Strudel is not a final destination, it is a journey. Flexibie is the dough as we are pulling it, stretchable is the learning process and threre are endless variation how to make it.
In the last weeks I dived into the strudel subject. It quickly realised that it was an illusion to think that I will find THE recipe for strudel. Strudel is more a general term for different methods, tricks and ways of doing a similar type of dessert. You only use basic ingredients: flour, water, egg, salt, so it theoretically should be simple.
I have been procrastinating to make strudels since years. I knew that one day I am going to cover the kitchen table with the rustic linen tablecloth I inherited with the house and start kneading the dough. I promised myself: one day.
Life is the best director and this ‘one day’ happened to arrive this summer. While I was doing some research in our village I met Teri néni, a wonderful elderly lady who turned out to be a real soul sister. We never run out of subject and she teaches me and inspires me every day as she did as a teacher at school through her complete life. She helped me to understand the real meaning of my Hungarian-Swabian roots and I can thank to her also that I started making strudels. During a conversation she mentioned that she plans baking strudels for her grandchildren and I immediately felt that urge deep inside of me that whispered to me: ‘Now or never’.
I faint-heartedly asked her and was relieved when she agreed me to watch her and help her during the process.
So happened, that on a typical, quiet Sunday morning in the village I was in her kitchen and tried to absorb that magical moment as we were standing around the table- four of us: Teri néni, her two grandsons and I – took the dough into our hands and started pulling it into four directions, slowly, carefully so we don’t tear it.
There are moments in life, which feels so familiar. It seemed this happened already before, although I never pulled a strudel with Teri néni and the boys. Still, it comes so naturally to brush the dough with mangalitsa pork fat, grab a handful of cherries mixed with semolina and sprinkle them on top while listening to Benedek’s stories about a recent trip to Italy. Here I am, in the village where my grandmother once would learn how to make strudel from her mother and the Swabian expressions that Teri néni uses give me a sense of security. Swabian dialect differs village by village and it is a really extraordinary and unique form of the German language. As the last generation who used it slowly passes away, this dialect is also disappearing. Now I really regret that my grandmother didn’t taught it to me.
‘It is not so complicated, don’t worry, I will tell you the general rules and since you speak German it will come easily to you’, says Teri néni, and I am relieved that I will not only have the chance to learn how to make strudel but also the mother’s tongue of my granny.
Because I would like to state that I haven’t learnt making strudel. I am still learning.
There are so many things to consider and try and experiment. It can be pulled and rolled. It is a matter of taste and experience to figure out the right ratio of plain flour and so-called ‘strudel flour’ (the latter can be replaced by strong white bread flour). Some people add vinegar to the dough, some people don’t. We should add as much water to the flour as ‘it takes up’ but we have to find out what it does mean. Some grandmothers add semolina to cherries, others add fine bread crumbs. We can mix semolina/breadcrumbs with the fruit (as Teri néni does) or sprinkle it on top of the dough (as my grandmothers do) Filling can be spread over the dough or can be put in a row. We can add sugar and/or cinnamon to cherries or leave it out and let the taste of the fruit dominate. We can roll up the strudel to one side as my grandmother do, or from two sides, as Teri néni does. We can brush the top with oil, pork fat or milk. And finally we can dust the top with confectioner’s sugar, or just leave it plain.
Strudel needs practice and more importantly: humility. I need to accept if somebody says: ‘it is not like the one my grandmother used to make’. Maybe it never will.
Maybe we need to find our own strudel.
When I first made strudel on my own, I added too much water first, so I need to add more flour to get a kneadable consistency. Next time I added less water, the dough turned out to be too hard and when I wasted time by photographing the process, it broke it while rolling it up.
My grandmother on my mother’s side- who is a wonderful cook, as Taste of Memories readers already know by now- got some of them to taste. She already noticed the imperfections of the dough but she proposed me to teach me how to make her strudels, which doesn’t need to be pulled, but can be rolled out.
‘I can sense your enthusiasm about the subject, so I think I need to pass this knowledge to you, my dear…My version is not so complicated, youngsters nowadays won’t pull the strudel dough on the table..’, she says and I realise that by starting my ‘strudel project’ I will get far more than only a recipe.
For instance, that morning in Teri néni’s kitchen, and another day, when my grandmother at the age of 88, suffering from pains in her legs and hands, is willing to spend the complete day with me in the kitchen.
I am walking on air.
Sour cherry strudel
– result of my first trials, based on my first experiences-
250 g plain flour
250 g ‘strudel flour’ (can be replaced by strong white bread flour)
1 pinch of salt
1 teaspoon of vinegar (optional)
approximately 290 ml warm water
1 tablespoon of butter
60 g fine breadcrumbs
1000 g pitted sour cherries
2 tablespoons of caster sugar
sunflower oil or melted butter or milk for brushing the top of the dough
melted butter or pork fat for sprinkling the dough
a little bit of milk or oil to brush the strudels
Melt butter in a pot and toast breadcrumbs in it, so it gets a light brown colour. Set aside.
Mix the two types of flowers with the pinch of salt. Add egg, water and vinegar (in case you decide to add, it is optional) Knead it well, until it is smooth. Divide the dough into two pieces. Using a sharp knife make a cross cut on top, brush slightly with oil, cover it with a piece of plastic foil and a kitchen towel.
Let it rest for 30 minutes, or until the cross opens up widely. That means that your dough is ready to pull.
Preheat the oven to 180 ºC or 170º with fan. Prepare two baking sheets, brush them with oil or line with baking paper.
I highly recommend to dedicate a tablecloth only for strudel, which is preferably rustic cotton or linen. Cover the table with the tablecloth, dust it properly with flour.
Put one piece of dough into the middle, dust your hands with flour as well and using your knuckles and phalanges slowly start to stretch it until you get a pizza-sized circle. Two or four helping hands can help a lot in this moment. Put it back to the table and stretch it in all directions very carefully to avoid that it breaks. Tear off the thick edges around.
Drizzle some melted butter or pork over the dough, spread with toasted breadcrumbs and decide if you want to put the filling in one row or all over. Sprinkle some sugar and cinnamon on top of the sour cherries. Fold up the edge of the dough on one side and continue rolling it with the help of the tablecloth. Cut the roll into half to fit to your baking sheets. For cutting the best is to use a cover or a blunt knife, because it helps to close the strudel as well.
Place the strudels on the baking sheet, brush the top with melted butter, oil or milk and bake for 20 minutes or until they get a nice golden brown colour. Dust with confectioner’s sugar, if you wish.