Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Daring Bakers' May Challenge - Apple Strudel

I absolutely adored this month's Daring Bakers' challenge: apple strudel! As my parents live close to Vienna these days, I have had the chance to sample this typical dessert quite a few times (although, being a chocophile, I've often chosen sachertorte over it). But because I associate it so closely with Viennese cafés, it had never occurred to me to make it myself. Well, this month's hostesses, Linda and Courtney, changed that, and I am certainly grateful to them!

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

Two smaller strudels from one batch of dough

Although we were given a recipe for classic apple strudel (which you can find at The Daring Kitchen), we were encouraged to play around with the filling. The only requirement was to make the strudel dough ourselves. The ingredients themselves are very simple: flour, water, oil, and vinegar. The main difficulty lied in stretching the dough until it was tissue-thing. The technique consisted in rolling out the dough as much as possible on a tablecloth rubbed with flour (or, as I did, floured waxed paper taped to the table), then picking it up and stretching it with the help of gravity.

Most people seem to have found the dough a dream to work with, reporting that it stretched almost by itself. My experience was a little rockier... My first attempt at making the dough led to a sticky mess that was too wet and completely impossible to knead; I threw it out immediately. For my second attempt, I was too cautious about adding liquid, and so I ended up with a dough that was too dry and rather difficult to stretch: gravity wasn't enough, so I had to lay the dough flat on the table and pull it. Even with this method, I had some trouble, as the dough tended to shrink back, like pizza dough. I managed it in the end, but my back was killing me by the time I was through.

A couple of days ago, I made a third, final attempt. I had a better idea of what the dough was supposed to be like, and was less shy about adding water and kneading. The result was much better, and I finally understood what other people meant about the dough being easy to work with - as long as it's made right. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of not flouring my work surface, thinking the dough wouldn't stick - which, of course, it did, leaving me to desperately try to pry it from the waxed paper without tearing it, while shrieking for Laurent to get me some flour, STAT! Despite that little mishap, the rest of the process went very well, although I still used the same unorthodox stretching technique. It worked, though: my dough was much thinner than the first time, while remaining solid enough to hold all the filling in.

Speaking of the filling... My first strudel was a savoury one, with Italian-inspired ingredients: mild Italian sausage, portobello mushrooms, red bell peppers, and grated mozzarella. It made a really good dinner! For my second batch, I cut the stretched dough in half lengthwise and made two sweet versions: one following the classic apple recipe we were given, and one with an improvised combination of pear, chocolate, and almond slivers. The apple strudel was delicious, and honestly rivaled the ones I've had in Vienna. However, I used very fresh Royal Gala apples, which didn't look like they would soften enough during the baking process, so I cooked them in butter aforehand - which turned out to be a wise decision. The pear strudel was kind of unbalanced (you can see all the chocolate ended up on one side of the pastry), but pear and chocolate are always a great combination, and I will get it right next time.

Because there will definitely be a next time. Even though this recipe looks complicated at first glance, it's really quite simple once you get the hang of it. And, as you can see, it's also very versatile, good for dinner or dessert. As for the pastry, it's uniquely light and flaky once it's baked. The only downside is that it tends to get soggy rather quickly, so it's best to eat the whole thing within a day or two.

I'm curious as to what else I could do with strudel dough... Maybe use several sheets to make a pie? Or how about mini-strudels, as an appetizer? Oh, the possibilities!

As I said, the original recipe and instructions can be found at The Daring Kitchen. Below is what I ended up doing, for better or for worse.

Strudel Dough
Makes one large strudel or two smaller ones, serves about 6 people

200g (1 1/3 cups) unbleached flour
1/8 tsp salt
105ml (7 tbsp) water, plus more if needed
30ml (2 tbsp) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 tsp cider vinegar
115g (1/2 cup, or 9 tbsp) butter, melted
1240ml (1 cup) fresh breadcrumbs

Combine flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Combine the water, flour, and vinegar in a measuring cup and gradually add it to the flour, stirring with a wooden spoon until you get a soft dough that's not sticky, but not too dry either: it needs to remain very supple.

Take the dough out of the bowl and knead it on an unfloured work surface for about 7 minutes. Pick it up and throw it down hard onto your working surface every now and then.

Put the dough on a plate, oil the top lightly, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rest for 30-90 minutes (the longer the better).

Meanwhile, heat 3 tbsp of the melted butter in a skillet, add the breadcrumbs and cook until they are brown and toasted. Let cool completely. Prepare your filling (see below).

When your dough has rested long enough, put your oven rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 200°C (400°F). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cover a large work surface with waxed paper and tape it securely. Flour lightly. Turn out the dough on the surface and roll it in a rectangle, as flat as you can. Then, stretch the dough any way you can. Ideally, pick it up by one end and let gravity do the work, supporting the dough with the backs of your hands and your forearms as needed. Or, do what I did and pull around randomly, keeping the dough on the surface. The dough is ideally supposed to stretch until 90cm x 60cm (3 x 2 feet), but I never got it to that length. What's important is for the dough to be very thin, see-through in fact. Don't panic if you get a few holes. When you are done, the edges will likely be thicker; cut them out with scissors. If you want to make two smaller strudels, cut the dough lengthwise in half.

Using a silicone pastry brush (or your fingers), spread another 3 tbsp of melted butter over the entire surface of the dough, then cover with the breadcrumbs (this helps keep the layers separate after the strudel is rolled, and keeps the pastry flaky). Spread your filling about 10cm (4 inches) away from the short edge of the dough, in a strip about 15 cm wide (6 inches). Fold the short end of the dough over the filling, then roll the strudel, either with your bare hands, or by lifting the waxed paper and letting the strudel roll onto itself. Tuck the side edges under the roll. Brush the top of the strudel with the remaining butter.

Spreading the filling on the prepared dough

Curve the strudel into a horseshoe form if necessary (mine was small enough to be left straight), then pick it up and place it on the prepared baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until the pastry is deep golden brown (the smaller strudels bake more quickly). If making a dessert strudel, let cool at least 30 minutes before serving (savoury strudels can be eaten hot). Cut into slices with a serrated knife.

Italian Sausage and Vegetable Filling
Fills a large strudel

300g (10 oz) mild Italian sausages (about 3 sausages)
2 portobello mushrooms
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow onion
1/4 tsp dried oregano
160ml (2/3 cup) grated mozzarella

Savoury sausage strudel

Remove the ground meat from the sausage bowels. Cook in a skillet over medium heat, until browned and completely cooked. Remove from heat and reserve.

Remove the stems from the mushrooms. Cut the mushrooms into slices and cook them in a skillet over high heat, without adding any oil or butter. Salt, turn once, and continue cooking until the mushrooms are beginning to shrivel and brown (dry-cooking them like this allows them to release some of their moisture, and brings out their flavour). Transfer to a bowl and reserve.

Core the bell pepper and cut it into strips, julienne-style. Mince the onion. Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat, cook the onion and pepper strips until tender. Season with oregano (do not salt, as the sausage meat is very salty). Remove from heat and reserve.

When ready, spread the ingredients in layers over the prepared strudel dough as indicated above (don't forget to top with the mozzarella). Roll, butter, and bake as indicated. Serve hot.

Classic Apple Filling
Fills a half-strudel

1 tbsp rum
2 tbsp raisins
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
35g (1/6 cup) sugar
2 tbsp butter
120ml (1/2 cup) coarsely chopped walnuts
2 medium tart apples
Confectioners' sugar for dusting

Apple strudel

Mix the rum and raisins in a large bowl. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in a smaller bowl.

Core and peel the apples, cut them into 5 mm (1/4 inch) slices. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat and cook the apples until they are slightly tender. Mix them with the raisins and rum, then add the cinnamon sugar and mix until the apples are coated.

Spread the walnuts and apple mixture over the prepared strudel dough as indicated. Roll, butter, and bake as indicated. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar when baked. Let cool and serve warm or at room temperature.

Pear and Chocolate Filling
Fills a half-strudel

2 medium ripe pears
60 ml (1/4 cup) dark chocolate discs or chips
the juice of a lemon
3 tbsp light brown sugar
60 ml (1/4 cup) slivered almonds
Confectioners' sugar for dusting

Core and peel the pears and cut them into 5 mm (1/4 inch) slices. Douse them with the lemon juice.

Spread the filling in layers over the strudel as indicated above: first the almonds, then the chocolate, and finally the pears. Sprinkle the sugar over the pears. Roll, butter, and bake as indicated. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar when baked. Let cool and serve warm or at room temperature. (Note: Don't refrigerate this strudel later, as the chocolate will harden again - it might have been a better idea to use a ganache... I'll try it sometime and report back.)

Pear and chocolate strudel


  1. Your posting was so interesting to read it seems that you got the hang of doing the strudel and that you found that it is good for so many different fillings both sweet and savoury. Pear and chocolate sounds good. I like your pictures also. Wonderful effort on this challenge. Ehanks for popping over to my blog and your kind comments. Cheers from Audax

  2. Savoury filling - I have to try it myself :) Lovely photos! It seems you enjoyed the challenge a lot - like me :)

  3. I had some trouble with the dough also, though I didn't make another batch, lol. Great job love your fillings!

  4. Thanks for dropping by! Interesting fillings and they all look & sound great! I really liked Italian Sausage and Vegetable Filling & Pear and Chocolate filling I might try some. Great work!

  5. Mmmmm...those look good! I like the pear/chocolate/almond strudel. I had been thinking of making an almond strudel originally. Maybe I'll have to do another one because that makes my mouth water.

  6. These look great. I will have to try the Italian sausage and veggie filling.

  7. I also had dough trouble, but it got better for my second strudel, though still not stretchy and super elastic and translucent. However, your strudels lok incredible, especially love the savory sausage one. Reminds me of the italian sausage and pepper rolls down the shore! YUM!

  8. Pear and chocolate! Yum! I didn't do this months challenge, sigh. Yours looks amazing though

  9. Oh my goodness, pear and chocolate sounds divine:) They ALL look wonderful! Great job!

    It was my first challenge and a lot of fun!

  10. I love your savory one! Great job on this month's challenge!

  11. THREE attempts! Way to go, girl! And they all look so gorgeous =D

  12. I'm impressed with your effort! I usually can make things nearly perfect that first time, but the second - millionth time mess it up royally! Kudos to you, I'd prefer to have it the other way. I think they look great!

  13. This is beautiful. I'm with you on multiple trys: it's the very best learning tool I've ever found.
    Love your savory!
    I'm trying it tonight as an appetizer filled with an onion idea.
    Beautiful blog.
    Thanks so much for stopping at my place.

  14. I'm really loving all your fillings! Well done for making 3 different ones!!!

  15. Oh my! The vegetable one looks absolutely fantastic! Yum! And pears and almonds sound excellent.

  16. Trial and error lead to perfection!
    I love the color of your crust in the first picture!
    And I'm thinking of individual strudels, too.

  17. Your strudels look amazing, and the flavours sound wonderful =D.

  18. Extra props for making a sweet AND a savory strudel! Did you spread a layer of breadcrumbs on your savory strudel also? It looks great! I'll be trying that next time :D