There’s a reason strudel has been consistently popular all over continental Europe for more than three hundred years: it’s pure, delicious comfort. It’s also fun to make, even when you count in the intimidation factor. The fear keeps you focused like a laser, and makes the exhilaration of baking up your completed roll tat much sweeter. Even more so than with a “fancy pastry”, you walk away from the strudel baking experience with a swagger. Oh yeah — baker in the house!
I strongly encourage you to try one this season. Start by assembling your ingredients. You want about six pounds of gala or golden delicious apples. This way you’ll end up with the five or so pounds you need for the actual filling. Peel them all the way around with a vegetable peeler.
Cut them in half and core them with a mellon baller, then trim out the stems.
Cut the half in half…
…then slice each half into 4-5 slices. Slice inward toward the center, angling the knife upward as you go.
You’ll finish the cuts like so. Why do it this way? Because you’ll have consistent slices that cook up evenly. I should add here that some people like thicker slices, others like chunks. Just try to make them even whatever you decide on. One word of advice though, don’t make the slices too thin since even slices of firm apples can get mushy if they’re too skinny.
Oh yeah…repeat with the other quarter, then all the other apples, obviously. Drizzle lemon juice over the apples as you go to keep them from getting too brown.
Next, over medium heat melt the butter in a large pot or saucepan and add the sugar, zest and cinnamon.
Add the apples and toss everything together. Once you hear the apples sizzle a bit put the lid on the pot and let them cook for 10 minutes.
After your time is up, you’ll see that there’s quite a bit of juice in the pot.
Remove the top and keep cooking for about 10 more minutes. At that point you’ll probably still have some liquid in the pot. Taste one of the apples. If they’re still quite firm keep cooking them another 5-10 minutes or until the liquid is mostly gone. If the apples are at the perfect point or seem to be getting too soft, remove them from the pot with a slotted spoon or spider, then turn up the heat on the juice (this will keep them from overcooking). Reduce the juice down to a thick, bubbly syrup, then remove the pot from the heat and put the apples back in. Stir gently to coat the apples with the syrup. When it’s all done, spread the filling out on a sheet pan to cool.
Meanwhile, add the rum to your raisins and zap them in the microwave for about 45 seconds. Leave them to cool as well.
Now for the dough. Beat together the eggs and the oil.
Put the bowl on a digital scale and add milk until you have 10 ounces total. You can also do this in a clear measuring cup, adding enough milk until you have 1 1/4 cups.
Combine your flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle. Stir it on low for about 20 seconds.
Add the egg mixture and continue to stir for about a minute more…
…until a shaggy dough comes together.
Knead the dough for about another 2-3 minutes until it becomes very smooth and stretchy. It’ll be tacky to the touch but shouldn’t actually stick to your fingers. If it leaves bits of dough on your fingers when you handle it, knead in another tablespoon or two of flour.
At this point it’s traditional whack the dough on the counter exactly 100 times. If you feel like doing that for tradition’s sake, by all means do so. It’s fun but it’s not at all necessary. Form it into a ball and put it in a lightly oiled bowl (roll it over once or twice to coat it). Let it sit at room temperature for 1-2 hours.
Dough ready and filling cooled, it’s time to make the strudel. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Here we shall adjourn to the Pastry dining room for the shaping. Now, some people get worried if they don’t have a small table that’s precisely the right dimensions (a lot of people shoot for a strudel that’s 2.5′ x 4′ or so). All we have is a large dining room table. It works just fine for strudel when we’re not entertaining heads of state.
Here you get a small glimpse of how we keep house here at Chez Pastry: we don’t iron our sheets. That might be a disappointment to some of you, but really, how often do guests look under the bedspreads at your house? Don’t answer that. Your personal life is your own concern. All I meant to say was that we’re a baking-centric household. What we may lack in pressing we make up for with pie. Anyway, throw a clean sheet over your table.
Dust it liberally with flour, but more than that, rub the flour into the fabric where you expect the dough sheet to be. Like so.
Now for the rolling. Remove the dough from the bowl and wipe any residual oil off the bottom with a paper towel (you’ll thank me later when it’s laundry time). Dust it with flour on the top.
Now apply your largest pin.
Roll the dough out to about a 2′ square.
Butter it. This will make sure the top is nice and supple for the stretching.
Get all the way out to the edges.
So OK. You’ve got a mass of dough in the middle of your dining room table and it’s time to stretch. You’re thinking: can’t some little old Slovenian lady come over and do this for me? Nope, they’re all off making kolacky this week, so it’s all up to you. Just begin slowly. Go around the edges and tug gently. Not so difficult…and the sheet is actually getting bigger.
As you go you’ll notice that the thinly stretched regions of the sheet are looking lighter in color than the thicker areas. To stretch those out you’ll need to get further underneath. There are a couple of techniques you can use. You can use the backs of your hands and/or fists:
Or you can use your palms. I prefer the palms because I can open my fingers if need be to expand a small area. But experiment for yourself. It gets fun after the initial feeling of terror. Just move slowly and deliberately in smooth motions. Like you’re doing t’ai chi or something. And if you get a tear or two, no worries. Just move to a new part of the sheet. The strudel will still roll up fine.
My sheet is about 4′ x 3′, but dimensions aren’t really so important. Thickness is the main thing.
You want it thin enough so you can see a printed page through it. Here we have some of little Jo’s piano music. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to stretch the dough this thin.
The filling-side edge of the dough should be hanging over the table just a bit. When you’re ready to lay the filling down, go around with some scissors and trim off the very edge. It’ll be dark and thick (no good).
Next, re-butter the whole sheet. Gosh I wish I could find my bigger brush!
Begin the filling by laying down your bread crumbs. These are some “white” wheat bread slices that I ground up in the food processor and dried on a sheet pan last night. They worked perfectly.
Now lay down your toasted nuts followed by the raisins and the apples.
You’ll have a nice long stripe of filling. Make it as wide or narrow as seems appropriate. You can worry about getting it on the pan later.
Bring the edge of the sheet up and flip the edge of the dough over onto the filling. See I have some young helpers here? Little Jo and Joan Pastry were eager to get in on the action.
Successful flip. Gather up the sheet behind the strudel and repeat the motion, easing the whole thing over…and over…and over again…
…until it’s all rolled up. Easy. (Really).
Now trim any spare dough off the ends, leaving two inches or so, then tuck the spare dough underneath.
Here’s how I panned this strudel. I put a half sheet at a perpendicular angle right in the center.
I slipped my hands under one half, then brought it down.
I did the same on the other side…
…then the middle.
Here I should insert that there are lots of ways to go here. If your strudel is long and skinny you can make an “S” shape. You can make a shallow “U” if it’s very short and thick. If you have a really odd shape or thickness and can’t get it into a sheet pan, then slip it onto the back of a pan…or the backs of TWO pans if it comes to that (in which case, get a friend or family member to help you ease the whole thing into the oven). There is no set shape for a strudel.
Can you cut it into pieces if need be? Yes, thought that’s not ideal for a couple of reasons. First, you lose a lot of juice. Second, if you live somewhere where gluten is elastic (America, Canada…perhaps Australia though I’m not really sure), the dough will want to shrink up during baking. So if you must cut the strudel, let it rest on the counter from 30-45 minutes before baking to minimize it.
Did I mention you can freeze the strudel for later baking at this point? You can, for up to a couple of months.
Paint on some egg wash or simply butter if your prefer. Rest the whole pastry for about 15-20 minutes (again, especially if you’re a New Worlder) to relax the gluten and minimize cracking.
Bake at 400 for a total of about 40 minutes (check it and rotate it at 20 and 30 minutes to keep an eye on the progress). You want it nice and dark brown. The reason I recommend high heat is because you want to brown it reasonable quickly. If the filling gets very hot all the way through you’ll generate steam and the filling will burst out the sides. The high heat will brown the strudel without getting it too hot in the center.
Ah yes, perfecto. Here we actually have three strudels: two “I” shaped ones and one “C” shaped one. Lemme tell you, the neighbors were happy. Really, really happy.
Let the whole thing cool completely before you cut it. Serve it at room temperature, dusted with powdered sugar. Reader Gerhard in Vienna made me swear I wouldn’t put any whipped cream, custard sauce or ice cream on this, as it’s apparently scandalous there. So I understand, it’s the Germans that added the rich adornments. God I love those people.
I won’t tell you what to do with yours, other than enjoy it.