So it’s official. I’ve now got a belly; YES, a real one! and it is all thanks to “The Danish”*… the Danish, what? well, that creamy, fluffy, buttery pastry, Americans call “The Danish” but, how exactly did it come to happen? and why is it called the Danish in America, but the “Vienna bread” in Denmark? Here’s an article I found on the Copenhagen Post, to clarify somethings and undo the myth (I, however, have yet to find an article on the HUGE amounts of butter consumed everyday, by Danes; suffice it to say the brand Lurpak is the best ranked around the world, with presence in over 100 countries). Enjoy!
Its name is controversial, its appeal universal
By Alexis Kunsak
Americans call it ‘Danish’, Danes call it Vienna bread, we all cal it delicious
THE DOUGH contains flour, milk, eggs and liberal amounts of butter. It can be topped with a sweet sugar glaze, nuts or sprinkles. Others of its kind are rolled and filled with creme or jam. When bought warm on Sunday morning, they are lovingly wrapped in paper and devoured with coffee, or saved for afternoon tea.
The object in question is the Danish.
In the country of its birth however, it cannot be called the Danish. There would be mass confusion.The Danish… what exactly? The Danish flag, the Danish kingdom, and the Danish fleet are all fine terms, but instead of something equivalent, the Danish pastry is called Wienerbrød or ‘Vienna bread’. Admittedly, this amounts o a strange substitution, but it is the accepted name.
This however becomes a problem in Vienna, where the people probably have more than one kind of bread. So in Vienna this same pastry is known as either Kopenhagener Gebäck or Dänischer Plunder – ‘plunder’ being a common expression for this kind of pastry, especially with cherries.
In the United States, folks are still hollering for the Danish that is supposed to be served with their coffee in the morning. They do not bother to say ‘Danish pastry’ but simply ask for a ‘Danish’.
An explanation that involves the past 200 years can sort out thus confusion, although the story itself is open to a good bit of hype and mythos.
If Denmark is giving credit to Vienna, while the rest of the world credits the Danes for this sweet marvel, there is a reason.
His Name is August Zang and he was born in Vienna in 1807. Zang was an Austrian inventor, who quit school to join the military and invented the percussion rifle – a rifle that could be reloaded faster. Shortly afterwards he quit the military and moved to Paris, opening a shop for Viennese baked goods in 1839, which was first called Zang’s and later Boulangerie Viennoise.
His style of baking was not yet popular in Paris. Zang’s dough was made like a normal bread dough, with yeast added that expands. Later a variety of ingredients – for example eggs, cream, milk or sugar – are added to the mix, giving it the consistency and sweetness of pastry dough. The pastries – typically thought of as French including croissants, brioches, and pain au chocolat – all use this style of sweet yeast-leavened dough. Even in the 21st century, these baked goods are known collectively under the name ‘Viennoiseries’, which is French for ‘Viennese specialties’.
As for Zang, he sold his shop in 1848, after becoming interested in journalism and went back to Vienna to star the newspaper Die Presse.
So how did the Danish make its way to Denmark? If it did not come by way of France, then it appeared first after a strike by Danish bakers, in 1850. According to the Union of Danish Bakers when the bakery workers went on strike, employers hired foreign manpower, including many Austrian bakers. The Austrians were unfamiliar with Danish recipes and recreated Austrian ones, including the Kipfel, a crescent-shaped pastry made with white flour and brushed with butter. The Austrian recipe for Plundergëback was especially popular, along with several other baked goods made out of this same type of buttery, yet yeast-leavened dough. Danish bakers then added more egg to the recipe, raising the fat content and creating the pastry on sale in town today. It was not too long after the bakers’ strike that the pastry traveled to the United States. LC Klitteng traveled from the island of Læsø – famous today for their pure sea salt – to the US to popularize the pastry called the ‘Danish’ in a series of rapturous newspaper articles.
The Oakland in California published an article in August 1917 comparing the new Danish to the French pastry: “But with the Danish pastry, you just tuck a small morsel under the tongue, roll up the eyes, say ‘Ah-h’ as though there were a sky rocket present.”
Klitteng had quickly spread the word across the country by supplying his pastries to the wedding of President Woodrow Wilson in 1915. By 1920, he had established the ‘Danish Culiquors’. This complaint was published shortly before the introduction of the prohibition.
Someday, when the world becomes overpopulated and the Austrians and the Danes cannot avoid each other anymore, they might very well hash it out and find an international name for this pastry. For the time being, the Americans will continue to call it a Danish no matter what Europe says, until they decide on an even unhealthier breakfast food. Even if it should be called an Austrian.
This article appeared on:
the COPENHAGEN post. THE DANISH NEWS IN ENGLISH, VOL. 14 ISSUE 5. 4-10 FEB 2011
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*and also, thanks to the Danish potatoes, the Danish sauces, the Danish sausages, the Danish candy, the Danish everything!