Thursday, February 18, 2010

John Nielsen's Authentic Danish Pastries

Pastry Potato
John Nielsen's, $3.50

Robin Williams once noted that you don't see a lot of happy people at a happy hour, but he certainly wasn't talking about happy hour at John Nielsen's, a Danish-style scratch bakery established in 1965. Between 2:30 and 3:30 the purchase of an espresso drink comes with your choice of pastry (including danish and snitter) on the house. Since Nielsen's offerings are made daily and without preservatives, this is a smart way to keep the goods moving while they're in peak condition.

Not part of the happy hour special, but worth the extra outlay, are more elaborate cakes and pastries such as the tosca, the Sarah Bernhardt, and the multi-story marzipan cake (fake but appealing display model pictured below). Their most popular item is the "potato" (above), an outsized profiterole bursting with whipped cream, swaddled in a blanket of marzipan, and dirtied up with a heavy dusting of cocoa powder.

Having alway previously thought of trompe l'oeil pastry potatoes as more of a German thing, I'm always surprised to run into them in Seattle's Scandinavian bakeries. Also surprising, the fact that so many pastries I would normally refer to as "danish" are sold in these bakeries under the name wienerbrod, or "Vienna bread".

It turns out that this is another of my beloved instances of history being inscribed in our sugary treats. In 1850, Danish bakery workers went on strike, leading bakery owners to import labor from nearby countries, including Austria. The foreign bakers brought with them their own traditions, which merged with existing Danish recipes and gave rise to many of the pastries that we know and love today.

520 Second Ave W
Seattle, WA

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