By Chaya Rappoport
(The Nosher via JTA) — My bubbe is Swiss and one of the best bakers I know. My childhood memories are filled with visions of her glazed schnecken (Swiss buns like rugelach), her rich babkas and her waehes, which are seasonal Swiss fruit tarts.
When I first started baking, I knew I wanted to re-create those recipes from my childhood. But no matter what I did, and how many times I called her for advice and instruction, they never came out quite the same.
One year when she was visiting from Switzerland, I decided to make strudel in an effort to impress her. I should have known right then I was setting myself up for failure.
Strudel, a traditional Austrian pastry filled with apples and raisins that became popular in Eastern European Jewish communities, is made with a notoriously finicky dough similar to phyllo. It needs to be rolled out very thinly, and it’s commonly considered best left to experienced European grandmothers.
Well, an experienced European grandmother I am not, and when I started researching recipes, I got intimidated and decided instead to make something closer to a Danish than a strudel — just as delicious, and far easier, right? Needless to say, my grandmother was not impressed.
“This isn’t strudel, Chaya,” she informed me after a glance at the pretty plaited Danish I’d made. “I’ll have to teach you how to make it.”
I knew she was right. And when my grandmother returned to Switzerland, I decided I’d have to learn how to make it myself. I finally did — and guess what? It’s not at all as hard as it sounds. The apple filling’s as easy as pie (no, but really), the traditional breadcrumbs are simply toasted in butter and the dough has five ingredients and comes together by hand. Stretching it out to get it paper thin can be tricky — but do your best, be gentle and if the dough rips, just patch it together by hand.
It might take you one or two times to perfect it, but even imperfect strudel is still strudel, and there’s nothing a spoonful of schlag (whipped cream) or a scoop of vanilla ice cream can’t fix.
This strudel is insanely flaky, completely authentic and, best of all, I know it will finally satisfy even my bubbe.
For the dough:
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ cup vegetable water
2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup water
For the filling:
¾ cup raisins
¼ cup rum
5 large Granny Smith apples
Juice of 1 lemon
½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
½ cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons sugar
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Lightly sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, for serving
1. Combine the raisins with the rum and microwave them together for 30 seconds. Let them sit to plump while you make the dough.
2. Make the dough: Combine the flour and salt in a medium bowl. Add the oil and water and mix with your hands until a rough dough forms.
3. Turn it out onto a lightly floured counter and knead for 10 minutes, until soft and silky.
4. Form it into a ball, place it on the counter and cover with a clean tea towel. Let rest for a half-hour.
5. Meanwhile, make the filling: Peel the apples and slice them into matchsticks. In a large bowl, toss them with the lemon juice, sugar, vanilla and rum raisins.
6. Make the breadcrumbs: In a skillet over medium-low heat, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter. Add the breadcrumbs and sugar. Stir to coat, and cook until crumbs are golden brown and fragrant. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
7. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Melt the remaining 5 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan; set aside.
8. Roll out your dough. Cover your work surface with a clean tea towel that’s at least 24 by 32 inches. The long side should be horizontal to you. Sprinkle the cloth lightly with flour. Place the dough in the middle, sprinkle it very lightly with flour and roll in both directions, picking it up and moving it around as you go, until it’s 10 by 13 inches or you can’t roll it out anymore. Re-flour the dough if you feel it sticking.
9. Ball your hands into fists, put them under the rolled-out dough and gently start stretching the dough using the back of your hands.
10. Pull the edges of the dough gently with your fingers and continue stretching it with the back of your fists. Continue stretching until the dough is about 16 by 24 inches.
11. Brush the dough evenly with half of the reserved melted butter. On the right side of the rectangle, a few inches from the end, spread the breadcrumbs top to bottom in a thick line, leaving margins at the top and bottom.
12. Pile the apple mixture over the crumbs. Stretch the top and bottom edges of the dough over the apple mixture. Pull the right edge of the dough up and over the filling as far as it will go without tearing. Working carefully, use the towel to roll up the strudel all the way. Place the parchment paper from your baking sheet at the edge of the roll and roll the strudel onto it.
13. Brush the strudel generously all over with the remaining butter. Bake for 25 minutes, then rotate. Bake for another 20-25 minutes, or until the dough is crisp and golden brown.
14. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the strudel cool on a rack for at least 20 minutes before serving. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and slice into pieces to serve with either whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Chaya Rappoport is the blogger, baker and picture taker behind retrolillies.wordpress.com. Currently a pastry sous chef at a Brooklyn bakery, she’s been blogging since 2012 and her work has been featured on The Feed Feed, Delish.com, Food and Wine, and Conde Nast Traveler.
The Nosher food blog offers an array of new and classic Jewish recipes and food news, from Europe to Yemen, from challah to shakshuka and beyond. Check it out at www.TheNosher.com.