Where does strudel come from?

Turkey. Oh sure, we Americans think of it as a German thing. Some of us might be a bit more precise and call it Austrian instead. The reason for that is because the best known strudel in America is apple strudel, and that’s something of a Central European specialty.

Venture outside German-speaking Europe however and you find strudels of many other types. Looking south and east, the Hungarians have them, so do the Slovenians, Croats, Serbs, Albanians, Bulgarians, the list goes on. What do all these locales have in common? They were once (in whole or in part) provinces of the Ottoman Empire, the seat of which was a little further south and east, in Istanbul (not Constantinople), Turkey.

Do the Turks have strudel? Not exactly, or at any rate not that I’m aware of. However they do have paper-thin filo dough, which is the basis of both baklava and strudel. And they spread that stuff around quite a bit in the middle centuries of the last millennium. Not all the way up into modern-day Germany and Austria of course. There was another competing empire up that way in those day, one which I’ll discuss a bit more in the next post.

14 thoughts on “Where does strudel come from?”

  1. Filo dough!? Are you making strudel with filo dough? (Gasp) Say it ain’t so, Joe!

    Interesting, about strudel originating in Turkey. I think the dough is basically what “makes or breaks” any pastry. If it’s made with filo dough rather than strudel dough (they’re not the same, after all) — is it still strudel? What a conundrum.

    Sort of off topic: I recently started making empanadas (or trying to). At its most basic, it’s a stuffed dough. Every single culture I can think of — and then some — has some sort of stuffed dough. Empanadas, kreplach, wontons, ravioli, pierogi, the list just goes on and on. But each type of dough has something different about it (not just shape), and that’s what makes it what it is. Strudel too, no?

    1. Good point, Chana. There are some differences to be sure, though when you break it down the similarities are startling: a very basic flour-and-water dough with a little oil in it to provide flexibility. The same holds true of things like empanadas, pasties, turnovers, etc.., you have in many cases an almost identical technical execution, the main difference between the pastries is cultural. It does get into quite a conundrum. Don’t get me started on pancakes!

      – Joe

  2. Are you familiar with potica (sometimes called Slovenian nut bread)? It is made in the Iron Range of Northern Minnesota and looks like a strudel that is rolled up like a jelly roll.

    1. I am indeed! In fact I’ve eaten it there (I once lived in the Twin Cities and took occasional trips up that way). The jam filling is not uncommon…in fact jams and dried fruits are go-to fillings in many nations. There are plenty of story fillings (like cabbage, spinach and cheese) also.

      Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

      – Joe

    2. I have tried to make potica but the only recipes I could find were Eastern European and I was working from google translations that left a lot to be desired. Even so, I thought I was pretty clear that potica was made with a thinly stretched yeast dough, no?

      If not, (or even if) I’d love a recipe in English!

      …and, BTW, I thought it was pretty much a cinnamon ground nut filling that was traditional. But then I’m a person who always thought strudel was properly made from filo layers separated by stale cake crumbs. =o

      1. I know povitica for sure, that’s a Balkan strudel with nuts…I ate it when I was in Yugoslavia lo these many years ago. Potica is more like a cake, isn’t it? But yes, povitica is a thin yeast dough.

        And you’re not wrong about the strudel, it calls for bread or cake crumbs to soak up any errant juices.

        – Joe

  3. As a kid we were members of the International Institute in St. Paul, MN. The ran (still do) a “Festival of Nations” at the Civic Center. One year I helped many of the nationality groups move food that had been backed in the Institute commercial ovens the block or so over to the Civic Center. Must have moved about 100 pans of strudel from 6 different nationalities. Each group rewarded me with a piece of their strudel. Each was different, nuts, raisins and dough being the variables. Each was very good in its own right (these were usually old country grandmas doing the baking) but I was ‘required’ to confess to each group of grandmothers that theirs put the others to shame! It taught me a lot about regional variations and also how to alter recipes for what is at hand.

    1. And also about fierce national pride I bet! 😉

      I lived in the Cities for several years but never knew about that…my loss!

      – Joe

      1. This used to be only once every three years. It was a major commitment because each nationality that had a space had to prepare the foods & serve them (I would guess at its peek there were 30 different nationalities serving foods from a painted flat designed to represent the country. Most were run by church or community groups made up of the 1st generation and a few 2nd.

        It happens early April every year now and the nations represented have changed (didn’t have Hmong or Thia when I was a kid!) and I don’t think the food part of the event is as outstanding overall as it was but there are also dance groups and cultural presentations. Sorry you missed it.

        1. The Hmong population was just getting strong up there when I moved back to Chicago around 1995. If I ever get back that way in April I’ll go!

          – Joe

  4. This reminded me of a pastry challenge I have wanted to try (sort of) for 50 years. The Greek grandmas used to make this heavenly treat. I don’t remember what they were called but they were simply fried dough. The women would scoop up a handful of the dough & work in in one hand until they squeezed a nice fat bubble out of their fist. They would pinch off the bubble and deep fry it, then coat it in honey and toasted sesame seeds. They were light and crisp, sweat and nutty hollow globes of deliciousness.

    I sat with them once & they tried to teach me to blow those bubbles but I didn’t get the hang of it. Neither did their grandkids I guess because I have never seen them since.

    1. Fixed! 😉

      I’ll have to ask some of my Greek sources. They sound a little like loukoumades, but you say they were hollow inside? Very interesting…

      – Joe

      1. I have had loukoumades and they are similar but, yes, those ones were hollow.

        My mom cooked for the International Institute for years and it involved cooking meals from many different countries (I was scullery and eventually 3rd in the kitchen). One of the things I learned was that in any given country a single dish might be prepared 20 different ways depending on the region or even family. It was not uncommon to make something and have someone come in after the meal and tell us we got it wrong because their grandmother would never made it that way! The other common response was “Oh, I’m so happy someone still knows how to make this – my children don’t want to know . . . but you really should add ‘X’ or do it this way”. I got a heck of an education!

        1. Ain’t that the truth? I get a fair number of emails pertaining to that very thing. A recipe may be representative of a certain tradition, but it’ll never satisfy everyone, especially in Europe where a tart can vary dramatically from region to region, town to town, even street to street. I long ago resigned myself to missing the mark pretty much every time…with somebody!

          – Joe

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *