Grape Ricotta Danishes with Walnut Thyme Streusel

This post is sponsored by Bake from Scratch as part of their Better Baking Academy with Bob’s Red Mill. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

grape ricotta danishes

Grape ricotta danishes with walnut thyme streusel are the buttery-creamy-fruity-nutty pastry of your dreams! These homemade danishes are perfect for a weekend brunch or holiday spread and are so fun to make.

Better Baking Academy

I’m sharing these pastries with you as part of the year-long Better Baking Academy put on by Bake from Scratch and Bob’s Red Mill! Every month this year, this free educational series has been diving deep into different baking techniques — think macarons, pate a choux, and pie dough. Through detailed tutorials and clear recipes, Better Baking Academy aims to equip the home baker with a well-rounded set of skills that will set you up for a lifetime of baking success. Enroll in the Better Baking Academy now to access all the modules and recipes!

This month’s Better Baking Academy module is on fall danishes and lamination technique. While lamination may sound a little intimidating, let me assure you that it is very doable at home (there’s even a whole chapter on laminated pastries in my upcoming cookbook!). Learning how to laminate will open up a huge world of delicious baked goods — croissants, danishes, puff pastry, kouign amann, and so on. Like any other technique, lamination just takes some patience and practice. Here are a few pointers to help you on your way.

danish dough ingredients

Five Tips for lamination success

  • Use good quality ingredients. Now is the time to splurge on fancy European-style butter (at least 82% fat)! Not only will good butter make your pastries taste better, but the actual lamination process will be much easier — European-style butter is less prone to cracking due to its low water/high fat content. Using a strong, good-quality flour is key as well — Bob’s Red Mill Organic Unbleached All-Purpose Flour is a great choice. It has a higher protein content than a lot of other all-purpose flours, which creates a strong dough that can withstand rolling and shaping and pastries that will rise high in the oven.
  • Plan your bake. There’s actually not a ton of hands-on work required for laminated pastries, but you will need to plan for chilling and proofing times throughout the process. Figure out when you want to bake the pastries and work backwards from there to budget your time. I suggest reading the recipe through completely a couple times in advance, and trying to visualize each step before starting. The more familiar you are with the steps before you begin, the more enjoyable the entire process will be.
  • Measure carefully. Pull out your kitchen scale and ruler — pastries like precision! For best results, weigh your ingredients and measure carefully when rolling out and cutting. Roll your dough to the specified dimensions, and keep your edges and corners neat and sharp — this will help you achieve uniform, professional-looking pastries!
  • Manage temperature. Properly managing the temperature of your ingredients is critical for successful lamination. Your butter and dough need to be at similar temperatures before you try to combine them via lamination. They should cool but pliable — if too cold, the butter will shatter when you try to roll it out; and if too warm, the butter will melt into the dough. Test your butter block before starting lamination — it should be pliable enough to bend without breaking, but cool enough to easily release from the parchment paper. If you can feel the butter starting to crack as you roll, stop and let it soften for 5-10 minutes before proceeding. If the dough starts to feel sticky/melty/warm, stop and refrigerate for 5-10 minutes and try again.
  • Proof fully. Once you’ve shaped your pastries, proof them in a warm and humid environment. The oven with the light on and a dish of warm water on the shelf below is a great spot. (Just make sure the temperature doesn’t get above 80F degrees or the butter will melt!) When fully proofed, the pastries should look very puffy and jiggly with very visible layers. When properly proofed pastry hits the hot oven, steam from the butter will cause the layers to separate and create that beautiful flaky texture. Underproofed pastries tend to leak butter during baking and won’t have a light final texture.

Now, about these grape ricotta danishes with walnut thyme streusel! I decided to go with a classic coil shape that is simple but gorgeous. Also very important — it allows for plenty of filling! These danishes start with a ricotta filling spiked with honey and black pepper (one of my favorite punchy flavor combos!), which is then topped with fresh grapes. I used a seedless concord variety which were just perfect — after roasting in the oven they’re intensely jammy, but still retain some texture. I think blueberries, cranberries or even thinly sliced pears would work nicely here too — but do try the grapes if you can!

These danishes are generously sprinkled with a nutty streusel before hitting the oven. You’ll never find me saying no to streusel — not only does it taste delicious, but it adds a crisp layer of texture that complements the creamy ricotta and juicy fruit.

For a final bit of bakery style shine, brush your danishes with a little warm honey as soon as they’re out of the oven. Wait just long enough so that you don’t burn your tongue, then enjoy! These danishes are *chef’s kiss* perfect still warm from the oven and honestly so satisfying to make.

grape ricotta danishes 2

Grape Ricotta Danishes with Walnut Thyme Streusel

Makes 12 danishes | Danish base recipe adapted from Bake From Scratch

Ingredients:

For the Danish dough:
  • 4  cups (500 grams) all-purpose flour, divided
  • ⅓ cup (67 grams) plus 1 teaspoon (4 grams) granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 tablespoon (9 grams) kosher salt
  • 2¼ teaspoons (7 grams) instant yeast
  • 1 cup (240 grams) whole milk
  • 1 cup (227 grams) plus 3 tablespoons (42 grams) unsalted butter, softened and divided
  • 2 large eggs (100 grams), room temperature and divided
For the ricotta filling:
  • 1/2 c (120 g) full fat ricotta cheese
  • 1½ Tbsp (30 g) honey
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1½ Tbsp (12 g) all-purpose flour
For the walnut thyme streusel:
  • 1/3 c plus 1 Tbsp (50 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 c (50 g) light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves 
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 3 Tbsp (42 g) unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  • 2 Tbsp (25 g) chopped walnuts
To finish:
  • 1 cup (240 g) seedless concord grapes (or similar variety), halved if large
  • 2 Tbsp (40 g) warm honey, for glazing, plus more for drizzling
  • Fresh thyme leaves, for garnish

Method:

  1. Make the danish dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine 1 cup (125 grams) flour, ⅓ cup (67 grams) sugar, salt, and yeast.
  2. In a medium saucepan, heat milk and 3 tablespoons (42 grams) butter over medium heat until an instant-read thermometer registers 120°F (49°C) to 130°F (54°C). Add warm milk mixture to flour mixture, and beat at medium-low speed until combined. Add 1 egg (50 grams), beating until combined. With mixer on low speed, gradually add 2½ cups (313 grams) flour, beating just until combined and stopping to scrape sides of bowl.
  3. Switch to the dough hook attachment. Beat at low speed until a soft, somewhat sticky dough forms, 5 to 7 minutes, stopping to scrape sides of bowl and dough hook; add up to remaining ½ cup (62 grams) flour, 1 tablespoon (8 grams) at a time, if dough is too sticky. Cover and let rise  until slightly puffed, 10 to 15 minutes.
  4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and lightly dust with flour.
  5. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface. Shape into a 9-inch square, and place on prepared pan. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  6. Prepare the butter block: Using a permanent marker, draw an 8-inch square on a sheet of parchment paper; turn parchment over. Place remaining 1 cup (227 grams) butter on prepared parchment. Cover with a second sheet of parchment, and shape butter to fit inside drawn square, keeping edges straight and even. Keep wrapped in parchment paper, and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  7. Freeze dough for 15 minutes; let butter block stand at room temperature until pliable, about 15 minutes.
  8. Laminate the dough: On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a 12-inch square. Unwrap butter block, and place on dough so corners of butter block touch center of sides of dough. Fold dough over butter block, meeting in middle, and press lightly to seal dough around butter block. Straighten dough and immediately roll into an 18×12-inch rectangle. Fold each short end to meet in center; fold in half. Turn dough 90 degrees, and roll out again. Repeat folding. Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1½ hours; freeze for 30 minutes. (See Notes.)
  9. While dough is resting, make the ricotta filling and walnut thyme streusel. To make the ricotta filling, whisk together all ingredients until combined (for smoothest filling, pulse in a food processor). Transfer to a piping bag and refrigerate until ready to use.
  10. To make the walnut thyme streusel, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, thyme, and salt in a small bowl. Scatter the cold, cubed butter over the top. Use your fingertips to rub the butter into the dry ingredients until moist clumps form. Mix in the walnut pieces. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
  11. Shape, proof, and bake the danishes: Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a 17×13-inch rectangle. Trim ½ inch off each side so rectangle is 16×12 inches. Cut dough in half lengthwise, and return one half to pan. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Cut remaining dough lengthwise into six 12″ x 1⅓” strips.
  12. In a small bowl, whisk together 1 teaspoon (5 grams) water and remaining 1 egg (50 grams).
  13. Brush a strip with egg wash. Twist strip; shape into a coil, making sure to keep it flat. Tuck end under, and place on prepared pan. Repeat with remaining strips. Brush shaped pastries with egg wash. Repeat with second half of dough.
  14. Let pastries rise in a warm, draft-free place (75-80°F/24-26°C) until danishes are puffy and jiggly and the layers are very noticeable. This may take as little as 20-30 minutes or as much as 1-2 hours, depending on how long it takes you to shape your pastries and the warmth of your kitchen.
  15. While pastries are rising, position oven rack in middle of oven. Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C).
  16. Right before baking, brush pastries with a second coat of egg wash. Pipe a generous tablespoon of ricotta filling in the center of each danish. Press several grapes into the filling and sprinkle with a generous tablespoon of walnut thyme streusel. (Don’t skimp — the pastries will expand in the oven and you want to have plenty of filling and streusel in each one.)
  17. Bake, one batch at a time, until just starting to brown, 8-10 minutes. Rotate pan, and reduce oven temperature to 375°F (190°C). Bake until deep golden brown, 10-15 minutes more. (See Notes.) (Increase oven temperature to 425°F [220°C] before baking second batch.) Brush the grapes and exposed pastry with warmed honey. Serve warm or at room temperature, drizzling with additional honey and sprinkling with fresh thyme leaves just before eating, if desired. Best served same day but can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days. (See Notes.)

Notes:

  • If you want to serve these for breakfast or an early brunch, instead of refrigerating for 1½ hours and then freezing for 30 minutes, just refrigerate overnight (no need to freeze).
  • Some ovens bake the bottoms darker than others, place a second pan under prepared pan when baking to prevent overbrowning. Not sure how your oven will bake? Can test with one on a sheet pan or just go ahead and double pan just to be safe.
  • Reheat stored Danish in a 350°F (180°C) oven before eating.

Sourdough pie crust

apple pie with sourdough crust

If you’ve hung around this site much, you probably know that I’ve got a thing for sourdough. Most often I use my sourdough starter to make bread — both crusty and soft — but I’ve been known to sneak it into things like chocolate cake and crackers. Repurposing “discard” (the portion of starter that is typically thrown away at each feeding) into something delicious is a challenge I really enjoy — not just because it reduces waste, but also because starter can add deeper flavor to so many baked goods! And pie crust is no exception.

Adding sourdough starter to pie dough is fairly straightforward. I’ve based this recipe on my go-to all-butter pie crust (which is in my book) by replacing all the liquid and part of the flour with ripe/discard starter. Since this recipe calls for a decent amount of starter, I usually save up a few days’ worth of discard in the fridge before making this crust. Since the starter isn’t for leavening, it doesn’t need to be at peak readiness as if you were mixing bread dough. As long as it still looks bubbly and isn’t overly soupy or acrid-smelling, it should work just fine. (I generally try to use my discard within 5-7 days.)

I’ve used sourdough pie crust for both sweet and savory pies and galettes. The starter adds a lovely depth of flavor. I don’t find it sour at all (though this will depend on the health/taste of your own starter!). It bakes up a little more tender than my regular pie dough, but is still plenty flaky as long as you handle it correctly (namely keep your ingredients cold and don’t overwork the dough!).

sourdough pie crust unbaked
A few notes:
  • I keep a 100% hydration (equal parts flour and water) starter, which is what I use for this recipe. I’ve never had to add any extra liquid, but if you keep a stiffer starter (or live in a drier climate) you might need a touch of ice water or milk to help bind your dough together.
  • Make sure your starter is well-chilled before using it to make pie dough. I like to measure it out and refrigerate it for at least a couple hours before mixing.
  • In general, I like to keep my butter pieces fairly large when making pie dough, especially if I’m going for maximum flake. I find it’s especially helpful when making sourdough pie crust since you have to work the dough a little more than normal to incorporate the starter.
  • When you first add the starter to your dough it may seem like it won’t incorporate. Avoid the temptation to add liquid or knead — just fold the mixture over itself and it should eventually start coming together.
  • The folding in step 4 is optional, but I almost always do it for extra-flaky and easy-to-handle dough.
  • You can halve all the ingredients to make a single 9″ pie crust, but I always make a double batch to maximize my time in the kitchen. Pie dough freezes incredibly well, and having a couple batches in the freezer stash makes me feel like a baking ninja: I’m already halfway to an awesome galette or pie!
Have crust, make pie!

Once you’ve made this sourdough pie crust, use it your favorite sweet or savory pie or try it in one of these recipes:

Sourdough pie crust

Makes enough for one double-crust 9″ pie | Adapted from Baked to Order

Ingredients:

  • 250g flour (I typically use 125g all purpose and 125g whole grain such as spelt, whole wheat, einkorn, or rye)
  • 1 1/2 tsp (6 grams) kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal brand)
  • 2 Tbsp (25 grams) granulated sugar
  • 250g unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 250g ripe or discard 100% hydration sourdough starter, cold (see notes above)

Method:

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. Scatter the butter over the top. Use the pads of your fingers to flatten the butter pieces, tossing them with the flour mixture so each piece is coated on all sides. The butter pieces should remain fairly large, about the size of walnut halves. Work quickly so the butter remains cold.
  2. Scrape the sourdough starter over the flour-butter mixture. Use a flexible spatula to fold and mash the starter into the flour-butter mixture. Once the starter is well dispersed, use your hands to continue folding the dough over itself, giving the bowl a quarter-turn between folds, until there aren’t any dusty bits of flour remaining on the bottom of the bowl and the dough just holds together when you squeeze a bit in your hand. (Depending on the consistency of your starter and the humidity of your environment, you may need to add a drizzle of cold water or milk to bring the dough together; but I usually don’t need any.) You should still see visible pieces of butter—this is a good thing! Fold the dough over itself several more times, giving the bowl a quarter turn after each fold, to make a cohesive but ragged mass.
  3. If the dough is still cool to the touch at this point, continue on; if it feels at all soft or sticky, cover and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes before continuing.
  4. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a roughly 13-inch (33-cm) square. Brush off any extra flour and fold the dough into thirds like a letter. Fold into thirds again so you end up with a roughly 4.-inch (11-cm) square. Roll into a 3/4-inch (2-cm)-thick rectangle twice as long as it is wide and cut in half. Wrap each half and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 1 day. (The dough can also be frozen at this point and defrosted in the fridge overnight before using.)

Mini vanilla cake with buttermilk ermine frosting (plus a smash cake!)

first birthday cake plus smash cake

Last week we celebrated Isabelle’s first birthday. As I’ve looked back on the photos and videos from this past year and cheered her on as she’s started taking her first steps, I realize — despite the seeming never-endingness that is 2020 — time marches on.

Naturally, there was cake. We’re still sticking to very small gatherings here, so I made a petite birthday cake and a very petite one for Isabelle to “smash.” (Though let’s be honest — this is our third kid and this was hardly her first taste of cake!) It was the perfect size.

Buttermilk Ermine Frosting

Let’s talk for a minute about the buttermilk ermine frosting. If you’ve never made ermine frosting (sometimes called flour buttercream or boiled icing… uh, yum?) you really must try it! It’s fluffy and not too sweet, almost like a sturdy whipped cream in texture. This old-school frosting starts with a flour-milk-sugar roux that’s cooked to a thick paste on the stove. Once cooled, it’s beaten together with softened butter. I promise, it’s much tastier than it sounds! Ermine frosting is softer than Swiss meringue buttercream so it’s not the best for super sharp edges and intricate piping, but it’s tops for eating. Using buttermilk instead of regular milk gives it cream cheese frosting vibes; I’m totally using it the next time I make a red velvet or carrot cake!

A few notes:

  • The measurements for this cake are a bit odd because it’s scaled down / adapted from this old favorite vanilla cake recipe. The cup conversions are super awkward so I’ve just stuck with grams. I recommend baking by weight whenever possible — it’s much more accurate and quicker/cleaner than breaking out all the measuring cups! A scale is truly my favorite kitchen tool and a worthwhile investment.
  • To make the cakes pictured, I split the batter among two 6-inch cake pans and two 4-inch cake pans. For the most even layers, weigh the batter (told you the kitchen scale is handy!). Here’s how I do it: before baking, I weigh the bowl in which I’ll be mixing my batter. After I’ve finished mixing my batter, I’ll weigh the bowl with the batter, then subtract the weight of the bowl to find out how much my batter weighs. Then I divide the batter weight by however many pans I’m using. In this case, I first divided by 3 — this is how much batter I put in each of the two 6″ pans. Then I divided the remaining third of the batter between the two 4″ pans. Note that if you’re using different sized pans, they may bake at slightly different rates; though in this case all my layers finished around the same time. Not making a smash cake? You can just use three 6″ pans!
  • If you don’t have buttermilk, you can substitute plain milk (either lowfat or whole should work nicely) for a plain, delicious vanilla frosting.

Mini vanilla cake with buttermilk ermine frosting (plus a smash cake!)

Makes one 2-layer 6″ cake plus one 2-layer 4″ smash cake (or one 3-layer 6″ cake)

Ingredients:

For the vanilla cake:

  • 119g all-purpose flour
  • 136g cake flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 250 g granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 204g sour cream, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 136g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 60g neutral vegetable oil (I prefer grapeseed)

For the buttermilk ermine frosting:

  • 42g all-purpose flour
  • 140g granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 255g buttermilk
  • 240g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract

To assemble:

  • About 1/3 cup peach preserves (or other thick fruit jam)
  • Sprinkles, for decorating

Method:

For the vanilla cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F (175C) with a rack in the middle position. Line the bottom of two 6″ pans and two 4″ pans with parchment paper, then grease and flour the pans.
  2. In a glass measuring cup with a spout, whisk together the eggs, vanilla, and 50 grams of the sour cream.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Mix on low for 30 seconds to combine.
  4. With the mixer still on low, add the butter a spoonful at a time, followed by the oil and the remaining 154 grams of sour cream. Once all the flour is moistened, increase the speed to medium and beat for about 90 seconds. The batter will be very thick at this point. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and paddle.
  5. With the mixer on low, add half of the egg and sour cream mixture. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and paddle. Repeat with the remaining egg mixture.
  6. Fold the batter a couple of times with a flexible spatula to ensure everything is well incorporated. Divide the batter among the prepared pans (see notes above) and smooth the surfaces with a small offset spatula. Place the pans on a baking sheet.
  7. Bake until the cakes are puffed and springy, and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 28-35 minutes. (These cakes don’t brown much.) Cool 10-20 minutes in pan and then turn out to a cooling rack. For easiest assembly, wrap each layer in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator completely before filling and frosting.

For the buttermilk ermine frosting:

  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt until well combined. Add the buttermilk and whisk until smooth.
  2. Cook the mixture over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until it comes to a boil. One the mixture starts boiling, cook for an additional two minutes. It should be thick and glue-like; if you run a spoon through the middle of the mixture, the line should remain for a second before slowly filling again.
  3. Remove from the heat and use a flexible spatula to scrape into a pie plate (using a wide, shallow pan speeds the cooling process). Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to keep a skin from forming. Cool completely to room temperature before proceeding.
  4. Place the butter in a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium until very light and fluffy, about five minutes. Add the cooled pudding a spoonful at a time. Once all the pudding has been added, scrape down the paddle and sides of the bowl. Continue mixing until smooth.
  5. Switch to the whisk attachment and add the vanilla. Whip on medium speed until thick, smooth, and creamy, about 3 more minutes. Use immediately or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to one week (or freeze for up to 6 months). Bring back to room temperature and rewhip before using.

To assemble:

  1. If you plan to pipe words or other decorations on your cakes, set aside a small amount of buttercream (I only needed a couple spoonfuls to pipe “One” and “1”). Transfer about 1 cup of buttermilk ermine frosting to a piping bag fitted with a large round tip. Level the cakes if needed using a sharp serrated knife or cake leveler. Place one 6-inch round on a cake board or serving platter. Pipe a dam around the edge and fill the center with peach preserves. Place the second layer cut side down. Frost the entire cake with a thin layer of frosting to lock the crumbs in, then chill for about 15 minutes. Repeat process with the 4″ cake layers.
  2. Frost the cakes and decorate as desired. I tinted my reserved frosting with a drop of Americolor Dusty Rose and piped the text using a #2 Wilton tip (I recommend practicing a couple times on a piece of parchment paper). Cake is best enjoyed at room temperature.