Theresa Pereira Written by Theresa Pereira

Danish pastries: how sugar develops unique characteristics

As a follow-on from our recent Nordic sugar applications blog, we’ve been exploring the unique ways in which Danish pastries and biscuits utilise pure sugar products. Unlike puff pastries, Danish pastries typically use a yeast-leavened pastry to create rise, texture, flavour and more, before all the defining features such as fruits, spices and custard are added.

Learn more about how pure sugars and syrups are used in various Danish delicacies below, as we dive deeper into their intricacies and nuances.

Wienerbrød

Authentic Danish pastry, also known as wienerbrød or ‘Vienna bread’, is named after the Viennese pâtissiers that are said to have arrived in Denmark after Danish bakers went on strike in 1850. In so doing, they brought with them new styles of pastry that were further developed and refined by Danish bakers over time. Sometimes called viennoiserie, wienerbrød is therefore the umbrella term that refers to baked goods produced with yeast-leavened pastry.

Unlike puff pastry, which relies on layers or laminations of dough puffing up to give a rise, traditional Danish pastries contains yeast and a higher proportion of butter. Indeed, wienerbrød is usually made using strong white bread flour, a healthy amount of butter, fresh yeast activated by warm milk and steadily fed by granulated white sugar, as well as eggs and a small amount of salt.

Poppy seed rolls and cardamom buns. Traditional Nordic baked sweet breads on a wooden board. Breakfast food.

Wienerbrød acts as the base of a wide variety of pastry products, both sweet and savoury, including the tebirkes above.

The pastry is then moulded into a variety of shapes and styles, including tebirkes (poppy seed buns), hindbærsnitte (raspberry slices) and direktørsnegl (chocolate boss snails). The development of these unique flavours and textures is in large part thanks to the functional qualities of pure sugar products, carefully selected for their properties in Danish pastries, cakes and biscuits.

Brunsviger

Brunsviger cake is famous for its origins on the island of Funen, the birthplace of celebrated author, Hans Christian Anderson, known of course for works such as Thumbelina and The Little Mermaid. Alongside its popularity as a Sunday morning cake served with tea, it is also baked circular as a traditional birthday cake, decorated with icing, sweets and flags.

Tea and Brunsviger or Brunswick cake.

Brunsviger cake traditionally has a bumpy top. 

Using a thicker dough than traditional pastries, this bread-like cake is made with sweet dough and topped with a rich mixture of sugar and butter. The dough is made, proved and then spread onto a large, shallow baking tray so it can be sliced like a traybake. The topping is designed to be sweet, mellow, crunchy and sticky, so is best served fresh once it has cooled.

Created with a mixture of butter, dark soft brown sugar and golden syrup, the topping may also be spiced for a more sophisticated take on this traditional treat. Dark soft brown sugar develops the dark colour of the topping and, when combined with golden syrup, creates the unique caramelised taste that is key to the flavour profile of so many cakes across the world. Of course, as golden syrup is an invert syrup, it has unique functional properties that enable it to withstand higher baking temperatures without crystallising. So, once brunsviger has been baked, the topping remains moist and sticky while having an attractive shiny coating.

Spandauer

Spandauer has no direct translation into English, but some believe these Danish pastries are named after Berlin’s Spandau region, though this is not confirmed. Filled with custard crème or creme patissiere and drizzled with a sugar glaze, spandauers are some of the most iconic Danish pastries produced with the wienerbrød pastry. The fillings available include everything from fruit to marzipan.

Danish Pastry with custard middle and icing glaze.

Spandauers can be filled with anything from custard crème and marzipan to cooked fruit and nuts.

The custard crème typically employs white granulated sugar, but when making this into a marzipan crème, soft brown light sugar can instead be used to complement the almond flavour. This is cooked along with milk eggs and starch, which all play an important role in the flavour, texture and thickening of the crème. Furthermore, it is worth noting that in commercially produced spandauer, such as the products that consumers find on supermarket shelves, partial invert sugar syrup or glucose syrup are typically also used to stabilise and preserve the flavoured filling.

In artisanal or domestic production, the granulated sugar does not just serve to bring sweetness to the custard crème either, it also cools the warm mixture and slows the coagulation of the eggs. This is a particularly complicated process as the yolks are liable to scramble and leave a lumpy, split mixture that cannot be saved or used. So, sugar is vital to creating a rich, velvety custard crème in this classic Danish pastry.

Brunkager

Brunkager, or ‘brown cookie’, is a nutty spiced biscuit that is usually shaped in rectangles. These biscuits are a Christmas staple in Denmark, but consumers are unlikely to find like-for-like versions in shops in the UK.

Recipes for Brunkager vary depending on the spices and nuts chosen, but often they contain nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and cloves, with sliced almonds and pistachios. These make thin crunchy cookies, ideal for serving with coffee or a glass of milk.

Danish spicy butter cookies with candied fruits, cinnamon sticks and anise, light background. Festive Christmas or New Year background with fir branches.

These biscuits are made in a long cookie dough loaf and then sliced to the desired thickness, ideal for large scale production.

Along with nuts and spices, brunkager contain butter, flour, and sugar. And depending on the recipe, different sugar products can be used. A darker variation may utilise both soft brown light sugar and molasses, which is a highly popular sugar ingredient in Nordic regions. The latter’s thick, viscous nature means it is excellent for binding the many ingredients together, and its bittersweet flavour partners well with the range of nuts and spices used in different brunkager recipes.

Ragus has a wealth of experience supplying pure sugar products to overseas markets and can consult customers on the most suitable pure sugar product for their baking application. To learn how we can support the development of your product, contact a member of our customer services team on +44 (0)1753 575353 or enquiries@ragus.co.uk. For more sugar news and Ragus updates, follow Ragus on LinkedIn.