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Apple strudel

"all countries in which it is known take great pride in it, and several claim to have invented it." Oxford Companion to Food

This is one of those promotional recipes from the latest Coles Magazine. In this case the promoter is Kanzi apples - the apple which is shown in this picture. It's a hybrid with the same parents as the Jazz apple - the Royal Gala and the Braeburn which was first produced in Belgium and is now marketed by the Greenstar Kanzi Europe Company. I have eaten them I think and I can confirm that they are delicious.

"Kanzi is still also firm and fairly crisp, quite juicy, slightly sharp rather than sweet in taste, with a mild flavor." Wikipedia

Kanzi by the way, is a Swahili word meaning 'happy treasure' which is a rather nice thought - that a treasure could be a happy thing rather than just a desired thing. The Jazz apple, it's New Zealand sibling is apparently a bit harder, and loses out in various taste testing studies. But also a really good eating apple. Having now read a few people's opinions on apple strudel I can see why the Kanzi and Jazz would be good rather than softer juicier ones, which make the strudel soggy. Several recommended the Granny Smith though.

I couldn't find the actual recipe online - other than the online version of the Coles Magazine, so I am reproducing it below, because, again after an exploration of the variations, it does actually seem to me to be one of the better ones. Ignore if you are not interested in recipes and read on.

Kanzi apple strudel Serves 8 Prep 15 mins (+ 5 mins cooling time) Cooking 45 mins 4 large (800g) Kanzi apples, peeled, cored, thinly sliced; 1⁄2 lemon, zested, juiced 1⁄2 cup (35g) fresh breadcrumbs(made from day-old bread)

1⁄2 cup (60g) almond meal 1⁄4 cup (55g) caster sugar 1⁄2 cup (80g) sultanas 1⁄2 tsp ground cinnamon

6 sheets filo pastry 100g butter, melted Icing sugar, to serve

Whipped cream, to serve 1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Combine the apple, lemon zest and lemon juice in a bowl. Add one-third of the breadcrumbs and half the almond meal. Stir to combine. Stir in the sugar, sultanas and cinnamon. Combine remaining breadcrumbs and remaining almond meal in a small bowl.

2. Place filo pastry on a clean work surface. Cover with a damp tea towel. Brush 1 sheet of pastry with butter and sprinkle with a little breadcrumb mixture. Top with another sheet of pastry. Brush with butter. Sprinkle with a little more breadcrumb mixture. Repeat layering with remaining pastry, butter and breadcrumb mixture, finishing with pastry. Spoon apple mixture along 1 long side of the pastry stack, leaving a 3cm border on short sides. Fold short sides in and roll up the pastry to enclose filling.

3. Place strudel, seam-side down, on lined tray. Brush with remaining butter. Bake for 40-45 mins or until golden. Set aside on a wire rack for 5 mins to cool.

4. Dust the strudel with icing sugar. Slice and serve with whipped cream.

So what can I tell you about apple strudel? Well like the Oxford Companion to Food says, everyone claims it as their own. Chief amongst these countries is Austria which has the earliest known, handwritten recipe from 1697, locked away in one of its archives, libraries or museums. But it was not until the 18th century that it became truly popular throughout what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was right next door to the Ottoman Empire with its super thin filo pastry delicacies like baklava. Hungary - closer to the Ottomans than the Viennese perhaps - also claims the honour of origin. And the Ashkenazy Jews. I don't think anyone has gone as far as claiming some sort of Appellation Controlée though. But fundamentally who cares. It's now a world-wide favourite so let's just enjoy it.

Robert Carrier didn't feature it in his Great Dishes of the World, or indeed The Robert Carrier Cookbook but then he wasn't much into Central European Food. In fact it was missing from quite a lot of places where you might have thought it would have been.

There is, of course, quite a bit of wrangling about the components of the dish - mostly the pastry, so let's begin there. Most recipes you will see today - like the one in the Coles Magazine, will use bought filo pastry, although I also saw a few that used puff pastry. Not really the thing I suspect.

With regards to the filo pastry most say that you won't notice the difference. Nigel Slater has a bet both ways when he says that filo pastry is a:

"cop-out … but a good one and one that is used by more than a few cafés"

Used by most chefs too I suspect. Delia certainly follows Nigel's example. But then both of them are into making the whole cooking thing easy and approachable for anyone. Making your own strudel pastry is a very daunting prospect. This is Nigel's version shown here.

Felicity Cloake, however when she tries to make the perfect apple strudel goes the 'make your own' pastry route.

"Time to roll it up and get it into the oven, alongside a strudel made from exactly the same filling, but with the bought filo. Even an amateur like me can tell the difference immediately: the homemade strudel pastry is soft and elastic while the filo is brittle and papery. Although both are brushed liberally with melted butter before they go into the oven, the Leith version emerges with a far richer flavour. Its inner layers are deliciously gooey with apple juice, in contrast to the obstintely plain filo; in fact, at the risk of boasting, there really is no contest."

I couldn't resist this photograph, which sort of shows how it's done. Such a wonderful old lady.

It's quite a process though, well at least in the Prue Leith version that Felicity Cloake follows, involving dropping your pastry from shoulder height on to your work bench repeatedly for fifteen minutes, resting it, and then stretching it out on a table like the little old lady until you can read through it. Which is perhaps why Nigel Slater doesn't do it:

"Strudel pastry is more a work of art than a piece of cooking. So thin you could, or should, be able to read a newspaper through it, it is not only flour and butter but has an egg in it, too, ensuring it is quite the most difficult of pastries to roll. Actually it is more of a stretch than a roll, and one that must see that the pastry sheet is large enough to cover your entire work surface, yet without so much as a single hole." Nigel Slater

Many will say that holes don't matter, but I'm guessing it becomes a bit of a point of honour not to have any. I suspect, however, that I won't be testing the notion that making your own is a whole world better anytime soon. It's the sort of thing you might do when you really, really have nothing else to do and it's raining outside. This picture is, I'm guessing, of a truly 'authentic' version. It comes from my very old Time-LIfe The Cooking of Vienna's Empire in its Foods of the World series and follows on a two page long description of the pastry chefs in a Vienna pastry shop making the pastry. Note - no additional dried fruit, but a beautifully crispy yet fluffy pastry surround in which you can see every separate layer.

After the pastry there's the filling. I'm not really talking about the apples - although, as I have already said, there is a fair bit of discussion about the best kind to use and how to cut them up as well. I'm not really talking about the spices and the dried fruit - that's more of a matter of personal taste really. I could start with lemon juice - which some say makes it too liquid. And that probably depends on the taste of your apples anyway.

No most of the argument is about breadcrumbs. Many use breadcrumbs sprinkled on the pastry - to absorb some of that excess liquid - some sprinkle the breadcrumbs between the layers of pastry too:

"Breadcrumbs that have the effect of lightening the filling and keeping the pastry layers apart are either de rigueur or verboten, depending on whose "traditional" recipe you believe." Nigel Slater

He is quite right. There is a a fair bit of argument about the breadcrumbs - yes or no - between or on the base - toasted or not - biscuit crumbs instead ... And some, like my starting point recipe, use almond meal or other ground nuts as well. Felicity Cloake though says:

"History and Nigel be damned; I'm going to leave them out."

before deciding on Demerara sugar crystals to sprinkle on the pastry. Which I don't think anybody else does. Her finished version looks pretty good. although I don't really see any layers of pastry - but then most of them look good. You almost can't fail.

I have made apple strudel in the past - with filo pastry of course. I think I have done the breadcrumb thing as well, but yes, my main danger is too much liquid. Which may be the choice of apple - usually Granny Smiths - the addition of lemon and sometimes orange juice - and not enough breadcrumbs or something to soak it up.

Then would you believe they argue about whether it should be served hot from the oven, warm or even cold. Hot I think.

Apple strudel is a dish which deserves respect. If you're going to cheat with the pastry, you may as well go the whole hog and pick one up from your nearest Viennese café. Make your own, and restore a workaday Sara Lee special to the waltzing splendour of her imperial past." Felicity Cloake

I have to say that at the end of all of this I think the Coles Magazine version looks to be one of the best I have seen. That's what caught my eye when I saw it. Like the ancient Time Life one, it had layers of pastry that had separated out - and this was filo pastry I might add. The delish version shown above looks pretty good too - and that's filo pastry as well.

But yes, apple strudel on a rainy day like today is something to drool over.

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