Strudel di Mele
By Gina DePalma
I remember vividly the first time I ever watched strudel dough being pulled. A master baker took a ball of dough the size of a tennis ball and stretched it to cover a banquet table, hanging it over the edge like a cloth. He slipped the page of a book underneath it and we could read every word. I almost started crying. And instantly felt overwhelmed.
Eventually I was able to pull some strudel dough myself and I learned that it is quite a lot of fun, if you have the time, the space and the inclination to practice. I confess that those three elements never seem to come together so often these days, but I still love to make a strudel. It reminds me of some of my favorite pastry shops in Italy.
That’s right, I said Italy. “Lo strudel” is a much-loved pastry in Italy, and a local specialty in the northernmost regions of the Veneto, and in the neighboring regions of Friuli Venezia-Giulia and Trentino Alto-Adige. The proximity to Germany and Austria is responsible for strudel’s spread southward, and throughout the Veneto it is a sweet favorite for breakfast or an afternoon snack with a shot of espresso “corretto,” with a dash of local grappa.
Buying an authentic strudel made with hand-pulled dough is much easier than making it for sure, but I’ve found that phyllo dough helps me cheat my way to an easier version. If you’ve already worked with phyllo you’ll be familiar with some of the techniques involved, but all it takes is a little practice to get comfy with the wafer-thin leaves of dough.
Phyllo is more delicate than strudel dough because it lacks the elasticity and moisture. The trick to using it for strudel is to overlap two sheets in the middle and build up enough buttery layers to withstand rolling them around the filling. Be sure to keep your dough covered with a damp cloth or plastic to prevent it from drying out. A box of frozen phyllo dough will keep nicely in your freezer, perfect for making an impromptu strudel when the fruit calls out to you. I used apple here, to echo the apples of the Val di Non, just one example of Trentino’s bounty.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a large, heavy, rimmed sheet tray with parchment paper and brush it with melted butter. Peel, core and thinly slice the apples and place them in a large bowl. Toss them with a few squirts of fresh lemon juice. Add the raisins, 3 T. sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, vanilla and heavy cream. Set the filling aside.
Unroll the thawed package of phyllo dough and cover the top lightly with a damp towel. Lay a single sheet lengthwise on a large, clean surface and brush the entire surface with the melted butter. Lay another sheet next to it, overlapping the edges in the middle by 1 inch. Add another sheet on top, overlapping the middle edge, and brush it with butter, then laying another sheet next to it in the same manner and brushing it with butter. You will make a total of four layers of two sheets, next to each other and overlapping one inch, each brushed with butter.
Sprinkle the final, buttered layer with a teaspoon of granulated sugar. Arrange the filling like a snake along the bottom edge of the phyllo leaving a one-inch border. Gently and quickly roll the phyllo over and around the filling like a cigar. Pinch the ends down to seal them and transfer the strudel to the baking sheet.
Brush the entire surface of the strudel with melted butter and sprinkle it lightly with granulated sugar. Bake the strudel for 45 minutes until it is golden brown.
Cool the strudel on the baking sheet for an hour. To serve, cut slices with a serrated knife and sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.
Makes 8 servings.