The first rays of morning light that illuminate a bakery are the most gratifying, shining off of the bread and pastry cases. Those rays are a simple pleasure for Copenhagen Pastry owner Karen Hansen, who opened her portal to the sweet aromas and golden loaves of Danish pastry in Culver City almost 11 years ago.
Hansen’s bakery is pure Nordic minimalism, filled with windows that pour sunlight onto cases full of buttery, lightly frosted raspberry danishes and custard spandauers. Chocolate-dipped marzipan cookies, pull-apart cinnamon raisin rolls, and minty-green marzipan-topped princess cakes are spread around, almost too pretty to eat.
Copenhagen Pastry serves as a rare slice of Danish culture in Los Angeles — a far cry from the purposefully kitschy architecture in the tourist town of Solvang on the Central Coast. Most Americans may have only have experienced Danish pastry in plastic-wrapped, overly sweet convenience store versions or maybe the odd, stale platter at a law office. Biting into a flakey, buttery Danish or kringle at Copenhagen Pastry is at least multiple times better than all that, if not a whole world different.
Hansen’s journey to opening LA’s best Danish bakery took a while time to develop. She first came to the U.S. in the early 1980s at the age of 19 as an au pair, only to return to Denmark a year later. After two years in her home country, she missed the sunshine and endless possibilities of Los Angeles. “I just love the people here. I love to talk with people, that’s my thing,” says Hansen. “In Denmark it’s different. I’m very outgoing, so I realized, I can’t live here.”
Hansen returned to LA looking for adventure, and eventually ran a marketing business for photographers for 20 years until she hatched the idea of serving her favorite baked goods to the public. Growing up, she and her brother Peter, who worked at bakeries in Denmark and elsewhere, had dreamed of opening a bakery. Sadly, Peter passed away in his 30s, but Karen has kept their dream alive.
Hansen isn’t formally trained in baking, so she brought on a professional to establish Copenhagen on those early years. That baker stayed on from 2012 to 2015, replaced by another who led the kitchen for half a decade. After that, Hansen began to do it all herself, taking an intense 10-day, one-on-one training with a Danish baker to understand the ins and outs of pastry. Today, she’s both owner and head baker of Copenhagen but has retained staff, like Allen Campo, for over nine years. Hansen’s small band of dedicated bakers and counter staff are as important as the sweet treats in the pastry cases in maintaining Copenhagen’s overall excellence.
“People come in from San Diego, or they’ll come here right after landing at LAX,” says Hansen, who has found a loyal following for her Culver City shop. She refuses to wholesale her product, and quietly closed a Pasadena expansion after just a few years.
Customers line up right when the doors open at 8 a.m. on weekends. The foundation of almost all the pastries is a thin, laminated dough that’s lighter and more tender than French or Viennese pastry, but no less buttery. Diners should also enjoy marzipan, or almond paste, which goes into almost every Danish pastry the bakery makes. There’s a unique aroma to the bakery as a result, a smell so exuberant and uplifting that it should be bottled and sold.
“We make all of our own jam, like raspberry and blueberry,” says Hansen. The bakery’s popular “Copenhagen” pastry (real name overskåren) is filled with custard and almond paste, then lined with sugar and chocolate frosting. Cut into small slices, it’s probably the most immediately delectable thing here.
“Before the pandemic, we used to give samples out,” says Hansen. “When I give somebody a sample, I’ve got them.” That’s pretty much the story with everything here, from the classic spandauer filled with custard or jam to the kringle topped with almond slivers to the raisin cinnamon rolls. “That’s what you should have when you feel a little bit lonely,” says Hansen of the rolls. The kaffebrød, or coffee bread, is coated with a crunchy, baked almond paste resembling a molten pale orange frosting that comes cut into slices ideal for dipping into coffee. In total, there are around two dozen pastries available daily.
Copenhagen has developed a cult following for its cakes as well. Banana custard, apricot chocolate mousse, or chocolate walnut might be available depending on the day, but the princess cake is clearly the signature. To build them, Robin, one of the bakers, fills a metal ring with a layer of sponge cake and then tops it with raspberry jam. The confection gets three layers of cake, plus two layers of jam and custard. It’s then topped with a mound of whipped cream before getting covered with mint-green marzipan frosting.
The princess cakes, the marzipan, and the uniquely Danish pastries all add up to make Copenhagen one of LA’s most incredible one-off bakeries. And while all of the baking has kept Hansen busy these past few years, she’s still happy to turn on the ovens every day. “I’m 64 now. I just want to have fun. For me, that’s what it’s all about.”
Copenhagen Pastry is located at 11113 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, CA, and is open Wednesday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.