(This article appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)
By Nick Malgieri
Lately new bakeries have been sprouting up all over New York City, serving updated classics, homey baked goods, and ethnic sweets from around the world. In the latter category, a new Danish import, Ole and Steen, stands out. Ole Kristoffersen and Steen Skallebæk, the founders, have sold the business to Denmark-based Nordic Capital Fund VIII, and they plan a multi-national expansion of the Ole and Steen brand beyond the present areas of Denmark, England, and New York.
With nearly a hundred locations worldwide, Manhattan’s Union Square neighborhood is the chain’s first American branch, with several more planned for the same borough. Lagkagehuset (layer cake house) is the firm’s original name, strangely because the building that the first branch occupied resembled a layer cake and not because layer cakes were a specialty.
Shortly after the opening, I visited the Union Square branch of Ole and Steen and spoke at length with Malou Bennes, the head pastry chef of the New York rollout that will eventually comprise three branches and a central commissary in Maspeth, Queens. Bennes, 29, is a native of Copenhagen and attended culinary school near that city. After acquiring experience in the classic Danish repertoire, she set her sites on working for Lagkagehuset, and achieved her dream in 2011. Bennes spoke of her passion to work for the company: “I literally pounded on the door repeatedly until they hired me.” Her determination is impressive.
As a brand, Ole and Steen is very much involved with promoting the concept of hygge (pronounced HOOgah), or a relaxed, comfortable coziness that is an integral part of the Danish lifestyle. Relaxing with friends over coffee and pastries or a light savory snack is a prefect example of hygge, whether at home or in a pastry shop or café. To that end, Ole and Steen offers a wide variety of baked goods such as whole grain breads to take home or enjoy on site in a typically Danish open-faced sandwich such as shredded carrot rye bread paired with smoked salmon. Other breads include white spelt bread, a seeded rye bread, and another rye that contains chia seeds.
Danish pastry, called Wiener brød (Viennese bread) in Danish, appears in its classic form in a cinnamon sugar enhanced Danish called a Social Slice, a larger Cinnamon or Chocolate Social, a Copenhagener filled with almond paste and poppy seeds, or a Spandauer filled with custard cream and fruit jam. These pastries are available throughout the day, as well as a wide selection of both sweet and savory dishes for breakfast and lunch. The sweet side of the pastry case is filled with nut tarts partially dipped in chocolate, fruit topped bases with piped almond paste borders, cream fancies rolled in chocolate or finely chopped nuts, chocolate cakes topped with cocoa, and marzipan rolls with a chocolate filling.
Malou Bennes concluded with information of Ole and Steen’s quest for ingredients prior to the U.S. opening: “Many of our pastries contain almond paste (referred to as marzipan in Danish), and we found American brands had a sweeter composition than the Danish product,” she continued, “So we decided to import it from Denmark. Likewise with the margarine we use for our Danish pastry dough – we couldn’t find and American brand with the same flavor profile that we wanted.”
Although Danish Vikings made landfall in North America during the 10th century, they never established a permanent settlement. Today they’re back; Ole and Steen is here to stay.
Photo Credit: Karissa Ong of BeccaPR