Making this apple strudel has been a bit of a labour of love this week. I adore a good apple strudel, ever since a weekend trip to Saltzburg many years ago where we seemed to eat nothing else but carb rich meat and dumplings, always followed by a bounteous portion of apple strudel. I remember stopping by a bakery on the way to airport to buy one last slice which we ate in the taxi, pastry flaking from our lips and the sweetly spiced apple sending us home with happy smiles and full bellies.
For the past couple of months I have been craving an apple strudel. We ate out at Fischers in Marylebone and although I gazed longingly at the strudel on the menu it was during a bout of horrible morning sickness when my appetite had completely gone off anything with sugar. A few weeks later I was excited to spot a huge wodge of strudel nestled on one of the cake stalls so I treated myself. But oh, it was a mistake, as the strudel was not good. The pastry was tasteless and flabby and the apple filling required a good more kick of spice and sugar. To make matters worse the apple inside had been sliced without peeling. There is nothing worse than having to pick bits of stray peel out of your teeth when you are supposed to be enjoying dessert. However this experience made me decide one thing. I had to make myself some apple strudel at the nearest opportunity.
The thing is I have never made filo pastry before and yes I know you can buy it and usually I would be happy to succumb to such shortcuts but after reading Felicity Cloake’s How to Make the Perfect Apple Strudel she insisted that making your own was not only easier than you would imagine but definitely worth the effort. I took her word for it and with memories of the contestants from the Great British Bake Off slamming their pastry around the tent to much drama I cleared a good space in the kitchen for the task.
It certainly wasn’t as easy as I had hoped. The ingredients aren’t too difficult, just a bit of flour, melted butter, warm water and a pinch of salt and sugar. However, I must have added far too much liquid to my first batch as it was rendered completely unmanageable for anything other that gluing my fingers together and sealing my work top with an unyielding paste which took about half an hour to clean away. I tried a second batch, not including all the liquid, so it was lovely and smooth and after flinging it around the kitchen for 15 minutes I left it to rest. However, when it came to rolling it out it refused to stretch out to the requisite size, either meaning the pastry was too dry or I hadn’t worked it enough. After the third try, by which time Billy Buddy was completely covered in errant pastry and Wesley had sloped away appalled by my uncharacteristic violence, I had been kneading and slamming for most of the afternoon. I think third time was the charm though as it did stretch out considerably better, and it was just about transparent enough to see newspaper print through which is the ultimate test.
After it had been filled, rolled and baked the finished result hit every spot. I don’t think my pastry would quite hold its own against the traditional delights of Austria without more practice but it was crisp and flaky on top without being too soggy in the middle, although a little give couldn’t be helped due to the moisture in my filling. And the filling was indeed delicious, I ate a fair amount of it raw whilst going through my various batches of pastry and it was even pretty good then. I made sure it had plenty of sugar but also to counteract it a tang of tartness from the sour cherries. I used granny smith and russet apples, both of which keep their form well during cooking and go together beautifully. Almonds toasted in butter and honey then ground to a crumb were used to sprinkle over the pastry before the filling is added to soak up some of the moisture and help to avoid sogginess.
I ate my strudel with a large helping of vanilla ice cream, craving satiated and put to bed for now.
Apple and Sour Cherry Strudel
Makes 2 strudels, each serving about 6 each
For the pastry:
300g plain flour
125 ml warm water
2 teaspoons melted butter, plus more for brushing
A pinch of salt
1 teaspoon caster sugar
For the filling:
800g apples (about 3 granny smiths and 3 russets)
Zest of 1 lemon
75g sour cherries, soaked overnight in juice of 1 orange
75g soft light brown sugar
1 teaspoon mixed spice
70g flaked almonds
1 teaspoon honey
Icing sugar for dusting
- Place the flour in a bowl and make a well in the centre.
- In a jug mix together the water, egg, melted butter, salt, and sugar then pour enough of these liquid ingredients into the centre of the flour until you achieve a soft and pliable dough. You don’t need to add all the liquid ingredients and the dough should not be too sticky that it sticks horribly to your hand.
- From here, knead the dough until soft, elastic, and well-combined then when the dough starts to get more elastic you can hold the pastry at shoulder height and slam down onto the work surface repeatedly until the dough loses all its stickiness and becomes extremely elastic. It should take between 20-30 minutes.
- Let the dough rest covered in cling film for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile toast the almonds in 20g of the butter and the honey and then grind them in a food processor until they resemble fine breadcrumbs and set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine the sour cherries, sugar, mixed spice and lemon zest. Peel and core the apples, and chop them into thin slices, then place immediately in the bowl as well. Set aside whilst you roll out the pastry.
- Pre-heat the oven to 180°C and line a large baking tray with baking parchment.
- Divide the pastry into two. Roll the first ball of pastry to a rectangle of roughly 30 x 40cm where it should be pretty transparent. Do use your fingers to stretch out the pastry as well as your rolling pin, being careful not to rip the pastry.
- Brush melted butter all over the surface of the pastry.
- Scatter half of the ground almonds evenly over the pastry, leaving a border of about 1½ inches.
- Place half of the apple mixture over the ground almonds and gently fold the pastry from one of the short sides and continue to roll the pastry up tightly but carefully so the pastry doesn’t break. Fold the ends underneath and place the strudel on the baking tray.
- Melt the remaining 20g of butter and brush all over the strudel.
- Repeat the process with the second roll of pastry and filling to create another strudel.
- Bake the strudels for 25-30 minutes when the top should be golden brown.
- Let cool slightly, then transfer to a baking rack and serve with icing sugar liberally sieved over the top.