Wednesday 28 January 2015

Apple Strudel - the first trial

In a few months, God willing, we will be flying across the Atlantic and taking a holiday with family in the sunny climes of North Carolina. We last saw each other a year and a half ago, and the last time before that we were in each others company for a whole week was when I was in high school...which is to say, a decade and a bit further back.

As we will be on the beach, not much cooking is done - my sister-in-law is amazing at planning and shopping for all the basics to throw quick meals together - but last time I did make some desserts, namely key lime pie. I asked if they wanted me to try making anything this year and my sister-in-law replied "Apple strudel!!! Likes the apples soft! We travel looking for good strudel!"

My first google search revealed recipes that simply used filo pastry purchased from the local supermarket so I thought, ok, that should be simple enough. But further investigations suggested a homemade dough gives superior results, so I thought I'd give it a shot.

I mixed the dough in the food processor and then threw it on the work surface over and over, making sure not to overdo it and end up with dough on the floor (if this video doesn't work, try looking for the Great British Bake Off strudel on floor on youtube):

Once that was done and the dough rested, I rolled it and stretched it out (mostly stretching it on the backs of my hands) until I could see my tablecloth pattern underneath, hoping this was thin enough (you are supposed to be able to read a newspaper through it). You can see scissors in the shot because I cut the thick rim off of the dough. Perhaps if I had my dough at a better consistency (I think it was too sticky in the end and needed less liquid added at the start) I could have stretched it out further, but such is life. For my first ever attempt it didn't go as badly wrong as it could have.

I then flicked melted butter over the surface and put in my apple filling of apples, sugar, lemon zest, ground almonds and brandy soaked currants.

Using the tablecloth I folded over the end, then kept folding it with the cloth until it looked like a big cigar.

A big, pasty, floury cigar. Again, using the cloth I lifted it onto the baking tray.

Where I scrunched the ends and bent it into shape.

More butter went on (because yes, butter always makes it better) and flaked almonds should have gone on but I didn't have any.

I took it out when it had achieved a golden brown colour.

And once it had sat out for half an hour, put on a layer of icing sugar.

Then we tried it. I was underwhelmed. The apples were soft, as requested, but I had overdone the spices and the pastry wrapping seemed too thick to me, and generally flavourless. Ice cream improved it, as it is not particularly sweet and the contrast between the sweet ice cream and the tart, strongly flavoured filling worked better. My children demolished it, and my husband did end up having two helpings so it was decent, but I just was looking for something better. When asked for further guidance on other fillings (nuts, booze, etc) I was told just to keep it simple, and the gooey-er the better.

Looks as if the trials must continue.

The recipe that I followed for the above was roughly this from the Guardian:

For the pastry:
285g plain flour
1 free-range egg
150g water
100g butter, melted
2 tbsp demerara sugar
50g flaked almonds
Icing sugar, to serve
For the filling:
425g russet apples
425g Granny Smith apples
75g currants, soaked  in 4 tbsp brandy and drained
about 100g ground almonds (my own addition)
Grated zest of ½ lemon
50g soft light brown sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch ground nutmeg
Pinch ground cloves
1. To make the pastry, sift the flour on to a clean worksurface and add a pinch of salt, and make a well in the middle. Beat together the egg, water and 1 tsp melted butter and then mix enough of this into the flour to make a soft, sticky dough – add a little at a time so you don't overdo it, the dough shouldn't be wet.
2. Now comes the fun bit – repeatedly throw the dough from shoulder height on to the worksurface for 15 minutes until it becomes elastic and loses its stickiness. Wrap it in clingfilm and leave it at room temperature for half an hour while you make the filling.
3. Preheat the oven to 200C, and place a greased baking tray on to the middle shelf. Peel and core the apples, and cut them into chunks. Put these into a large bowl and mix in the rest of the filling ingredients.
4. Clear a large worksurface or table and cover with a clean tea towel or kitchen paper (if it has a strong pattern, that will make your life easier later). Dust lightly with flour, and divide the dough in half. Keep one half wrapped in clingfilm at room temperature while you make the first strudel, then repeat the process with it.
5. Roll out the dough as thinly as possible with a lightly floured pin. When you can't roll it any more thinly, begin gently stretching it using your whole hands – it will be springy, but keep on going until you can see the pattern of the tea towel (or read some print) through it. Try not to tear it – any small holes can be patched up with excess pastry.
6. Brush the rolled out pastry with butter and sprinkle with half the demerara sugar. Spoon half the filling in a line down one end of the pastry and then, using the tea towel to help you, roll up the pastry into a sausage shape. Repeat with the rest of the pastry and filling.
7. Gently lift both rolls on to the greased baking sheet and curve into a crescent shape. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with flaked almonds, then bake for 30–40 minutes until the pastry is golden and the apples cooked. Dust with icing sugar and allow to cool slightly before serving.

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