Are all strudels wieners?
The strudel is a classic Viennese delicacy. In Germany, it’s called Wiener Strudel, or “Viennese strudel”. But “wiener” and “strudel” are also both slang for, um, a male’s privates. Is “Wiener strudel” an expression out of a Viennese dream, revealed by a Freudian urban dictionary?
It gets better:
Serve it with a “blow” (really)
Now, it is a local habit to serve this “Wiener” strudel with – and I’m not making this up here – “Schlag“, Viennese whipped cream, which translates to “blow”!
Get your heads out of the gutter. It’s “blow” as in a whack, that powerful stroke of a hand, which, well… so much for downplaying the innuendos. What a mess! What a whirling mass of words and meanings is a strudel.
Load it with apples to get to paradise
Strudel literally means “whirlpool”, a German word referring to the technique and effect of rolling up a generous fruit filling in paper-thin unleavened dough. Just pack a strudel with delicious forbidden fruit, like apples straight out of paradise, and there you have it: A “Wiener” treat, an apple strudel!
Is there any other food so famous as to have its own special character on everyone’s keyboard. Yes, just have a look at it: @. Do you recognize the vortex of a strudel?! Besides, imagine, in Hebrew the “at” sign is actually called strudel, or כְּרוּכִית?
As it happens, your keyboard is maybe even made by “Apple”?
Kabbalah in the apple strudel
Even though the forbidden fruit in the bible is not an apple but some other fruit, like pomegranate, popular belief has it as the biblical fruit. And the apple carries a little extra symbolism from its magical childhood powers in the saying: “An apple a day, keeps the doctor away.”
Also, the Zohar, the kabbalistic book, equates the relationship of God and the Jews to the apple because of its excellent color, aroma and taste. This is why Rosh HaShanah is celebrated by dipping apples into honey, for a sweet and happy new year.
It is a widespread custom to refrain from eating anything sour or spicy for these holidays, as that could be a bad omen for the whole year to come. Anyway, be careful with those sweet and tart apples. Add some sugar or lemon juice if necessary. Some will even refrain from nuts for the New Year, because the numerical value of the Hebrew letters, “egoz” (אֱגוֹז), add up to equal that of “sin”…
My strudel therapy
In short, if you are like me, every autumn, you get an inescapable craving for baked goods containing apples and cinnamon. For me and other Viennese, that craving is specifically for a traditional grandma’s Apfelstrudel.
My most vivid apple strudel memories are from my childhood in Budapest. The strudel, or rétes as it’s called in Hungary, was perfected there, building upon Turkish and German origins. The paper-thin phyllo pastry (Greek: φύλλο “leaf”) met the German fillings. Only then the strudel go on to win the place of honor in Viennese coffee houses, the Kaffeehaus, where it can still be enjoyed today.
The classic dessert from the Austro-Hungarian Empire has, like me, a cosmopolitan past.
Homemade stretched dough vs. phyllo
The Viennese strudel is made with a pulled and stretched dough, thin enough to read a newspaper through. This technique is quite involved and required my grandmother and my mother to work together around the big dining room table.
For the inexperienced, it is quite nerve-wracking to get the dough paper-thin without tearing too many holes in it. But give it a try once. It’s very rewarding! You can observe the making of classic Viennese apple strudel every day at Vienna’s most famous pastry shop K. u. K. Hofzuckerbäckerei Demel.
Do you have to stretch the dough for the real deal?
Well, people do show off with this craft – there are places in Vienna where you can not only watch, but also learn how to stretch a strudel dough by yourself. Claudia Roden in The Book of Jewish Food1 even relates a theatrical performance of strudel dough stretching!
Phyllo gets crisper and remains so longer
Today we’ll skip the anxiety of stretching strudel dough. We’ll make our real-deal strudel quick and easy, as commercial phyllo (or filo) pastry is so good that it’s a perfect substitute for the authentic homemade strudel dough. Plus it’s dead easy to use and can bring an extra crunch to the strudel experience. Not surprisingly, even famous places like Kurt Gutenbrunner’s excellent Café Sabarsky in New York’s Neue Galerie admittedly serve strudel made with phyllo.
Want to get the filling right too?
Taste and tweak till you love it!
As with any filling, your strudel filling must be too good for to you to stop noshing on it before it even gets baked. I mean it! Taste and rectify sweetness, as all apples are different, even within the same variety. As mentioned, make sure to adjust the acidity with the help of lemon juice and sugar. Is there enough freshness from the lemon zest? Tune it to your liking. I go for a strong sweet-tart experience, with a distinct nutty flavor and a hint of cinnamon.
Nuts and apples as geotags
The nut will show the apple strudel’s geographic origin. Walnuts are classic in Vienna. Throughout Central Europe, hazelnuts and almonds are also used. Pine nuts are used in the Alto-Adige in Northern Italy, and often pecans in the U.S.
The dedicated apple variety
Good choices are sweet-tart apples that remain firm once baked, like Boskoop, Braeburn and Granny Smith. It should come as no surprise that particularly suitable varieties are labeled as “Strudler” at farmer’s markets here in Vienna. Who would have expected otherwise in the world’s capital of apple strudel?
So here comes the ultimate apple strudel recipe. The real-deal authentic Apfelstrudel – not a cake, not a crumble, or any other baked good. Here is how to make apple strudel the easy, but uncompromisingly tasty way.
Recipe: Crispy Apple Strudel
Yields 4 to 6 servings (one strudel)
6 sheets of phyllo, fresh or thawed. (In Vienna, you can get strudel dough sheets at the supermarket!)
7 tablespoons unsalted clarified butter
1/8 cup bread crumbs (panko style), lightly toasted
confectioner’s sugar for dusting
4 apples (sweet-tart like Granny Smith, Boskoop or Breaburn. In Austria get one of the “Strudler” varieties), peeled, cored, quartered, sliced into 1/10 inch (2,5 mm) slices and coated with lemon.
1 lemon, juiced (to prevent the apple slices from browning)
1/2 tablespoon lemon zest, freshly grated and mixed into the sugar (optional)
1/4 cup backer’s sugar (superfine sugar), adjust depending on the sweetness of the apples!
1/8 cup bread crumbs (panko style), lightly toasted
3/4 cup whole walnuts, toasted and chopped
1/2 cup raisins (add as many as you like)
Rum to soak the raisins overnight (or 15 minutes in warm water and rum)
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
In a pan, toast the bread crumbs and then the walnuts.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C) if using the fan setting, 435°F (220°C) for regular convection. (The forced air convection will deliver crisper results.) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
The apple filling
Mix the drained raisins and the rest of the ingredients for the filling. Taste and add sugar, lemon zest or whatever it is missing. (Use citric acid for more acidity without risking to add too much liquid.)
Rolling up the strudel
To help you roll up the phyllo sheets, get a large towel. Use it like you would work with a sushi mat (see video). Put the towel on your working surface.
Gently place 1 sheet of the phyllo on the towel. The long side should face you. Brush it with butter and dust with confectioner’s sugar. Repeat with the remaining sheets of phyllo, brushing and dusting each one of them. On the top one, leave a border of 2 inches (5 cm) and sprinkle with toasted breadcrumbs.
Across the long side of the stacked phyllo sheets, on the side facing you, pile as much of the apple filling in a row as you feel comfortable rolling up. Press down a little on the filling to compact it. Leaving a border of 2 inch (5 cm) on the side facing you and on the right and left. Fold this border over the filling and roll up the strudel tightly but carefully. Roll onto the baking sheet, seam side down. Brush with clarified butter.
Strudel on the fly
Once baked, strudel gets soggy when stored. To make your strudel ahead of time, you could wrap the strudel at this point, unbaked, in cling film, and refrigerate it for a couple of hours. Or, one can freeze the strudel at this stage for a couple of weeks. Thaw and brush again with some butter before baking.
Baking the apple strudel
Bake on the middle rack for 15 minutes or until starting to brown. Brush with clarified butter and do not forget to dust with confectioner’s sugar. If necessary, turn the baking sheet for even coloring. Bake another 10 minutes or until well browned. Let cool on a cooling rack, or the bottom will get soggy. Cool for at least 15 minutes.
Serving the Viennese apple strudel
Dust with confectioner’s sugar and slice with a very sharp or serrated knife. Serve right away while still warm with a spoonful of “Schlag,” Viennese lightly sweetened whipped cream.
Don’t miss the video we made to illustrate the process:
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- Claudia Roden, The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York (New York: Knopf, 1996).