Some families pass recipes down from generation to generation. Dishes have strong ethnic and historical ties, and are as much about the memories and the story behind them as they are the actual food. Recipe boxes bulge open with all those coveted heirlooms fighting for a space of their own, many in the handwriting of the person who provided the recipe.
Mine is not one of those families. I envy both the tradition and those of you in possession of recipes scrawled out in a great great grandma’s wobbly script, the paper yellowing, helpful notes and oil smudges filling the margins. (Is my eye twitching?)
The delightful thing about traditions, though, is that they can be started whenever, wherever.
As a Workman, soon to be Goesch, during the height of Oktoberfest celebrations in Munich no less, I thought it fitting to perfect my version of a German classic dessert: Apfelstrudel.
To be honest with you, this recipe requires a good deal of commitment and love — but don’t be discouraged. The techniques are mostly familiar (or easy to learn), the ingredients are probably in your kitchen already, and the end result — strata of apple slices punctuated by plump raisins, each exploding with flavors of cinnamon, vanilla, rum and a faint note of lemon; all rolled up in flaky, buttery pastry — so, so incredibly worth it.
It felt nice to be in the kitchen, with flour dusted up to my elbows, making a traditional German dessert. Slicing, mixing, rolling, stretching, brushing, filling, rolling, basting: a set of motions I’ll continue to hone. So even though my recipe box has only a handful of handwritten family recipes, someone long after me will be able to say the opposite.
Apfelstrudel — German Apple Strudel [makes 1 large strudel, 8-10 servings]
For the filling:
1/4 c ground walnuts
3 c peeled and thinly sliced apples, such as Gala, Gravenstein or Winesap
1/2 c golden raisins
1/2 t lemon zest
1 T lemon juice
1 T rum
1/3 c sugar
1 t cinnamon
+ + +
For the dough:
1 3/4 c bread flour
1/2 t salt
2 1/2 T canola or vegetable oil, plus more for brushing dough
5 oz water (warm but not hot)
1/2 t cider vinegar
4 T melted unsalted butter, for brushing dough (you may end up needing a bit more)
Combine filling ingredients; toss well to coat apples evenly. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
Place flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attached. Use your hands or a spatula to mix the two dry ingredients together. Make a well in the center and add the oil and cider vinegar. Run mixer on the lowest speed and add the water slowly until you have a soft, sticky dough. The dough should pull off the sides of the bowl, but still be moist. The dough must now be kneaded until very elastic and smooth, about 10 minutes. Take the dough out of the mixer and knead by hand on a floured surface an additional 5 minutes.
Form dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl (not metal). Roll to coat with oil and cover with plastic; let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a large sheet pan or line it with parchment or a Silpat baking mat.
Place the bowl with the dough in a pan of very warm to medium hot water. Over the period of 10-15 minutes, turn the dough around in the bowl 1-2 times so that the entire dough becomes lukewarm. (I let mine sit for 5-6 minutes on one side, flipped it, and then let it sit another 5-6 minutes on the other side.)
Cover a large work surface with a clean, smooth table cloth or flour-sack cloth. The cloth should hang over the sides of the table. Rub flour (either bread or all-purpose is fine) into the cloth, especially in the center. Lay the dough on the cloth and sprinkle it with flour. Roll out the dough using a rolling pin to the size of a large handkerchief. Brush the dough lightly and gently with oil to keep it from drying out.
Dip your fists in flour. Place fists, palm side down, under the dough. Stretch dough with your fists, working from the center to the outside. If dough begins to dry out, brush lightly and gently with oil again. Stretch dough until it’s paper thin — you should be able to almost read newsprint through it. Don’t worry if there are a few small holes in the dough.
When the dough is evenly stretched, cut off edges to make a rectangular shape, approximately 3 1/2 feet by 2 1/2 feet. Allow the dough to dry for about 10 minutes, but do not let it become brittle. If it does become brittle before 10 minutes is up, begin the next step.
Brush dough with melted butter, from center to edges. Arrange a 2″ thick strip of apple filling across one end of the dough (short side of the rectangle), leaving a 1 1/2″ border from all edges. Fold over the 1 1/2″ flaps to the right and left of the filling, to keep the filling from falling out the ends as you roll. Brush the folded over flaps with melted butter.
Fold the long 1 1/2″ border of dough up and over the filling to form a roll. Brush with butter. Grasp the ends of the cloth nearest the now-covered filling with both hands. Holding it taut, slowly lift the cloth, rolling dough over filling. Pull the cloth toward you and again lift the cloth; slowly and loosely roll dough until it forms a large log. As you are rolling up the dough, continue to brush with melted butter. (A few helpful tips on the rolling method)
Flip the strudel from the cloth onto the prepared pan. With a sharp knife, cut a few small vents on the top of the strudel. Bake 1 hour, basting occasionally with melted butter, until the strudel is golden brown. Remove the strudel from the oven and allow it to cool in the pan on a rack. Dust strudel with powdered sugar and serve still slightly warm.
Adapted from the German Food Guide — strudel dough #2