing sugar (the amount of sugar you use depends on how many strawberries you have – use your instinct). Leave to macerate for at least half an hour, at room temperature.

Meanwhile, heat the jam with any juices from the strawberries until runny, then pass through a sieve to remove any pips.

Finally, assemble the pie. Place your cake on a plate. Pipe (or as I did, dollop) your cream on top and mould into a dome shape with a spatula. Top with strawberries. Finally, brush on your glaze. Refrigerate for an hour or so before serving.

Also this week:

Cooking and eating: Sicilian-style pizza with onions and anchovies; mussels with serrano ham and garlic; Harry has taken to eating mango and gnawing on the mango stone.

Allotment and garden: Planted out the dahlias, cosmos, sunflowers, achillea, nigella, courgette and squash both at home and allotment.

Watching: Absolutely nothing. Our Air B&B in Copenhagen didn’t have a telly or radio and I remembered the sweet joy of silence interrupted by evening bird-song.

Cinnamon bun-cake

Only three weeks into the new year and the holidays are a distant memory. Numerous work projects demand attention, there are tax returns and business leases to attend to, yoga classes to plan and deliver, plus we’re dipping our toes into the world of home-ownership: time is spent traipsing around Brummie streets checking out house facades and ‘The Parking’ (what to do with the car has become a noun in its own right). Any residual emotional energy is sucked up by fear-mongering estate agents.

I’ve not been to the allotment for two weeks and am hoping that Grampy’s crysanths have survived last week’s hard frosts – they should be OK, wrapped in their fleecy blankets. When life is busy, it’s hard to think creatively, and yet creative thinking is what’s needed now: next season’s planting needs thinking about and – the best bit – seed catalogues are patiently waiting to be thumbed through. It’s a job for a Sunday afternoon on the sofa, highlighter pen in hand.

A bit of baking is a great decompressor. Today it’s cinnamon buns taken from Signe Johansen’s Scandilicious Baking book. This is a classic Scandi recipe, the buns baked together in a round tin to form a tear-and-share cake. They’re made with plain (rather than strong) flour, which I always find curious in a yeasted dough, but they have the great advantage of being quick to make. Start at 9am and they’ll be on the table by 11.30am, which is super-speedy for a yeasted loaf.

Mix the flours, sugar, salt, yeast and cardamom in a large bowl

Simply mix plain white and wholemeal flour in a bowl with fine salt, yeast, sugar and ground cardamom. A lot of Scandi baking has cardamom at is core, but it can be difficult to find ready ground – mine came from an Iranian shop up the road – so if you can’t find it, just bash up some cardamom pods in a pestle and mortar. (The original recipe asks for spelt flour, but I’m not keen so I sub in a few spoons of wholemeal to get the nutty flavour).

Next we need wet ingredients: milk, butter and egg. So melt the butter into the milk – I use the microwave for this – then beat in the egg. Apparently, scalding the milk in this way makes for a softer bun.

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Melt the butter into the milk

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Beat an egg into the buttery milk

Then just add the wet ingredients to the dry and beat it together. It comes to a loose and wet dough, so I use a wooden spoon for this, but you could use a table-top mixer if you have one. There’s barely any gluten in these plain flours so the mixture doesn’t need kneading, but I do give it a good beat (about 5 minutes) with the spoon.

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Mix to a soft dough then leave to ferment (rise); no kneading required.

Cover the dough and leave to ferment for half an hour or more – it will grow in size as the yeast gets to work. Meanwhile, make the filling by mixing softened butter with caster sugar, ground cinnamon and vanilla.

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Make your cinnamon butter by mixing butter with cinnamon, sugar and vanilla

When the dough is ready, pile it out onto a floured work-surface, using a scraper to help you. (I don’t normally like to use much flour as it can change the consistency of your finished bun, but this dough is so soft that it’s a sticking risk.) Use your fingers to gently ease the dough into a rectangle about 25cm x 30cm, then spread the butter on top. I usually soften the butter for a few seconds in the microwave to make this easier. Then roll the dough up from the long end, just like a swiss roll, and slice into 7 pieces.

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Cut your rolled dough into seven pieces, then place in a round baking tin

Grease a loose-bottomed 23m round cake tin then place the buns inside, one in the middle and the rest around the edges. Cover and leave to prove for about 30 minutes whilst you preheat the oven.

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Leave to prove for another thirty minutes

When the buns are puffy and ready – check by poking one with a finger; if the indentation stays put, they are done – then glaze them, if you want, with a little beaten egg and demerara sugar. Alternatively leave them plain but ice them later. Bake at 180c fan for 30 minutes until golden and risen.

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Cinnamon bun-cake fresh from the oven, waiting for a blanket of icing

Leave them to cool and then, if desired, top with a glace icing made by mixing 9 dessertspoons of icing sugar with 2 dessertspoons of boiling water. The hot water helps to remove any lumpy bits of sugar.

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Soft, gently spiced cinnamon buns

I love the speed of these buns and they make for a great brunch treat. Truth be told, I  prefer buns made the slow way, with strong bread flour and a good knead, but this is a useful recipe to have up one’s sleeve. They’re gently spiced, super-sociable and will keep for a few days in an air-tight tin.

Cinnamon bun-cake

from Signe Johansen’s Scandilicious Baking

Dough

225ml milk

75g butter

300g plain white flour

125g wholemeal flour

70g caster sugar

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp fine salt

10g dried yeast

1 egg

Filling

75g salted butter

50g caster sugar

2 level tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp vanilla paste (optional)

Topping

Either 1 egg, beaten, and demerara sugar, OR

10 dessertspoons icing sugar and 2 dessertspoons boiling water

In a large bowl, mix the flours, salt, yeast, sugar and cardamom to combine. Melt the butter into the milk in the microwave, then add the egg and beat with a fork to combine. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry and bring together to a loose, soft dough – I use a wooden spoon for this. Beat for a few minutes so that the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. Cover with a tea towel or clingfilm, then leave to ferment for 30 minutes to an hour.

Make the filling by creaming the ingredients together – if the butter is too hard, soften it in the microwave for a seconds, but be careful not to melt it.

Grease a 23cm round loose-bottomed cake tin.

Flour a work surface then use your scraper to tip out the dough. Use your fingers to flatten it into a rectangle, about 25cm x 35cm. Spread the butter over the dough, then roll up from the long end like a swiss roll. Slice into 7 pieces. Place the pieces into the cake tin, cover again and leave to prove for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180c fan.

If glazing your buns, brush them with beaten egg, then sprinkle with demerara sugar. Bake for 30 minutes until risen and golden. Leave to settle in the tin for 15 minutes or so, then remove and cool completely on a wire rack.

If icing the buns, mix the sugar and boiling water to make a soft icing, then pour over the bun-cake. Leave to set before serving.