Hooray for apple season! Perhaps you’ve already hopped over to your local orchard for some fantastic fall pick-your-own. If so, you probably have apple pie on the brain. Apple pies are beloved. There’s no doubt about that. This is America, after all. (Have you ever thought about why the saying is “American as apple pie” but cinnamon, the other significant ingredient, is native to a very special island all the way out in the Indian Ocean? Just a little food for thought.) Anyway, today I thought I’d take you out of your apple comfort zone. Give you a break from pie. Put apple crisp on hold. Let applesauce go on sabbatical. Today I implore you to make a new apple friend. Hello my name is…strudel!
Perhaps you’re familiar with strudel. If you gravitate towards burritos and swaddled babies you’ve probably already made space in your heart for the pretty, swirly fruit pastry. A slice of strudel is a real treat. An indulgence that goes so nicely with coffee...ideally in a picturesque café, on a European vacation, seated next to a loved one. They’re pretty great at home too. Not to mention, they’re easy to put together, impressive to behold, and cute as a button, all wrapped up and cozy. Oh, and yum, of course!
But let me back up a bit. I’m talking faux strudel today. I think you know by now that I’m a from scratch kind of girl. I’m not one for dishonesty. (I still feel guilty about cheating on a geography test a million years ago.) But strudel is just begging for cheaters. Really. Let me tell you a little story.
Chef Alain was my pastry chef instructor in culinary school. He was the real deal. Big, scary, and French. (Frahnsh.) He took great pleasure in berating students for their subpar skills on a regular basis. But I liked Alain. If you watched him carefully while he was doling out mean words, you could see a little sparkle in his eye. And after the missiles stopped firing, if tears hadn’t clouded your vision and you dared to hold his gaze for a second longer, you could catch a little smile or a wink. All his bark was just for show. Tough loving. Strengthening us for the real world of cooking, which can be brutal. (So they say. I’ve stayed safely tucked away in magazine test kitchens where the toughest thing anyone says is, “Hey, are you going to eat that?”) Once I figured that out about Chef Alain, we got along. We were a part of the same dough-worshipping tribe after all. I liked him even more because, in addition to the regular curriculum, he helped me take on extra dessert challenges during class. Real homemade strudel topped my list.
Oy yoy yoy. I don’t even know where to begin. My first strudel dough attempt was what an Austrian grandmother would call eine katastrophe. Chef Alain was right by my side throughout the whole ordeal. He watched me make a dense dough ball, smack it around to develop the gluten, and then try and coax it out to the appropriate size. How big is that you ask? Technically, this puny grapefruit-sized mound should have stretched out to cover a 6 person dinner table. Paper thin, mind you, and tears in the dough are frowned upon. I was lucky to get my dough stretched out to about the size of a medium pizza. Chef Alain and I tugged at it, cursed, swiped sweat from our respective brows, and begged it to cooperate. It didn’t. I think I heard it growl. It definitely laughed at us. In the end we just caved. We slapped a few cherries in the thing, rolled it up into an unattractive slug-like monstrosity, baked it off, and called it a day. It tasted like it looked. Chef Alain, with all his expertise, couldn't save my dessert. On that day, the score was Strudel: 1 Sam: 0 and the defeat left a small scar on my soul.
That is, until I discovered store-bought phyllo dough. (Those Austrian grandmothers out there are really shaking their heads now.) Phyllo, which means “leaf” in Greek, are ready-made, paper-thin sheets of pastry. No dough coaxing necessary. A few swipes of melted butter or coconut oil between each piece and you’re good to go. These days, I’m strudeling up a storm. Oodles of strudels! They’re so simple. For this week’s doodle, I layered the dough with chopped pecans, buttery breadcrumbs, tart and sweet apple slices, cherries, and cinnamon. Wrap up the whole kit and kaboodle and guess what you’ve got? Ein triumph.
Apple Cherry Strudel
For the filling:
1 tablespoons butter or coconut oil, melted
3/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 1/2 pounds mixed apples, peeled, cored, and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 pound sweet cherries, pitted and halved (I used thawed, frozen cherries)
1/2 cup packed granulated sugar
1 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans, divided
For the pastry:
6 (11 1/2 ” x 15”) sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed but cold
7 tablespoons butter or coconut oil, melted
1. Preheat oven to 425°. Make the filling: In a large skillet, toss breadcrumbs with butter and cook over medium, stirring occasionally until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Set aside to cool. In a large bowl, toss together apples, cherries, sugar, lemon juice, and cinnamon.
2. To assemble: Lay 1 sheet of phyllo on a clean work surface, keeping remaining sheets covered with a piece of plastic wrap and a dish towel. Lightly brush with butter. Top with a second sheet of phyllo, brush with butter, and sprinkle with half the pecans. Repeat with 2 more sheets of phyllo and remaining pecans, and then top with remaining 2 sheets of phyllo, brushing each with butter.
3. Spread breadcrumb mixture lengthwise along center leaving 2” border on the short ends. Top with apple mixture. Without folding too tight, wrap phyllo over filling, gently securing the end under the roll. Tuck each edge under. Brush the outside of the roll with butter. Using a paring knife, cut 3 small vents in the top, and then carefully transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
3. Bake until golden brown and crackly, about 28 to 35 minutes. Set aside to let cool slightly on the baking sheet. To serve, dust with confectioners’ sugar.