Thursday, February 17, 2011

Pomegranate Almond Cream Cheese Danish

Fillings for Danish Pastry

Right before the New Year, Ryan from POM Wonderful contacted me to ask if I'd be interested in a free sample of their pomegranate juice. Um...did he really need to ask? Of course I'd love a sample! =) After years of oohing and ahing over the fantastic creations of my fellow bloggers, I was eager for the chance to make my own mark.

But in an ironic turn of events, the same creative posts that had inspired me were suddenly in the way. You see, the rest of y'all were so creative that every pomegranate idea I came up with had already been tried and blogged!! If you know me, though, you know I wouldn't give up that easily. Now it took days (and the noble sacrifice of several inspirational bottles of POM juice) to get there, but an untread path did finally open up.

The turning point was when I remembered that pomegranate juice was easily transformed into a deliciously tart jelly. I knew this because I'd made a bunch to give out as Christmas gifts years ago. Though thumbprint cookies and cupcakes were in the running, the idea of a hot-from-the oven homemade Danish pastry filled with zesty cream cheese and pomegranate jelly wouldn't let go of me. So here you have it-- my own small contribution to the grand library of pomegranate recipes. I'm actually pleasantly surprised that the flavors melded as well as I imagined. From the flaky buttery pastry to the sweet and tart fillings, the crunch of almond flakes to the finishing glaze, every bite contains something to savor.

Pomegranate Cream Cheese Almond Danish Pastry

Lastly, I wanted to share with you a little bit of my food styling and photography process. I'd actually promised my dear friend, Alicia of The Red Deer, that I'd take a photograph of my set-up. Sadly I ran out of time and light today but promise to get one from my next shoot! In the meantime, I thought I'd show you some sketches I made in preparation for today's shoot. Some people I know have amazing vision and can imagine a complicated scene all in their mind's eye. Let me tell ya, I am not one of those people. I also get flustered when in a rush (which happens most of the time I bake). So the solution that's worked for me is to sketch out a few general shots I'd like to get beforehand so I can think about colors and shapes and have props on hand as soon as the food is ready. I try to be spontaneous still, but this is really the more practical approach.

Now I'd love to hear if you guys have any food styling or photography tips of your own to share? Or you're welcome to ask any questions. I'm still a beginner, but the learning experience is so much more fun when others join in =).

Sketches for Pomegranate Jelly Cheese Danish Photos

I'm also sending this over to Susan at Wild Yeast for her weekly Yeastspotting event.

Pomegranate Almond Cheese Danish Pastries [Printable Recipe]
Adapted from Joe Pastry, Gourmet, The Pie and Pastry Bible, and Simply Recipes
Makes 18 danishes

XIAOLU'S NOTES: You can replace these fillings with a number of other things. Just aim for 2 to 3 teaspoons of 1 or 2 types of filling in each danish. Try other preserves, almond cream, poppyseed filling, pastry cream, or even something savory like sun-dried tomatoes! Also feel free to explore all the fun shapes out there.

Danish Pastry Dough (Recipe below)
Cream Cheese Filling (Recipe below)
1/4 cup Pomegranate Jelly (Recipe below)
1 large egg
2 Tbsp water
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp water
2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Remove dough from the refrigerator; divide in half. Rewrap and chill one half as you work with the other. Let dough sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. Flour your counter, then roll the dough into a 12 x 9-inch rectangle (1/4-inch thick). Transfer to a cookie sheet, cover, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to relax the gluten. Meanwhile, repeat the above for the other half of the dough.

Put 1st dough back on the counter, flour the top, and roll into a 12-inch square (1/8-inch thick). Brush off excess flour. Use a ruler and sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut the dough into nine 4-inch squares. Cover squares, then repeat the above for the remaining dough.

Keep all squares covered except the one being worked on. To shape each pastry, bring 2 opposite corners of a square together to fold it in half into a triangle. Starting 3/4-inch inwards from each end of the base of the triangle, cut through both layers as if to make a smaller triangle BUT stop cutting 3/4-inch before the 2 cuts would meet. Now unfold the triangle back into a square. Turn the dough over, brush off any excess flour, then reinvert the dough. Combine egg and 2 tablespoons water and beat together lightly to form an egg wash. Brush the border of the pastry with egg wash. Lift each of the 2 unattached corners of the dough and slip one under the other, crossing them over and pulling them out to line up with the remaining edges below. Repeat the above for remaining squares. (Shaping the pastries is really simpler than it sounds. Refer to the photo below to help visualize the process.)

Photo courtesy of Amber * via Flickr

Pipe 1/2 teaspoon of pomegranate jelly (if too solid, heat in microwave at 10-second intervals until pipeable) and 1 teaspoon of cream cheese filling into the center of each twist. Sprinkle each with 3 to 4 sliced almonds. Arrange pastries on baking sheets, leaving at least 1 1/2 inches between them. Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap and set in a warm spot to rise for about 2 hours (until almost doubled and very light to the touch).

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F at least 20 minutes before baking. Five minutes before baking, place a pan with 1 inch of boiling water on the lowest shelf of the oven. Press down on the twists of each pastry to help maintain the shape during baking. Place pastries in the oven, then immediately reduce the temperature to 375 degrees F. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.

While pastries are baking, prepare the sugar glaze. Combine powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon water, and lemon juice in a small bowl. The glaze should be about as thick as egg white; adjust with more water or powdered sugar as needed.

Transfer baked pastries to a cooling rack immediately and brush with glaze. Cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Enjoy your danish right away, store at room temperature for up to 2 days, or freeze for up to 3 months. To reheat, bake in an oven preheated to 300 degrees F for 5 minutes (8 minutes if frozen).

Danish Pastry Dough
3/4 cup warm milk, divided
1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/4 cups (10 oz.) PLUS 1 Tbsp all purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 large egg, room temperature
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cool room temperature

Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup warm milk and let stand for 10 minutes, or until foamy. Combine yeast mixture with remaining milk plus ingredients from sugar down to the egg (EXCEPT 1 tablespoon of the flour) in the bowl of a stand mixer and, using the dough hook, mix about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and uniform (it should be soft and somewhat sticky). Turn it out into a lightly oiled bowl, rotate the dough to coat it in oil, then cover loosely and let it ferment for 30 minutes at room temperature then 2 to 8 hours in the refrigerator.

Place the last tablespoon of flour on a large piece of plastic wrap then put the butter on top (1 stick on top of the other). Wrap plastic around the contents loosely and hit the butter with a rolling pin to make it flatter and softer. Next, as quickly as possible, knead the butter and flour together through the plastic wrap by using your knuckles (Avoid using other warmer parts of your hands that may melt the butter.). Form the butter mixture into a 5-inch square (3/4-inch thick at most) and chill it for 15 to 30 minutes, or until it is firmer but still malleable.

Roll the dough on a well-floured surface into a 10-inch square and lay the butter block diagonally in the center of the square. Lightly moisten the edges of the dough with water, then securely fold the corners tightly over the butter like an envelope, enclosing the butter completely. Brush off any excess flour and pinch edges of the dough together to seal them. Rewrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes only.

With the rolling pin flatten the dough gently with uniform impressions and roll it from the center away from you to within 1/2 inch of the edge. Turn the strip 180 degrees and roll the dough again from the center away from you to within 1/2 inch of the end. Continue to roll the dough in this manner until it forms a 16 x 7-inch rectangle. (It is important not to roll over the ends in this first rolling to help the later formation of even layers of butter and dough.) Brush off any excess flour, fold the top quarter of the rectangle down to the center of the strip, and fold the bottom quarter of the rectangle up to the center, leaving about 1/2 inch between the 2 ends. Fold the top half of the dough over the bottom to close the dough like a book. This is the first "turn." Rewrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 20 to 40 minutes between each turn.

Do 2 more turns for a total of 3 turns, making sure to position the short side of the dough facing you and closed side to your left before each turn. You may also want to occasionally flip the dough over and to use a pastry scraper to even the edges. Rewrap the finished dough and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before using. (Dough can also be kept refrigerated for 2 to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.)

Cream Cheese Filling
4 oz. (1/2 cup) cream cheese
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp egg yolk
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp lemon zest
Scant 1/8 tsp salt
2 tsp all purpose flour

In a bowl, combine all ingredients and beat until well combined. Chill the filling, covered, for at least 1 hour and up to a day.

Pomegranate Jelly
Makes 3 to 3 1/2 cups

XIAOLU'S NOTES: I used bottled pomegranate juice, but follow these directions to make your own.

2 1/4 cups pomegranate juice [bottled OR fresh]
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 package powdered pectin
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar

3 to 4 eight-ounce canning jars OR other sized jars with equivalent total volume

Prepare canning jars. Submerge clean, empty canning jars in boiling water for several minutes. Boil a few cups of water in a separate kettle and pour over lids in a small bowl to sterilize. Add pomegranate juice and lemon juice to a saucepan with at least 3 quart capacity. Add pectin, stir well, and cook over high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Reach a full rolling boil (one that can't be stirred down), add sugar, and stir well. Boil hard for exactly 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Let stand for a minute and skim off foam.

Fill jars to 1/2-inch of the top. Wipe rims with a clean towel. Screw on 2-piece lids.

Finish canning IF you plan to keep the jelly unrefrigerated. Place the filled jars, not touching, on a rack in a tall pot of boiling water. Water should cover tops of the jars by at least an inch. Boil for 5 minutes, then remove from the water. Let jars cool. Check seals, the lids should be sucked down (you'll hear a popping noise as the jelly cools). Once the jars reach room temperature, put them in the refrigerator for a few hours to complete the gelling. Each jar of jelly will last about 3 weeks once opened.


  1. Thanks so much Xialou! I never even thought to do a sketch before hand - it is the little tips like this that really help.

    Thanks again!

  2. Your pastry looks right out of a gourmet deli ... really pretty!

  3. Oh my lord...that looks so delicious! And perfect. If I tried to make that it'd probably end up looking incredibly ugly. I'm not putting myself down, I just know my own limits.

  4. oh that looks like a great breakfast item. i love pomegranates! and ur sketch is adorable! i would nv hv thought of doing so...i just go with the flow and end up walking back and forth the hse trying to locate items i suddenly "need" for my shoots. haha. ;)

  5. I love Danish paatries. Yours look marvelous. Nice choice of filling. Yummy!



  6. I love anything with pomegranates. I love danishes. This is a perfect treat for me!

  7. if a little bit more golden, it would have looked like one i ate last week at commercial bakery :) i love how you paired up pomegranate and cream cheese into the danish filling!

    pomegranate jelly sounds yummy :D

  8. The twist on the danish is so pretty! I've made pomegranate jelly in the past, but did it the hard way extracting juice from all those little arils, ugh! Next time I'm starting with juice.

  9. Very nice design and delicious sounding combination of flavours.

  10. Your danish is 100% legit! You post recipes for the puff pastry, filling AND jelly: I have to get my hands on some pomegranate asap! I have some pectin I made in the fall that seems to have been waiting quietly for a chance like this ... I might try to substitute it for the powdered variety. Thanks!

  11. This danish sounds absolutely perfect! I love the pomegranate addition. Perfect.

  12. Oh my! What a perfect breakfast treat. The flavors sound wonderful.

  13. Delicious and beautiful! I adore your photography style and thanks for sharing tips.

  14. I think I'm going to try this one too. Nice pics Xiaolu! (as always).

  15. That jelly looks and sounds amazing! Your pastry looks so good!

  16. I heart danish pastries and yours look so flaky! Your pom idea is definitely creative and I am so impressed you make sketches before photographing :)

  17. Thanks, you all! So very fast 8).

    A Plum By Any Other Name - I'd love to hear if your homemade pectin works. Good luck!

  18. Aww thanks for the shout out! I kind of felt the same way when coming up with my POM recipes. but you definitely thought out of the box with these danishes! I totally want one for a midmorning snack.

  19. Love vol au vents! And with Pom jelly, yumm!

  20. A beginner? I'd say you're well advanced! I could stare at your foodie pics all day. They're so beautiful ♥! But I'd love to see your set-up as well. Can't wait for the next post :-)

    You made your own pastry dough too? That is dedication!

  21. Looks very very delicious! I seldom really sketch.. in fact, I think it's great to have sketched before hand.. probably becos I am bad in drawing.. LOL..usually I cook and then I dont have the time to sketch.. so I rely on my imagination while cooking.

  22. Creative use of POM! I am usually not a fan of danish but you made me want to eat some right now!

  23. I wish I could sketch as pro as you did! :D I did draw out a plan for my shots, but no where close as neat as yours.

    That's said, I want those danish, like, nowww!

  24. It looks perfect.... Don't you just lurv the bitter, yet sweetness pom's bring? I'm not much of a sketcher.... in fact, i can only draw stick men...or women..

    What a great idea.. I was wanted to pair a sketch with a recipe.. I wonder if I can bug the mr. to do it? hmm... I quite like the shape of your pastry as well....

  25. Absolutely beautiful! Make me want to make it too.

  26. Xiaolu, the danish looks gorgeous! I am so impressed with the way you give thoughts to your photos. I photograph my food in a very haphazard manner - leaving alot to chance and what I would see when I look through the view finder. I am really inspired - should probably start doodling...

  27. I love your pomegranate jelly! I love jars of things and this is a gorgeous clear ruby colour that I now have to make. That's how I get inspired, by the colour of things and then I work from there, what props are similar colours or would contrast really well. I need a better camera, I'm still learning but I love it!!

  28. Pomegranate Jelly- Now that is a really good idea, and I hadn't thought of that at all! I still have a number of bottles of the juice lying around, so I'm happy to finally know what I want to do with them. :) Maybe I throw in a cinnamon stick while it cooks, too....

  29. Love the design of that pastry it's so pretty. Gosh but that looks like something from a cafe...yum

  30. So gorgeous, light and delicate! I'd love to try these, I bet they are so flaky and flavorful! Looks like your process for styling your photos is working because they are GORGEOUS:)

  31. Incredible job on this. Beautiful and I love the flavors you mixed together.

  32. That POM jelly looks amazing! I can see myself spreading that on just about everything.

  33. One of the prettiest danish pastries I've ever seen. Love the pomegranate jelly with the cream cheese. I wish you lived near me!! :)

  34. Wow no wonder your pictures and styling are so good! I didn't realise that you planned the shots! A great idea! :D

  35. wow, this is so creative and looks wonderful!

  36. mmm these look delicious! what a great idea! I'll have to try making these on a lazy Sunday. Thanks for posting :)

  37. Absolutely stunning! I would have loved a step by step tutorial for the pastry. It is so hard to make and yours is the most lush I have seen anywhere. The flavour notes are perfect, and the photography is tantalizing.

  38. This is a fabulous idea. I love the pomegranate jelly and your pairing it with a danish. I also enjoyed reading about your process. I'm from the "good enough" school of photo shooting - I just point and shoot with no table styling, so I appreciate all the lovely photos you more talented folk do.

  39. ils sont beaux et délicieux, j'en raffole
    bonne journée

  40. Excellent! The pastry is perfectly folded and baked. Rich and crisp Danish would make a lousy rainy day bright and sunny!

  41. Ar... sketching beforehand is a good idea... I am always stuck for layout ideas. Thanks for sharing.

  42. cleverr !
    the danish look great !
    & the pictures really pop

    and thanks for dropping by my blog,
    it lead me to a great find (:

    P.s haha! yep , come over for breakfast anytime, ill mega a monster bento for ya, hahaa

  43. When it comes to styling dishes, I do have a sketch in my mind, but ever draw it on paper. Great idea. I'm still on the learning curve in this aspect. So much room to improve myself. Thanks for your inspiring post!

  44. xiaolu - newsflash - you are NOT "a beginner" as you claim. this is right out of a magazine!!! you are sooo modest! this is one of the best i've seen...perfect lighting too

  45. Xiaolu, This is beyond BEAUTIFUL! What a wonderful combination of flavors!!! A total gourmet deli pastry :)

    Beautiful pics and sketch :)



  46. That is sooo interesting about how you sketch out your photos beforehand. I don't think I could ever do that -- well, only because my drawing skills are so horrible. LOL
    Thanks for sharing your tips, though. It's always fascinating to hear what goes into making a great photo.

  47. Wow thanks so much everyone for your support! You are all really so sweet in your praise for both the danish and my photography. I was absolutely delighted with how my first danish pastry turned out, but I have a lot to learn to get those high rising flaky layers you see at the bakeries =D.

  48. Your photographs are amazingly beautiful. Another wonderful recipe.

  49. what a unique shape AND filling--these are probably the most spectacular danishes i've ever seen. bravo, and bravo. :)

  50. So pretty! I don't think i can shape my danish pastry this pretty!

    And WOW! U actually sketch your styling idea! Amazing!

  51. The sketch is so adorable :) I do have a humble comment on the photography, I feel that the table is a little bare, how about adding a napkin underneath the main dish to add a little "layering". This also makes the dish stand out more, literally ;)

  52. ... are we twins? I sketch out all of my layouts too!! It's so much easier to visualize and I find when I don't do it my pictures usually come out unorganized. It's a race against the light haha :)

    Beautiful photography as usual Xiao :)

  53. I didn't know that you sketch your layouts! It's such a great idea though. I just go about placing them judging whether I like it or not. The danish bread looks light and crispy. I can imagine the layers!

  54. This is just so beautiful Xialou.I m not sure I ll be able to ever eat this beauty.U are really pro when it comes to pictures..they look stunning!

  55. These sound delicious! Thank you for sharing your food styling & photography process. I love the idea of sketching compositions ahead of time. I also get flustered when I'm in a rush. Thanks for the tip!

  56. I'm so glad you guys like the idea of sketching styling ideas in advance!

    Joy - twins indeed! and I'd love to meet you in person one day as well :).

    Min - I always appreciate feedback and see your point about the bareness of the second photo. Normally I'd agree with you but here the simplicity was part of a conscious effort to capture a scene as if dining in a cafe, where I don't imagine anyone would place a napkin underneath the table setting. That's a good tip for general styling though -- thanks!

  57. Xiaolu you such a pateint baker. This looks great!

    P.S. - I know quiet a few people who do sketches before shotting and I thought It was beyond me but lately I want to try. I'm all over the place when I shoot!

  58. Your danish looks so good, and perfect, as well as your pictures. Gorgeous. My husband, who, is a part-time artist, has become my food stylist, because he has an artistic eye, I don't. Thanks for the add!

  59. Cream cheese + Danish = 2 thumbs up!

    Ps. Do you have the recipe for that vegan chocolate cupcake? I'd love to try making a cake version of it.

  60. Your Danish pastry look beautiful Xialu!

  61. That's great! A very creative use of Pomegranate juice.

    No wonder your photos are always so spot on. You really do a good amount of preplanning and it pays. I know you say you're just beginning, but I think you're a natural. I certainly can use some pointers.

    My way has been to pick a dish and throw it down right as I'm about to take the photo. It's been hit or miss. I always feel like I'm in such a rush!

  62. Wow Xiaolu, what a pretty the idea of pomegranate in it...great pictures as well :-)

  63. Pomegranate jelly sounds delicious! It's a great color with the cream cheese filling in these too. What a great treats!

  64. It's wonderful to see how you get to your stunning, perfect shots! Wonderful, Xiaolu! And the idea of a pomegranate jelly is just as great - yum!

  65. Thanks for sharing the photo concept process!
    And what can I say about the Danish pastry - just heavenly! The golden crust, the deep red pomegranate filling, it looks so appealing!

  66. Thanks for the wonderful responses, all! You guys are so great :). Just posted the set-up shots I promised -- hope y'all like them!

  67. I've never really planned out how I will set things up when I'm taking pictures of food. Usually I set it on a nice dish, or leave it the way it was naturally when I was making it (for example on a wire cooling rack. From there I determine where the best lighting is (I don't have any super cool lighting instruments so I use natural light), and sometimes that means taking the food outside.
    I of course am just an amateur photographer and don't consider myself a food stylist, per se, so I guess whatever method produces the best photos for you...
    Great photos by the way, and I'm going to have to try a danish recipe soon: these look delicious!

  68. how sweet and positively delicious do these look! love the pomegranate jelly too yum yum!!

  69. Oh my Xiaolu!! This is such an awesome post!!! The sketches, as well as the danish! Amazing job. I have put the danish on my 'recipes I must try' list!

  70. Beautiful. What a clever shape! Very inspiring... Gorgeous pictures too.

  71. Xiaolu, not only are you a wonderful chef,a baker a photographer, you are one heck of an artist too! It is unbelievable! Your sketches look so professionally done. I know it really helps to do a picture before the shots, but I never ever have the time. So you used a sticky tape to tilt the spoon?

    I will have to make the POM jelly. I absolutely love the idea and I regret why i never thought about it before. The Danish looks great.

  72. yummmmm. this looks incredible! i've been wanting to make some danishes lately...i must try this one for sure!

  73. Wow you did an amazing job with these danishes!! I need to make pastry dough again. I love the shape you chose for them. And love seeing your sketches for food styling! I unfortunately have no tips to share as I am not nearly as creative as you. :) Your photos are always gorgeous though so I don't think they need any improving!


I love hearing from you all! Please leave me a message if you have questions, advice, or just to let me know you stopped by. Your feedback is always very much appreciated. Thanks! <3 Xiaolu