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.
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.
Fills a large strudel
1 tbsp olive oil
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
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