I’ve been inordinately fond of Denmark ever since I found out as a child that Victor Borge was Danish. The Copenhagen Zoo’s unconscionable actions over the past couple of years tempered my opinion a bit, but the Danes did protect their Jewish population during World War II. Moreover they happen to make some of the best pastry on the planet, and about a year ago a bakery specializing in Danish pastry opened its doors in East Pasadena.
I’m selfishly submitting this review of Copenhagen Pastry for our Christmas Eve issue, too late for readers to rush over and deplete the shelves before I can load up on Christmas morning treats. Of course most lovers of traditional Danish pastry will have already discovered the bakery on their own. And the LA Times’ selection of Copenhagen’s adorable marzipan pigs ($15) as a “best gift idea for foodies” a couple of weeks back will have clued in others. (I made off with two of the little fellas in mid-December, but the store was already running out.)
Speaking of marzipan, almond paste is a major ingredient in about half of Copenhagen’s creations. Another major ingredient in almost everything they make is butter. All the pastries I’ve tasted so far have been infused with the fragrance, flavor and feel of it, sinfully so. And while most of Copenhagen’s baked goods are outwardly rather plain, their quality is undeniable.
As my old granny used to say “Beauty is as beauty does” and “If you put good things in; you’ll get good things out.” Both axioms apply to Copenhagen’s goods. One bite of their unprepossessing “coffee bread” and it’s likely the surprise of its almond meringue topping (crunchy shell and soft interior) will produce a momentary ecstasy at the unexpected complexity of texture and flavor.
Ditto for Copenhagen’s kringle. If you want to get one in the traditional round or pretzel shape, you’ll have to opt for their large version ($11), but for $1.95 (the same price as all 16 individual pastries they stock) you can get a good sized rectangular slab, layered with butter, custard and almond paste, the top sprinkled with sugar and sliced almonds.
Kringles, by the way, are probably the single pastry most identified with Danish bakers. According to Wikipedia (I “heart” Wikipedia), a gold pretzel-shaped kringle with a royal crown atop it is the official symbol of the Danish baker’s guild and is hung as an identifying marker outside many bakeries in Denmark. In 2013, the kringle became the official state pastry of Wisconsin. Not bad for this deceptively simple goodie.
There’s even a kringle joke: Lars Larson was on his deathbed. He was roused by the aroma of freshly baked kringles wafting up from the kitchen and mustered all his strength to make his way downstairs. Just as he was reaching for a piece, his wife saw him and swatted away his hand. “Stop that,” she said. “These are for your funeral.”
Nevertheless, despite the international renown of kringles, I think my favorite of Copenhagen’s individual pastries is the slightly more flamboyant (due to its ruby-hued purée) raspberry macaroon — almond paste, custard and raspberry on a flaky puff pastry bottom, its top covered with crisped almond macaroon and sliced almonds.
Then there are the so-called morning pastries, including a “poppy” fashioned from flaky puff pastry thickly carpeted with poppy seeds ($1.60). For the same price, you can get it in a twist with sesame seeds sprinkled among the poppy seeds. Both derive their relatively subtle sweetness from the remonce (a blend of sugar and butter) with which they are basted.
Copenhagen’s five small dessert cakes (each $2.35) are the dressiest. The almond mazarin is a triangular pastry (like a miniature piece of pie) with a buttery cookie dough crust, creamy almond filling and a topping of almond brittle. Its sides and bottom are dipped in dark Belgian chocolate. (You can buy a full size mazarin for $16.)
The “coconut top” is a pyramidal macaroon with a toasted cap and soft center. Its base, like that of the mazarin, is coated with dark chocolate. Ditto for the “Napoleon hat” whose tricorne (OK — so it’s not quite the shape of Napoleon’s bicorne) cookie crust envelope conceals a ball of marzipan, and for the small kransekake, a rectangular sample of a pure almond paste confection usually far more spectacularly fashioned into a multi-layered wreath (kranse) or crown.
The most idiosyncratic of Copenhagen’s dessert cakes is the romkugle, a luscious cross between chocolate cake and truffle. The super moist filling is laced with rum and rolled in dark chocolate and sprinkles. It’s surprisingly dense, not as sweet as you might think to look at it, and, may I add, totally addictive.
Lest you think all of Copenhagen’s baked goods are packed with sugar and butter, I must mention their morning rolls (plain, sesame or poppyseed — $1 apiece) which are only available on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings. These little gems are perfect reheated in the oven, slathered with butter and preserves of one’s choosing, then savored with a cup or two of strong coffee or fragrant tea.
Also their rye bread ($6 for a loaf/$4 for a half-loaf)! Get Jewish and/or New York rye out of your head. Copenhagen’s recipe is dense and wholegrain, filled with rye berries, black flax, sunflower and sesame seeds. It’s high fiber, low sodium and sugar-free. Perfect to accompany savory Scandinavian snacks such as gravlax, pickled herring or, gawdforbid, lutefisk!
Although they do sell coffee by the cup, Pasadena’s Copenhagen (like its older sister in Culver City) is not a café and doesn’t have chairs or tables to encourage hanging out. As their website states: they “encourage customers to take their purchases to a place where the pastries can be shared with family and friends in a relaxed, cozy setting.” And, now that I’ve got my Christmas stash, I encourage you to visit Copenhagen and do the same.n