'Stop, drop and roll' also applies to the perfect apple strudel
By Kara Kimbrough
Recent columns about dishes that many are scared to make reminded me of my one-time apple strudel obsession. It was quite harmless, at least in my opinion, and yielded quite a few strudels for the enjoyment of family and friends. I had to give it up when I began obsessing about my inability to create the “perfect” crust or to smoothly roll a heavy mass of filling inside a tender, butter-laden crust. And to be honest, recipients of my strudels probably got a little tired of them.
It’s been a while since I made one, so it may be time for another. If you’d like to learn how, here are a few easy steps.
Here’s how my strudel obsession began. An assignment from my food editor to interview the organizers of Germanfest, an annual festival hosted by St. Joseph Catholic Church, provided an opportunity to interview the church’s expert bakers. As part of the interview, I was allowed to watch as they made hundreds of strudels prior to the festival.
I quickly learned that as simple as the process appeared to be, there are some hard and fast rules that must be followed for the strudel to come together. First, it’s important to work with firm, chilled dough. Dough must be made the day before, covered and chilled in the refrigerator overnight. As a result, there’s a firm dough to work with when the rolling process begins.
Tip: I use a marble rolling pin and place it in the freezer a few hours before rolling dough. This helps keep the dough cool as it warms up in the kitchen.
Another technique used by the church’s bakers is using a pastry cloth to assist in rolling the dough. The thin cloth is made of a utility fabric called unbleached drill, similar to light canvas. It can be found in the kitchen gadgets aisle next to rolling pins. If you’re a crafty person, you can make your own by purchasing the fabric in the craft section and hemming the edges.
To begin the process, sprinkle flour directly onto the cloth and spread it over the surface with your fingers. Then, place the dough on the floured cloth and grab your rolling pin. The floured cloth creates a smooth, non-stick surface for rolling dough for strudels, pie crusts, cobblers and anything else that needs straightening before baking.
Now, to the somewhat tricky rolling process. Spread the filling, leaving a border of dough around the edges. Starting at the far end, grab the cloth by the edges and flip the top edge of the dough over the filling. Repeat lifting and folding once, leaving sides open. Then, tuck in sides of the dough to enclose the filling. Continue lifting and folding until the dough is completely rolled into a flat log. Just like that, you have a perfect strudel!
Learning the secret to strudel rolling from the church ladies, including the importance of a pastry cloth, helped alleviate any trepidation I had about the process. Reliving past strudel-making sessions has revived my longing for one, so I’m adding it to the list of this weekend’s activities. It’s a little time-confusing, so I don’t recommend starting the project on a busy night when other things demand your attention.
After an initial learning curve, you’ll soon be turning out delicious, flaky cherry, cream cheese, apricot or my favorite, apple, strudels as good as any found at Germanfest.
Germanfest Apple Strudel
¼ pound margarine, softened
¼ pound butter, softened
8 ounces sour cream
2-1/2 cups flour
Dash of salt
1 cup applesauce
3 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
½ cup dark brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
1 teaspoon apple pie spice
4 tablespoons flour
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup chopped pecans
To make pastry: Mix the margarine and butter in a bowl and add sour cream. Mix the flour and salt. Add to sour cream mixture and mix well. Wrap in Saran wrap and then foil. Refrigerate overnight.
To make filling: Mix ingredients together in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Cook until thick, about 5 minutes. Cool.
To create the strudel: Divide chilled dough into four parts and roll each part out on a floured pastry cloth to make a 12 x 15 -inch rectangle. Spread each rectangle with ¼ of the filling. Roll as for jelly rolls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown. Slice while warm.
*If you’d like the recipe for other fruit fillings, drop me an email and I’ll send them to you.
Recipe adapted slightly from Recipes & Remembrances II by St. Joseph Catholic Church.
Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer from Mississippi. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.