I love to bake. And anyone who knows me, pretty much knows that when I’m baking, I’m in my ‘happy place’. Cakes, cookies, pastries … it doesn’t matter. And, it really doesn’t matter if the bake comes out tasty or not (well, maybe a bit). Each and every one is fun to make as well as a learning experience, and I get to express my creativity. The real disasters, of course, end up in the trash. Most get handed out to family members. And some we eat, whether they’re successful or not.
This past Christmas hubby and i decided to escape the hectic pace of the holidays with all its expectations and we ran away. To Germany and Austria. For two weeks. To explore the traditional European Christmas Markets, which date back to the 13th century. (Yes, the trip was close to being perfect.) And while we were in Austria, I came across the opportunity to take a class in ‘apple strudel’ making. This was a tourist activity, without a doubt, but led by a professional pastry chef who saw the opportunity to take this classic Viennese pastry and create a cottage business around it. (If only I could come up with an idea like that.)
I wasted no time in signing us up for the class. We arrived at the designated time. Were greeted warmly. Put on our aprons and washed up. Located just off the main square in a dark, windowless cave, the ‘school’ itself couldn’t have been more picturesque.
As most people, I thought this iconic dessert, served in every restaurant and cafe throughout Austria, was of German or Austrian origin. But, as we learned, strudel actually originated in Turkey around the 14th century. When the Ottoman’s ruled most of Eastern Europe, this phyllo dough pastry based on Middle Eastern baklava, was introduced to the Habsburgs’ and the aristocracy loved it. It didn’t take long before pastry chefs began changing things up a bit; adding apples, raisins, replacing walnuts, etc. but soon it became in demand by everyone. The first handwritten recipe for strudel was actually discovered in Vienna in the Town Hall Library, dated 1696.
Introductions were made and we learned about the strudel’s origins, popularity and techniques to make one. Feeling a bit intimidated by this flaky, fruity, not overly-sweet, with a touch of cinnamon dessert, it was now time to try our hand at making one. Yikes!!
APPLE STRUDEL (from the Edelweiss Cooking School)
Tools needed: Rolling pin, parchment paper, tablecloth or large tea towel, shallow baking pan, pastry brush. Bake at 375° 35 to 40 minutes. Serves 6 to 8 generously.
210 grams (1-1/4 cups) bread flour
125 grams (1/2 cup) water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Thoroughly mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Turn the dough out and knead for about five minutes until the dough is silky smooth. (Or, if you prefer a stand mixer, use the bread hook and let it run for about five minutes.) Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly and let the dough rest for at least two hours. You can refrigerate the dough at this point overnight, or freeze it to make another day.
5 or 6 firm cooking apples (such as Granny Smiths) peeled and sliced
100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
50 grams (1/2 cup) buttered, toasted bread crumbs
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 stick butter, melted (might need a bit more)
1/2 cup raisins (optional) soaked overnight
Flour for dusting
First, melt some butter in a shallow pan and add the bread crumbs, coating well and toast til rich brown. Let cool.
Peel and slice the apples. Nice, but not necessary is to put the apples in a bowl and toss them with a bit of orange juice or lemon juice to keep from browning. Sprinkle the apples with sugar and cinnamon.
Dust a large tea towel, or tablecloth lightly with flour. Gently place the dough on the cloth and sprinkle with flour. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out until its about the size of a pizza. If it is difficult to roll, cover the dough and wait 20 minutes til the gluten relaxes a bit.
Here comes the tricky part. Flour your hands and pick up the dough, using the backs of your hands (flip your rings around or take them off). Reach under the dough and gently stretch it, allowing the weight of the dough to fall. Go around and around and around, slowly stretching and allowing the dough to become as thin as possible. Yes, you should be able to read a newspaper through it.
When the dough is at least four or five times its original size, gently lay it onto the floured cloth. Trim the dough to a rectangle and use the trimmings to fill in any holes which may have occurred.
Now brush the dough with half of the melted butter, then sprinkle the buttered bread crumbs over the dough, leaving a 2″ border around it..
Now it’s time to place the apples (and raisins, if you are using). The apples should be heaped at the top of the dough – leaving an inch or two at the top and on either side. Then take one side of the dough and fold it over the apples. Do the same on the other side. Now take the top and fold it down over the apples. You have now begun to create a little package encasing the apple filling and ready for rolling.
Now lift the top of the cloth and allow the weight of the apples to fall forward. It will roll up into a log all by itself. Using your hands, press it together to seal.
Brush the bottom seam with a little more butter and pinch the seam closed. Roll the log back onto the pastry cloth and use the cloth to slide the strudel onto a buttered baking tray, seam side down. Brush the strudel completely with the remaining melted butter. Bake in a preheated 375° oven for 30 to 40 minutes until golden brown and flaky on top.
When fully baked, remove the pan from the oven and let cool 10 to 15 minutes. Place the strudel on a serving platter, and generously sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar. Don’t waste any time … serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.
Have I made this traditional strudel since we’ve been home. Absolutely! But, trying to photograph each step was tricky. So, I’m attaching a clip from (who else) Paul Hollywood, which, hopefully, will make it a lot easier to understand. Don’t be intimidated. Just do it! And, if you find yourself in Salzburg, Austria, sign up for this fun, delicious class!!
It’s a fun video to watch. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy it.
Paul Hollywood Learns How to Make an Apple Strudel.