Baking with Generations of Love

December 11th 2017

by Michelle O’Connor, Moxie Consulting

In my childhood home, the smell of baked goods was not something exclusive to the holiday season; my siblings and I were often roused from slumber by the wafting aroma of orange danishes baking to perfect golden doneness as my mom prepared her daily offerings for the little bakery down the street.

In my home now, this is not the case. Although I thoroughly enjoy baking, I only take the time to do it during the holidays and the recipes I choose to make are as much a part of the holidays to me as the turkey is on Thanksgiving and the tree on Christmas. Russian tea cookies, also known as Mexican wedding cookies or in my house snow balls, cocoa crackles, hooty creeks, grandma’s 10 lb. fudge recipe that almost breaks your arm off as you stir like crazy before it sets and orange danishes are all crucial elements of my holiday ritual.

Holiday baking at my house is a frenzied dance of five or more recipes all being executed at once, each in their different stages of doneness. Flour and sugars fly into the air magically dusting our kitchen with the illusion of snow. Hours later, exhausted and covered in icing, we gaze lovingly at the beautiful cookie boxes we have made for friends and family and honestly, it feels good to know that we won’t be doing that again until next year.

The ritual of orange danishes is a little more sweet and peaceful; they take time, they can’t be rushed. I have to plan ahead in order to have them fresh and hot out of the oven on Christmas morning with a cup of coffee while I lovingly watch my beautiful daughter dance, twirl, sing and squeal her way through her Christmas presents. I have to start them the night before Christmas when all through the house we are eating and drinking, smiling and loving and starting the dough for tomorrow’s danishes.

I watched my mom make these so many times growing up that the recipe for me is more about smell and tactile sensations than measured ingredients. The smell of the yeast when it first hits the warm water brings me instantly back to mom’s kitchen. The way the dough rises next to the woodstove to triple its size still amazes me to this day as does the elasticity of it as I roll it out again and again adding more layers of butter to create the flakiness that makes these special.

The tiny drops of orange essential oil that spray into the air as I zest and squeeze oranges for the dough and the icing bring an awareness of the moment; the smell takes me deeper into the ritual and as I roll the dough out I get lost in the river that is my gramma and mom, myself and my daughter and those that will follow. I enjoy every step of the process as much if not more than eating these on Christmas morning.

If there was only one food that perfectly encapsulated the holidays for me it would be a perfectly baked orange danish with all of my family stories and memories lovingly rolled into its flaky and delicate spiral, topped with an orange icing sweetened with my family’s love for baking, our traditions and love for each other.

Here is my recipe for our orange danishes. If they bring you even a fraction of the joy they do me, I think you will be quite pleased, and if you have any questions about this recipe feel free to email me. Happy Holidays to each and every one of you.

Orange Danishes
makes about 12 depending on how long you make the roll

1 c orange juice
2 Tbs yeast
1 tsp salt
¼ c warm water
½ tsp vanilla
1 c butter, unsalted
3 Tbs orange zest
1/3 c sugar
2 eggs
¼ tsp nutmeg
4 c flour
1 egg, beaten (you will need this when you are ready to bake the Danishes)

The night before Christmas:

Scald O.J. add sugar, salt, 1/4 c butter- Set aside to cool.

Sprinkle yeast over water that feels warm but not hot to the inside of your wrist. Let sit until bubbly.

Add 2 eggs, yeast mixture, nutmeg, 1 T of the orange zest, vanilla and 1 cup flour to scalded orange juice mixture. Beat for 2 minutes. Stir in flour and set next to the woodstove until it rises to double or triple its size.

After dough has risen, pour out onto a floured cold surface and roll dough to 1/4″ thick large rectangle, then dot with 1/2 c butter broken up into numerous tiny “dot” portions.

Fold over until you have more of a square shape and seal edges.

Roll dough again to 1/3″ thick rectangle and dot again, this time with 1/4 cup butter, fold again to make a square, seal edges and repeat rolling and folding 3 times.

Roll into a long rectangle that is much longer than it is wide and sprinkle with the remaining 2 T of orange zest.

Starting from the bottom, roll the dough up towards the top of the rectangle until you have a long log. The tighter you roll the dough the more spiral you create. With a serrated knife slice thinly (about 1” slices); you should get around 12.

Place on baking sheets and put into the fridge until Christmas morning. Make the frosting (recipe below) and refrigerate.

On Christmas morning:

When ready to bake, take them out of the refrigerator and let them rise in your warm kitchen for about 20 minutes, then brush with the beaten egg.

Bake until done, in a 350 degree oven and frost while warm.

Orange Danish Frosting

Mix the following ingredients well:

¼ c butter, unsalted

1 Tbs orange zest or more

2 Tbs orange juice

2 c powdered sugar

Michelle O’Connor is the owner of Moxie Consulting LLC.  Moxie offers Strategic Consulting for the Natural and Organic Food Service Industry. 

Michelle and fellow Provender member Allen Seidner brought you A Taste of Deli Ops at the Provender Conference this year and registration is now open for the full 3 day seminar coming in February to Mill Valley, California.  Sign up and more details are available here.