Cherry jam danishes (plus kind of big news)
We left our hotel in Limerick, Ireland on 23 March 2013. Upon exiting, Thom and my father hopped across the street and demanded I snap a photo of them in front of the Myles Breen bar. They had some ridiculous story about getting locked in the bar at 2 in the morning, and that alone was reason enough for them to stand in front of it wearing unusually huge smiles that I contributed to the fact that they were still drunk from their little outing the night before. DID YOU GET A GOOD ONE? My dad would shout from across the street. Yeah, dad. I got about ten good ones. Are we finished?
Fast forward to 18 August 2013. I woke up at 7AM to continue my morning tradition of hiking up to Prague Castle. I threw on a baggy t-shirt dress, pulled my hair into a ponytail, and hurried out the door so not to wake Thom's sleepy head. I wandered through the convoluted streets, admiring the city's stunning architecture and trying to figure out what was going on in my brain when I decided against bringing my salt water sandals on the trip. (Note to self: Always pack the salt waters.) After 45 minutes, a handful of steep inclines, and one gnarly heel blister later, I summited the second highest point in town. My reward for climbing to such great heights was a caffeinated beverage from that Seattle-based coffee company that has successfully dominated the global coffee market. Think what you will about this company, but when you've been traveling through foreign lands for weeks on end, it's insanely comforting to be in familiar territory when you're surrounded by masses of people who don't speak your language and waiters who look at you like you have three heads when they find out you can't have dairy and you willingly abstain from eating meat.
So anyway, I walked into Starbucks and before I even made it to the counter the barista shouted American girl! I almost didn't recognize you in that dress. Americano with soya? I nodded my head and shot him a toothy grin, slightly embarrassed that prior to that moment, the guy making my morning pick-me-up only knew me as the sweaty, out-of-breath American girl who put a €2 cup of coffee on her credit card each morning. In my defense, running with a pocket full of coins is not enjoyable. And I imagine being handed a wet paper bill from a sweaty runner isn't, either.
The observant barista upgraded my order and handed me a big mug, Maybe you drink it here today? I looked at him, confused, but had no idea what was going on so I scrapped my plans to explore the castle and cozied up to a table in the corner with my new book. When the view outside became too distracting to ignore, I dogeared the page and took my half finished mug of coffee up to the terrace to enjoy my favorite view of Prague. Thom may disagree, but I swear this is the most stunning view in town. Especially at 9AM when it's consumed by the hazy morning dew. I stared into the foggy cityscape thinking about how badly I would love to call this place home one day, and how lucky I am that Thom moved back to the States that summer of 2007. He lived in Prague before we met - did you know that? Of course you didn't.
If you've ever been to Prague, you're probably asking yourself why he left. Long story short, he had some unfinished business and debts to repay, which resulted in him temporarily moving back to Ohio. I say temporarily because he had every intention of returning to Prague later that year. During the transition, our worlds collided shortly after we both accepted shitty jobs at a department store in Richmond, Indiana; he worked in the men's shoe department while I spent my days slinging handbags and accessories to people who admitted they couldn't pay their bills because they were addicted to buying those tacky purses with the third letter of the alphabet printed all over them. After we had our first interaction (which was me calling him an asshole for eating the last english muffin in the break room) (he conveniently doesn't remember this), I spent many days pretending I needed random things from the main stock room just so I had an excuse to walk past the "handsome man" who worked in men's shoes. (Handsome man was the nickname he was given by my coworkers - and like ladycakes, it stuck.) Then one day, on my way out to lunch, he stopped me and we got to chatting. We exchanged stories about life, he ate a lot of cookies, and we moved in together a few months later.
But back to that morning in Prague.
After my alone time - which I swear is the key to surviving any trip in which you are forced to share every inch of personal space with the same human being for an extended period of time - Thom and I met up to dine alfresco at his favorite spot in the city. Due to the lack of markets in the area, we scrapped the outdoor feast and decided to fill our bellies at an establishment that provided us with delicious eats during our first night in Prague. Unfortunately, we both made bad decisions by ordering the Thai peanut noodle dish, because for what it lacked in flavor, the cook made up for by using salt - which resulted in me politely sending mine back while Thom adapted by drinking a gulp of water between each bite. It wasn't long before he threw in his napkin and suggested we get dessert to go. And so we made our way to his favorite spot in town - an unnamed park with a row of benches that display one of the most picturesque views of Prague Castle, if you pick the right bench. He did. We sat there for a good ten minutes, shoveling cheesecake (her) and cookies (him) into our faces, and laughed about our terrible lunch experience. And then we decided that after being burned by Thai food three times too many since landing in Europe, it'd probably be a good idea to steer clear of it until we get home.
When we finished dessert, I stood up and gave my arms a big stretch. I walked over to the pretty wrought iron fence to inhale one last good view of the castle, and was reminded that Thom traded this to be with me. It made me smile. I walked back to the bench and grabbed my bag, indicating I was ready to go. But Thom wasn't ready to leave just yet.
He suggested we sit in the grassy area behind the bench - the place where he used to come to clear his mind and escape the hustle and bustle of Prague. And so we sat down in a carefully selected patch of greenery and I laid my head on his shoulder, trying to find the meaty spot between the top of his humerus and the edge of his clavicle. I closed my eyes and we talked about life and future travel plans, and then he told me a story about a beautiful moment he experienced in the very spot that we were sitting, so many years before. I remember being moved to tears and as I lifted my head to catch them with my fingers, he pulled out a stunning ring and said, "And I knew this was the place where I was going to ask you to be my wife. Ashlae Nicole, will you marry me?" It knocked the wind out of me. It took my breath away. I looked at him with wide, wet eyes and let out a massive YES. And then he slipped the ring on my right ring finger (because we're lefties) and I grabbed his face and kissed him harder than I've ever kissed him before.
We got up and headed back to our apartment - smiling like fools, hand in hand - and I drilled him with questions about how long he'd been planning it and if anyone else knew and Did you ask my pops?
Turns out he did, that drunken night in Limerick, Ireland. In that bar across from the George Boutique Hotel.
Notes: Danish dough is fussy and requires a bit of work on your part. But the outcome is so rewarding that you shouldn't mind having to put in the extra effort. If you don't have soy cream, you can substitute full fat coconut milk, but I'd advise against using anything lighter as the fat is a crucial component. If you're not a fan of cherry, any other jam or sweet fruit would work in this recipe, as well. Black currant jam was Thom's favorite. ***An extra important note on yeast: If your yeast is not activated properly, your end result may not be so good. If it's not super foamy like this, you need to start over. Taking the temperature of the liquid is imperative so you don't run the risk of killing the yeast (too hot) or not activating enough of it (too cool).
CHERRY JAM DANISHES
DANISH PASTRY DOUGH
3/4 cup warm soy cream, between 105-108˚F
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
2 tablespoons cane sugar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup + 2 tbsp vegan butter, cold and divided
2 1/4 cups unbleached flour
1 cup good quality cherry jam
1 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons almond milk
Add the yeast and soy cream to a small bowl; stir to combine then let sit for 10-15 minutes, until foamy. In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine 2 cups of the flour, sugar, and salt; mix until combined. Add two tablespoons of the butter, in small pieces, and continue mixing until the mixture resembles coarse meal (this took about 5 minutes for me). Pour in the yeast mixture and mix on medium speed. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of flour one tablespoon at a time (you may or may not need the entire 1/4 cup), and mix just until everything is combined. Wrap the dough tightly with plastic and refrigerate for 90 minutes.
Sprinkle a flat surface with flour and roll dough out into an 12X24 rectangle . Cover 2/3 of the dough with the remaining cup of butter. I slice mine then spread it with a knife so there are no spaces, but leaving it as slices is fine, too. Fold the unbuttered third of dough over the buttered center, then over again. Pinch the edges of the dough to seal and roll it out into another 12X24 rectangle. Repeat the folding process by folding the dough into thirds (sans butter) again. Cover tightly with plastic and refrigerate for 1-2 hours, until the dough has expanded and is firm. Complete the rolling, folding, and chilling process two more times.
Once you've completed all three turns, refrigerate the dough for at least six hours, but overnight is preferred. Once the dough has chilled, line two large baking sheets with silicone mat or parchment paper. Liberally flour a work surface and roll the dough out into a 10X20 rectangle, about 1/4" thick. Trim the edges so that the pastry slab measures 9X18 and cut into 3" squares. Transfer pastry squares to the prepared baking sheets and freeze for 20 minutes. Once chilled, use the bottom of a measuring cup to press a slightly indented 2" circle into the middle of each pastry. Combine the jam and almond extract and spread a scant tablespoon onto the center of each pastry. Bake at 375˚F for 12-14 minutes, until pastry is golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Create the icing by stirring together the sugar and milk. Drizzle over pastries just before serving. Danishes are best served within 24 hours, but will keep in a not-so-air-tight container for up to two days.
If you don't want to bake the danishes immideately, you can freeze the cut pieces of dough in an air tight container for up to 6 weeks. Thaw in the fridge overnight then prepare according to instructions.
Yield: 18 3" danishes