Strudel for the Rest of Us

Sunday January 17, 2016

I’m envious of strudel makers.  They mix up this little fist-sized ball of dough, then start rolling it out with a rolling pin like a pie dough on the kitchen table covered with a clean bed sheet.  It ends up as thin as tissue paper and as large as a cloak, hanging over the edges of the table, and they do this magic thing by just gently pulling it with their fingertips.

While it is said to be easier than it looks, Austrian apfelstrudel is one of those desserts that require patience and practice practice practice (like croissants, another remnant of the Ottoman occupation of Austria and Hungary). It has a reputation to be so light that it can blow away with a puff of air.  The pastry is sprinkled with buttered bread crumbs (which soaks up the excess liquid and thickens the filling), then rolled up around the filling, brushed with butter, and baked into spiraled swirls of many-layered golden crispness.

while this is the traditional way to make strudel dough, the phyllo tastes just as good and its way simplier to make the strudel/photo by Holly

Strudel is the German word for “whirlwind.”  Premier Hungarian bakers quickly embraced the dough style adapted from Turkish baklava a few hundred years ago.  They used their bounty of wonderful orchard fruit like plums, apples, and cherries, cottage cheese, poppy seed, ground nuts, chocolate, and even wine-and butter soaked bread crumbs, to create delectable fillings. They also grew and milled the premier wheat of Europe and it was known as Vienna flour.  The pure white flour was so excellent it was used for a money exchange. Hungarian milling as an industry was destroyed with WW2 and never recovered.

When I used to go visit my friend Trudy’s grandmother, who lived in a real log cabin the dense forest of Ben Lomond near Santa Cruz (next door neighbor to Alfred Hitchcock of all people), California, she waited until I arrived for a weekend visit to roll out the strudel dough. She always remembered how much I enjoyed watching her. She was such a master strudel maker, as well as a noodle maker. The cut homemade noodles would be laid out on clean tea towels on the wet bar in the living room to dry, just waiting to be plunged into the boiling water for dinner.

Years later I would take a pastry class from Diane Dexter up at the newly opened Tante Marie’s Cooking School in San Francisco to learn real Danish pastries, Viennese chocolate cakes made with ground nuts instead of flour, German tophen cheesecakes, Kugelhof, and, of course, strudel from scratch. Diane would go on skiing vacations to Austria and bake with the local women, who showed her the tips of the trade. I really jumped in skill after taking Diane’s pastry class. Besides that, she was a total inspiration to be around.

I used to beg my Hungarian relatives for recipes for strudel, but they were so adamant that I could only do it one way, their way, that they were afraid to teach me and have me adapt the recipe in some way. What is sad is that now they are all gone, their recipes with them. Luckily I have a cooking maniac friend named Rick Rodgers who wrote the most fabulous book on Eastern European coffeehouse baking that gives the original recipe for the dough just like my relatives made and excellent step by step instructions. Available from Amazon.com, it is called Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague.

keep boxes of phyllo in the freezer

Here is a simple way of making good Hungarian strudel: buy Greek phyllo/filo dough.

So, am I pleased to have come across a simplified recipe for fresh fruit strudel using phyllo dough, which was the original inspiration for strudel dough in the first place. I think there is a whole wheat phyllo dough now as well, but I haven’t tried it yet.

While fresh cherries are seasonal, frozen cherries, apples, and mangoes are available all year round. The purchased phyllo dough saves a lot of back breaking work. It even comes in whole wheat now as well. It is important that the fruit holds its own shape and is not too juicy during baking, so don’t let the fruit sit in the sugar; sprinkle it on just before rolling.

Serve slices of just-that-day baked strudel with some unsweetened whipped cream on the side.

Recipes: The Basics: Cherry or Apple Strudels

Recipes and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2016

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.

Some of my favorite unusual fruit strudels…the magic of fruit and pastry….

Pear Strudel

Ingredients

1/4 cup sugar, divided
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups thinly sliced peeled tart apples
1 cup sliced peeled fresh firm ripe pears
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon rum extract
8 sheets phyllo dough (14 inches x 9 inches)
1/3 cup butter, melted

Directions

In a large bowl, combine 2 tablespoons sugar, flour, cinnamon, lemon peel and nutmeg. Add the apples, pears and extracts; toss to coat.
Place one sheet of phyllo dough on a large piece of parchment paper on a work surface; lightly brush with butter. (Keep remaining phyllo covered with plastic wrap and a damp towel to prevent it from drying out.) Layer with seven more sheets of phyllo, brushing each layer with some of the butter.
Spoon the apple mixture lengthwise over phyllo within 2 inch of a long side and 1 inch of short sides; fold in edges. Roll up jelly-roll style, starting from the long side. Place seam side down.
Using the parchment paper to hold the strudel, transfer to a 15 inch x 10 inch x 1 inch baking pan. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with remaining sugar. With a sharp knife, cut diagonal slits in top of strudel. Bake 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.

Flo Braker’s Fresh Mango Strudel

While the mango, with its spicy pineapple and peachlike flavors, lends itself beautifully to any course of a meal, nothing compares to baking with it. The mango adds a complexity of flavors to whatever you bake. In this strudel, the fruit’s flesh softens during baking just enough so that it yields some of its fragrant juices to the pastry.

INGREDIENTS:

1 or 2 large (about 1 pound) firm-ripe mango, peeled, pitted, cubed (1 heaping cup)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons raisins
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (1 lime)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 phyllo sheets (approximately 16 x 12 inches), at room temperature
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted (preferably clarified)
About 10 tablespoons breadcrumbs, made from day-old bread without crusts
3 tablespoons powdered sugar

Whipped Cream:
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract

Instructions

The filling: Combine the mango pieces, brown sugar, raisins, cinnamon, lime juice, and vanilla in a large bowl; gently toss to blend.

Adjust rack in lower third of oven; preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place a clean, dry kitchen towel or waxed paper on your work surface. Stack the phyllo sheets nearby, cover with a sheet of waxed paper and place a damp kitchen towel on top of the waxed paper. Place 1 phyllo sheet on the dry towel so the long side faces you. Dip a pastry brush into the melted butter and let the butter drip over the surface of the phyllo sheet. Brush the butter over the sheet to coat it lightly, then sprinkle with about 2 tablespoons of the breadcrumbs. Repeat with the 4 remaining phyllo sheets, each time brushing lightly with butter and sprinkling with crumbs.

Spoon the mango filling with its juices evenly along the long side of the phyllo, and about 3 inches from the long edge. Leave a 2-inch border at each of the short ends. Using the aid of the towel in lifting the phyllo, fold the edge over the filling to enclose it. Fold over the exposed edges. Continue to roll up the strudel jelly-roll fashion to the end of the strip.

Gently transfer the strudel seam-side down onto the baking sheet and fold the ends under to enclose the filling. Brush the top with melted butter, then using a serrated knife, score the top into 5 or so equal portions to allow steam to escape during baking. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden.

Dust with powdered sugar before serving. Serve with softly whipped cream, lightly sweetened with sugar and flavored with vanilla and coconut. Serves 8

Deborah Krasner”s Apple-Cherry Cardamom Strudel

This uses almond meal in place of flour.
Print

Ingredients

Filling:
1/2 Cup dried sour cherries
2 Tablespoons Kirschwasser (cherry-flavored liqueur or dark rum)
3 pounds cooking apples (such as Cortlands); washed, cored, peeled, and quartered
1 Tablespoon fresh orange or lemon juice
1/2 Cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 Cup almond meal or unflavored bread crumbs
3 teaspoons grated orange zest
Pastry:
12 sheets fillo (phyllo) dough; defrosted, and covered according to the manufacturer’s directions
1/2 Cup delicate and mild olive oil
1 Cup almond meal
confectioners’ sugar; for garnish

Instructions

Soak the dried cherries in the kirschwasser for 20 to 30 minutes. If the cherries are very dry, combine them in a small saucepan and heat the two together before setting aside to soak.
Using a food processor or a hand grater, shred the apple with the orange juice to prevent browning. Mix in the sugar, salt, cardamom, almond meal, and orange zest. Drain the cherries and add them to the apple mixture. Set aside while you assemble the pastry. (Do not prepare the apple mixture ahead of time; if it sits too long, it will get too watery. If that happens, drain the apple quarters and place them in a bowl. Immediately sprinkle mixture in a colander before using it).
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a cookie sheet, and line it with greased parchment paper if desired.
Lay a large sheet of parchment paper or cloth on a large work surface, such as a kitchen island or table, to cover an area 30 by 30 inches in size. Take out the first sheet of filo from the package; reroll the rest and keep the dough covered with a tea towel, waxed paper, or plastic wrap Lay the first sheet of dough with the long edge facing you. Using a pastry brush, paint the whole sheet with olive oil. Lay the second sheet of filo next to the first sheet, again with the long edge facing you, with a 2-inch overlap on the short edges. Paint this sheet with oil. Now you have a long skinny rectangle.
Repeat with the next two sheets, placing them so that the long edges over-lap by 2 inches. Now you have a large rectangle that’s twice as long and twice as wide as a single filo sheet.
Repeat this process with the next 2 sheets, adding them to the rectangle to make a square. Every sheet should be coated with oil, and you should be able to see 6 connected sheets in front of you, forming a 30-inch square. Do the same thing all over again to form a second layer on top of the first, so that you end up with a two-layer 30-inch square of filo that is painted with olive oil.
Sprinkle the almond meal over the first third of the dough, leaving an empty 2-inch border on the bottom and sides. Using a spoon, place the apple filling on the almond meal, leaving a 3-inch border along the whole long side. Fold in the two side edges of the dough, using the parchment or cloth to help you handle the fragile dough. Now, again using the parchment or cloth, start rolling the dough around the filling, pulling the paper away as you roll to prevent it from rolling into the strudel. Keep rolling until all the dough is wrapped around the filling. Paint the strudel with olive oil. Roll the strudel on the prepared baking sheet so it is seam-side down, bending the ends to form a horseshoe shape (since the roll will be longer than the baking sheet). Don’t worry if the strudel cracks when you curve it ? once you slice it, these cracks will not be apparent.
Bake the strudel for 1 hour or until golden and crisp. Let it cool on the pan. Then carefully remove it from the pan, using a long spatula, and dust it well with confectioners’ sugar. Cut into slices and serve at room temperature.
Notes
My mother used to describe her grandmother”s strudel as being so big and so thick that she rolled it on a huge linen tablecloth. In this strudel, I paste 12 sheets of filo dough together to make a 30 inch square of dough to fill and roll. Unlike my great-grandmother, I use olive oil instead of melted butter to paint the strudel leaves. I particularly like The Fillo Factory”s organic filo; they also make filo of spelt and whole wheat. You”ll need a pastry brush for painting the sheets of dough with oil.

Don”t be daunted by this recipe. It”s really pretty easy. Just remember to thaw the frozen filo overnight in the refrigerator, then bring it to room temperature, still in the box, for an hour or two.

Leftover strudel can be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated. Before serving, bake it, uncovered, at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes to re-crisp the pastry.

This recipe yields 12 to 14 servings.


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