Sometimes, appearances can be deceiving.
Take the sliver of the Nielsen’s Pastries storefront visible from the street. It conceals a spacious and homey Scandinavian bakery complete with buttery marigold walls, golden wood paneling, and a peach-and-cream tiled floor. White and wood tables and chairs, comfy armchairs, floor lamps and quaint Danish wall art create a comfortable, lived-in feel.
And Nielsen’s has been around long enough to feel right at home. Its founder, John Nielsen emigrated from Denmark in 1965, setting up shop in downtown Seattle where he churned out authentic pastries from the homeland for some thirty years.
The bakery relocated to its current location at 520 Second Avenue West in Lower Queen Anne and Nielsen retired in 1999. Peeping out from the street with its distinctive golden kringle sign, the bakery is now in the trusty care of Darcy Person and her husband.
Nielsen’s remains committed to producing hand-made pastries fashioned by traditional Danish methods. An open kitchen is visible behind multiple pastry cases lined with colorful and shining delicacies, the result of traditional recipes accomplished with creamery butter, organic flour, house-made jams, and other fresh ingredients.
Take the savory ham and provolone croissant. Wrapped in slender layers of whole wheat pastry, this warm breakfast offering balances a light texture and hearty filling in ethereal perfection.
Other breakfast options include classic fresh fruit, cream cheese and custard danishes, nut or apple studded cinnamon rolls, cinnamon walnut coffee cake, and apple kringles – sliced apples nestled in buttery pastry and saturated with brown sugar, almond, and custard filling.
Sure to inspire a few swoons is Nielsen’s snitter. Winner of Seattle Weekly’s Best Of Competition in 2010, this cross between a cinnamon roll and a danish is literally the best of both worlds. Mingling with the sweetness of custard, light pastry dough seeps into the tongue layer by buttery layer.
Pair this sweet breakfast with an espresso or brew from local Olympic Coffee Roasters. Served in quaint and homey cups and saucers, this caffeine kick only enhances the impression you’ve just stepped into grandma’s kitchen. And you can’t beat happy hour from 2:30-3:30 Monday-Friday, where picking up one espresso drink earns you a free pastry as well.
Perhaps the best known Danish delicacy is the kringle, and Nielsen’s pulls this staple off in style as well. Almost two feet wide, this double-stranded pretzel is stuffed with “mazarine” almond filling, creamy custard, and raisins. The measure of any true Danish bakery, Nielsen’s kringle is crested with a healthy dusting of sliced almonds and powdered sugar.
But Nielsen’s is not just a sweets shop. Lunch offerings include tuna, egg, and chicken salads on fresh-made focaccia and various sandwiches, including a Muffuletta and turkey, pesto and provolone. Homemade soups rotate daily.
They’re also quite famous for intricately decorated and marzipan-sheathed cakes. Layers of sponge cake and jam are piped full of custard and whipped cream and cloaked in tastefully embellished almond-sugar casings complete with flowers and vines.
Dessert delicacies include quirky Napolean hats – cookie crust and smooth almond filling dipped in chocolate – and the sophisticated Sarah Bernhardt – dark chocolate over chocolate mousse over almond macaroon. Locals rave over the fruity Tosca – narrow layers of cookie crust, almond cake and homemade raspberry jam, crowned with spiky caramelized almonds and chocolate.
While these beauties are eye-catching for their elegance, perhaps it’s fitting to end with the most grotesque, and arguably most praised, of Nielsen’s creations – the Potato. Starchy in name only, this lumpy puff pastry is packed with rich Bavarian cream and whipped cream , covered with a thick layer of marzipan and dusted liberally with dutch cocoa powder. Bite into this one and you’re guaranteed a chocolate-fringed cream moustache.
So is a trip to this off the beaten path Danish bakery worth it? Oh my Potato, yes.
Nielsen’s Pastries is open Monday-Friday 7:30pm-5:30pm, Saturday 8:00am-3:00pm. Closed Sundays.
Published 3 April 2013 in The Falcon as “Danish bakery finds local niche”