Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Spiced Apple Strudel

When I was deciding on the layout of my new kitchen, I wanted a big island in the middle of the room. I didn’t want a cooktop or a sink or different levels on this island. I wanted the biggest, flat work surface I could fit. I wanted space for racks of cooling cookies, space for rolling out long sheets of fresh pasta, and space to someday stretch out a big piece of dough for strudel. I finally got around to trying my hand at that last item on the list. I received a review copy of Cathy Barrow’s latest book When Pies Fly: Handmade Pastries from Strudels to Stromboli, Empanadas to Knishes. And, when I saw the recipe for Spiced Apple Strudel, I knew that was the first thing I had to make. I’ve had lots of fun baking from her previous book, Pie Squared, and this new one has even more ways to enjoy pie. In the new book, there are rustic galettes, hand pies, little snack-size pies, tarts, empanadas, kolaches, knishes, and more. All of the above are presented with both sweet and savory options. It’s clear that Cathy Barrow has spent a lot of time working on pies given the details included throughout the book. First, all the options and flavors are inspired. The recipes for types of dough and how to use them are thoughtful. And, the fillings are created to work well specifically with the type of pastry being made for the recipe. She writes in the introduction: “a filling’s flavor can be overwhelmed by the richness of the pastry. I found that the smaller the pies became, the more I had to make the fillings dynamic to deliver big taste.” So, following these instructions is going to result in delicious pies, but they also lead you to new possibilities with whatever ingredients you may have on hand. For instance, the Hot Crab Dip Galette got me thinking about an artichoke and spinach dip galette. The Mocha Cream Hand Pies look like the best pop-tarts ever made. The Sunday Lox and Schmear Tart would be amazing for a brunch party. Crispy Samosa Cigars are filled and rolled spring roll wrappers that are fried and served with cilantro chutney. Now, I was determined to attempt the strudel, but I was worried about the outcome since this was my first go at it. I decided on a back-up plan just in case. If my strudel dough didn’t stretch, or if it all fell apart as I tried to roll it, or if it just didn’t look good from any angle, I was going to make the Antipasto Stromboli for this post. The stromboli is made with homemade puff pastry, and it’s filled with all the delicious things that might appear on an antipasto platter. I was almost sad when I didn’t need to resort to the back-up plan. But, I’ll circle back to that recipe another time. 

Planning ahead is required since making the strudel dough requires a bit of extended kneading, and then it needs to rest in the refrigerator overnight. At the beginning of the Strudel, Puff, and Phyllo chapter, there’s a detailed introduction to working with strudel dough and how to stretch it complete with photos. The apple filling is classic, but there are also some lovely savory options including a Kale, Mushroom, and Gruyere Strudel. For the apple version, butter was melted, and bread crumbs were added and toasted. Sliced almonds were also toasted and added to the bread crumbs. A lemon was juiced into a large bowl, and apples were thinly sliced and tossed with the lemon juice. Sugar, rum, cinnamon, and nutmeg were added to the apples, and the mixture was tossed to combine. The dough was coming to room temperature while the filling was prepped. To make the dough, you stir together flour and salt in a bowl. Oil is added and stirred in with a fork, and then water is slowly added while stirring. Next, you mix with your hands until the dough begins to feel smooth. The dough is then transferred to a lightly floured surface and kneaded for 10 minutes. Yes, keep kneading for all of 10 minutes before letting the dough rest for 30 minutes. After resting at room temperature, the dough is sealed in an airtight container and refrigerated overnight. Then, the fun of stretching begins. You’ll need a linen or cotton cloth that’s at least 24 inches by 28 inches. The cloth should be placed flat on a work surface and generously floured. The strudel dough should be removed from the refrigerator one hour before using it. When it’s at room temperature, the dough is flattened and floured. Using a rolling pin, it’s rolled out to about 10 inches square. Then, you lift the dough with fists under it, spinning a bit like stretching dough for pizza, and let the weight of the dough stretch itself. You continue to lift and stretch in all directions until the dough is very thin and measures 20 inches by 24 inches. The bread crumb mixture was spread across the stretched dough. Next, the apple slices were lifted from the bowl while leaving the liquid behind, and the slices were placed along one short edge in a log shape. The dough was then lifted and rolled while using the cloth. The sides of the dough were tucked in, and the shape was kept as tight as possible. The strudel was transferred to a baking sheet with the cloth, and the cloth was removed. The top and sides were brushed with melted butter before baking. Last, the liquid from the apples was reduced to form a syrup that was served with the strudel. 

Stretching the dough was a fun challenge. Of course, there were a few rips and tears. But, it was so much more successful than I worried it might be. Once the strudel is rolled and baked, none of those tears are visible. The layers bake into crisp, flaky deliciousness. And, that reduced apple syrup was the best sauce to accompany it. I’ve checked off one more kitchen adventure from my to-try list, and I’m ready for the next one. 

Spiced Apple Strudel 
Recipes reprinted with publisher’s permission from When Pies Fly: Handmade Pastries from Strudels to Stromboli, Empanadas to Knishes

Apple strudel is a heavenly pastry to serve to a crowd. It smells like autumn should. Once the sugar hits the apples, they will begin to get juicy, which makes strudeling a little more challenging, so work quickly and with purpose. Feel free to omit the nuts, or substitute pecans or walnuts, according to your particular tastes. I like this just as much with firm, slightly underripe pears as I do with apples. Or try substituting quince for some or all of the apples for a heavenly, slightly pink delight. heavenly, slightly pink delight. 

1 recipe Pulled Dough for Strudel 
4 tablespoons (55 g) unsalted butter 
1⁄2 cup (60 g) dry bread crumbs 
1⁄2 cup (43 g) sliced or slivered almonds 
Juice of 1 lemon 
1 1⁄2 pounds (680 g) firm apples like Granny Smith, Pink Lady, or Pink Pearl 
3⁄4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar 
3 tablespoons (45 ml) spiced dark rum 
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg 
3 tablespoons (42 g) unsalted butter, melted 
Powdered sugar for decorating 

Bring the strudel dough to room temperature for 1 hour before stretching, keeping it wrapped until ready to use so it will not dry out. Place the oven rack in the lower third of the oven. Heat the oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment. 

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add the bread crumbs, stir well to coat with the butter, and toast until scented and golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Scrape the bread crumbs into a small bowl and wipe out the pan. Place the almonds in the pan, shaking and turning them over medium heat for 3 or 4 minutes, until slightly golden at the edges. Stir the almonds into the bread crumbs. 

Juice the lemon into a large bowl. Peel the apples, slice in half, and core (I use a melon baller); then slice into half-moons no more than 1/8 inch thick. Add the apple slices to the bowl and gently stir around in the lemon juice so they will not brown. Add only 1⁄2 cup of the sugar, the rum, cinnamon, and nutmeg to the apples and gently stir together. I use my hands. 

Prepare the work surface and stretch the strudel dough to 20 by 24 inches, until it’s possible to “read a newspaper through it” or some close approximation of that idea. The whole process doesn’t take long at all, just 5 minutes or so, once you’ve done it a few times. 

Pat the stretched dough into shape and then, using scissors or your fingertips, tear or cut away the thick edges and discard. 

Spread the bread crumb mixture generously over the dough, leaving a 2-inch border. Scatter the remaining 1/4 cup sugar over the bread crumbs. Transfer the apple filling to the dough, using your hands and leaving any liquid behind in the bowl. Shape the filling into a log about 2 inches from the shorter edge. 

Begin rolling by lifting and pulling the bare 2-inch edge of the dough over the apple log. Tuck in the sides and, using the strudel cloth, lift and roll the strudel into a right log with the thin layers of strudel dough encasing the filing. The goal is to make this log firm and tight, not loose and sloppy. 

Use the cloth to transfer the strudel to a prepared baking sheet, seam side down. 

Brush the top and sides of the strudel with the remaining melted butter. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, shower with powdered sugar, and slice and serve. 

If serving later, reheat for a few minutes in a 350 degree F oven. 

Pulled Dough for Strudel 
Strudel dough is not rolled out with a pin, but stretched. Because of this, the dough needs to be very elastic, requiring well-developed gluten, which means active, extensive kneading. Kneading can be tiresome, so do as generations of Germans, Austrians, and Alsatians hav done, and slap the dough on the counter with vigor instead. Just lift it up and slap it down, turn, fold, and do it again. And again. In fact, most classic strudel dough recipes include the direction to lift and slap the dough on the counter 100 or more times. It’s a great way to get out that daily grr, and a good workout for the arms. But if you aren’t feeling the slapping, you can knead in the usual way, folding and pushing the dough away from you, and then turning it 90 degrees and continuing the fold and push and turn action for 10 minutes. Alternatively, put the organized dough ball in the stand mixer with the dough hook, and let the machine do the work for 10 full minutes. I like the dough slapping; it feels more authentic. 

1 1⁄4 cups (150 g) all-purpose flour 
1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt 
3 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil 
1⁄3 cup (80 ml) cool water 

In a wide bowl, using a table fork, stir together the flour and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in the oil. Gather the flour into the oil with the fork. Pour in the water slowly, continuing to use the fork to incorporate the flour, until the dough is shaggy and wet. It will look impossible and you will be unhappy with me, but please persist. 

Let go of the fork, lightly flour your hands, and work inside the bowl to gather the dough (which, admittedly, is more like batter). Just lift and turn, fold and lift, and unbelievably the dough will begin to feel silky and smooth and come together after 5 minutes or so. It’s a miracle. 

Move the dough ball onto a very lightly floured counter and knead for 10 minutes; or slap it vigorously 100 times (see headnote); or place the dough ball in the stand mixer and, with the dough hook in place, let the mixer knead the dough for 10 minutes. 

Lightly coat the inside of a ziptop bag with cooking spray and place the dough in the bag. After a 30-minute rest on the counter, seal the bag and refrigerate overnight before stretching the dough. 

Strudel dough can be refrigerated for up to 2 days and cannot be successfully frozen.

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