When I first had to look after and feed myself in my own flat, nearly sixty years ago now, I was sustained by bread and cake from Rosita. Despite the Italian evocation to the name, Rosita’s was an Austrian bakery and patisserie on main street Dunlaoghaire. Among Rosita’s temptations were Danish pastries and Gateau St Honore, the latter a multi-layered eight inch high exotic concoction of choux pastry balls, thin discs of solidified toffee like glass, chocolate sauce and lots of cream. More substantial, and sustaining, were Rosita’s lovely plaited white challah breads and their fruit-filled slices of apple strudel. (My wife contends I wooed her with these!)
When Rosita’s was closed to make way for the Dunlaoghaie Shopping Centre, I was for a long while deprived of these delights, until one day I happened on the first issue of a weekly-part cooking magazine with a cover illustration of the identical white plaited loaf of Rosita’s. Could I, from home, re-create and re-capture that speciality of Rosita’s? One magazine purchase later was the beginning of many years of baking bread, not just the plaited loaf, but providing a variety of home-baked yeast breads for our family of five children. The fragrance and sight of bread baking continuously filled our kitchen, so much so that when our youngest daughter was commissioned on her art degree course to sculpt an object to evoke her memory of Home she planned a bronze casting of a plaited loaf! That same daughter later channelled her creativity into culinary arts, and is currently chef at Knockdrinna.
For that daughter cooking and baking came via art. I had a science background and easily channelled my lab experience into following and adapting recipes. I learned to experiment and to master baking many kinds of cakes, as well as the breads, including apple strudel. Eventually a re-producible and workable recipe for that too came my way, in a promotional booklet for some brand of oil or cornflour, if I recall accurately. I have long lost that booklet, but I have made that strudel so many times over fifty years that I can put it together without referencing any source other than memory. It has become a family favourite and is expected at family gatherings, parties and feasts, especially at autumn time when new apples are available. I have often had German or Austrian friends assess the authenticity of this strudel product; the verdicts have been ‘not quite the same as mutter made, but nevertheless very good ‘! Here’s the recipe for you to try yourself. Enjoy.
Plain flour – 250g
Pinch of salt
Beaten egg – 1
Oil – a light oil, e.g. sunflower or grapeseed – 2 tablespoons (40ml)
Water – lukewarm – 6 tablespoons (120ml)out
Apples – 6-8 cooking apples (Nigel Slater recommends including some eating apples)
Dried fruit – c.100g (+/-) mix raisins/sultanas/currants, according to your preference
Brown Sugar (good) – 2-4 tablespoons, according to your sweetness tolerance/preference
Spices – a little ground cinnamon/nutmeg/ground cloves, as you like them
Mix the pinch of salt with the flour in a bowl. Make a well in the flour and pour in the beaten egg. Add the two tablespoons of oil, then the six tablespoons of warm water. Stir all together with a fork, until you have a soft pliable ball of pastry. Add a little extra flour or water, if necessary, to bring together an easily kneaded, but not sticky, pastry. Knead for about five minutes. Cover the bowl and set aside in a warm (not hot) spot for thirty minutes or so (no harm if left for longer).
Prepare and grease two large baking sheets (c. 30cm x 30cm minimum)
Retrieve the rested pastry, knead for a minute or so to have it nice and pliable and stretchy, and begin rolling it out on a lightly floured surface. You need plenty of space, as the aim is to produce a large, very thin sheet of untorn pastry, at least 60-70cm long x 30-40cm wide. You will make two strudel logs from this long sheet. Work from the centre out, flip and flour the pastry regularly to prevent sticking, and gradually make the edges as thin as the centre. Tradition suggests you aim for a pastry sheet thin enough to read a newspaper through it!
Gently melt some butter in a small saucepan and paint the melted butter over the entire pastry sheet (use a thin smear of light oil if vegetarian). Score (cut) the long sheet down the middle (dashed line in diagram below), so that you have two portions each approx. 30-35cm square. Leave to rest while you prepare the filling.
Peel the apples, slice thinly into a large bowl (a kitchen mandolin is ideal for this) rejecting the cores. Add the sugar at this stage, according to the sweetness or otherwise of the apples, and you personal sweetness preference; a little tartness is best. Shake some of the sweet spices over the apples and mix together. (Some lemon zest might also be grated in at this point if found appealing.) Mix the dried fruit through the apples, all of one kind, or a mixture, as your preference.
The scoring/cut down the middle of the large sheet gives you a straight edge on each portion of pastry, one on the left of the centre cut, one on the right. Sprinkle a layer of ground almonds about 7cm in from the straight edge on either sheet. This is where you will lay the apple/fruit filling. (Roughly where the oval shapes are in this diagram.)
Lay the filling on top of the ground almonds in a neat long mound leaving 4-6cm clear in from the edge at the top and bottom, making sure the raisins, etc, are well mixed with the apple slices.
Slide a dough scraper or thin flat palette knife under the edges all around each sheet, to loosen the pastry from the surface underneath. Be careful not to tear the pastry. Fold flap A top and bottom over the filling. Then fold flap B over the long length of the filling, and then fold and pull flap C over the mound of apples/fruit to completely wrap the whole pastry parcel.
Now the delicate manoeuvre! Holding each strudel log at the ends, gently lift the strudel onto the (nearby!) prepared baking sheet. If the kneading and rolling has been careful, the strudel pastry should be strong enough not tear or leak underneath. Brush the top of each strudel log with more melted butter. They can now be left until the oven is ready at about 160 degree Celsius. Bake for about twenty minutes, checking that the thin pastry does not burn, but allowing sufficient time for the apples to cook. When baked allow to cool a little before dusting with sieved fine icing sugar. Serve hot, warm or cold, with cream or crème fraiche. The flavour can intensify when left overnight, if you, your family or friends can resist second helpings!
(P.S. I have heard that this recipe can be used to prepare a sweet and a savoury ‘strudel’. The apple/fruit filling is put into one half sheet as described above, while a savoury filling (e.g. a cheese (feta, etc.) with spinach or leeks, and tomatoes, etc.) is used in the other half sheet.)
Michael L Walsh