Getting Slap Happy with Strudel!
Posted October 16, 2009on:
I can’t tell you exactly when I had my first strudel. I suspect it was about ten years ago, when I was recently out of college and I frequented this little Vienesse bakery in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Everything I tried there was heavenly, but their strudel was extraordinary. I remember flaky dough, sweet fruit and flavors of nuts and cinnamon throughout the pastry. The last time I had this delectable treat was at a fabulous German restaurant in Queens called Zum Stammtisch. This restaurant captured the feel of a Bavarian beer house with its wood decor and interesting accents of animal heads and steins. But, more importantly, it has some of the best German sausages I’ve ever had and truly, the best strudel.
OK, so what is strudel really? Basically, strudel is a dessert consisting of layers of flaky pastry encasing a deliciously sweet or savory filling. Traditional fillings include apples with raisins and nuts seasoned with cinnamon and sugar. This is also traditionally served with a sauce, usually creme anglaise, or ice cream or whipped cream. However, if you prefer a less sweet variety, the strudel can be filled with cheese to create an almost cheesecake like textured filling surrounded by flaky pastry. Here’s a shot of the delicious strudel at Zum Stammtisch which comes with two generous scoops of ice cream!
After thinking about strudel a lot, I finally enrolled in a class all about strudel and got to make some tonight! Was our strudel as good as Zum Stammtisch? I do think it was close, but for a first try at making strudel, it definitely wasn’t bad! Of course, I had no idea how much work went into making this delicious treat. The biggest challenge was making the dough. Ok, not really making the dough, but more the preparation of the dough for the filling. To make the dough, we basically just mixed the ingredients (all the usual suspects, eggs, flour, oil, water, salt) until they came together as a dough. Seems easy enough right?
Wrong! The key to making good strudel is developing the gluten for the pastry. So once the dough has come together it is slapped on the table, hard, 100 times. The classroom was noisy, but it was a great way to get out any aggressions! Once that is done, you notice a marked change in the dough–it’s more pliant and less sticky. You can literally hold one end of this dough and watch the rest of it stretch in the air, watching the gluten at work. Then, the dough is set aside to rest for at least one hour.
During that hour, we prepared our fillings. These were all fairly simple fillings from the traditional apple-walnut-raisin to a sweet frangipane with sour cherries to a grape-walnut filling. We also made one with dried fruit and pastry cream. Once the fillings were finished, we were ready to start preparing our dough to be filled.
This is now the really tricky part to making strudel dough. This procedure is very similar to making phyllo dough and the two are often used interchangeably. The table was draped with a table cloth and the cloth was lightly dusted with flour. We then removed the dough from the bowl, in one piece, and then gently rolled it out to about 1/4 inch thickness. Then the top of the dough was brushed with oil and we placed flour on the backs of our hands. Now is the tricky part, pulling the dough. Using the back of our hands, making a claw-like gesture, we go under the dough and gently pull it in different directions. As the dough is gently pulled, it becomes thinner and thinner, almost transparent. Inevitably, there will be some holes, but as long as they’re along the edges, then no one will be able to notice. Eventually our little piece of dough grew to become a thin sheet of dough that covered most of the table! The dough is then brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with breadcrumbs. The dough is now ready to be filled.
Here is one strudel being filled with Frangipane. It will then be topped with cherries before being baked.
Here is the strudel being filled with apples & raisins.
Now that the strudel is filled, it’s time to roll it. Since the dough was placed on a tablecloth, it will be much easier to roll. I grabbed the end of the table cloth and pulled it toward me, rolling the strudel onto itself. Then, it was put on a parchment-lined sheet pan, sprinkled with butter and baked in a convection oven for about 30 minutes. Here is a finished strudel!
And a close-up shot….
And now it’s time to eat!
Overall, I really enjoyed this class! The Chef Instructor, Jeffrey Yoskowitz, was patient and extremely knowledgable. I always enjoy taking classes with him! And the best part was taking home tons of strudel to enjoy for the next few days!
Note: Please excuse the even more terrible quality of my photos. I forgot my camera and had to use my cell phone instead.