Wednesday, May 27, 2009

May Daring Baker's Challenge: Apple Strudel

Greetings from California, where I am staying with my sister and her amazing bug hunting kitty. This entry is brought to you by sunshine and good produce, which are handy little things not found in Ohio. Next Monday I will be back in Alaska and I can write and bake more regularly. Until then: Daring Bakers!

This month's challenge for the Daring Bakers was something I probably would never make on my own: apple strudel. When I visited Joe in Austria last summer, we went to a bakery where we saw a young German woman flip out a six-foot-long paper thin sheet of strudel in about 90 seconds while looking slightly bored. It was amazing and something that did not look capable of mortals. Young Austrian bakers are not mortals, clearly. How else could their hair be so naturally blonde?

So when I first saw this challenge, I immediately thought TIME and LACK OF COUNTER SPACE. Each challenge is announced at the end of the previous month, and at this time last month I was finishing finals and we were beginning to move out of apartment. In the midst of moving and cramming for finals, I had neither time or counter space. Not like we even HAD counter space to begin with-- what college student does?

But I decided to do it anyway as best as I could and it worked better than I imagined. We were allowed to make any strudel filling we wanted but since I already had no idea what I was doing with the dough, I just did an apple strudel. I had Joe help me to stretch and roll the dough to Austrian approved thinness and efficiency and I'm really glad I had help, this would be a lot harder without a partner. With it though, it wasn't too bad.

Would I make this again? No, probably not. It was easier than I thought but was still way more trouble than it's worth, I think. Then again, I don't really like crust and strudel is all about that flaky, crusty strudel thing, eh? I did LOVE the apple filling I made up but that does not require strudel. Also, peeling and cutting 900 lbs of apples gets tiring quickly. Unless I wanted to charm my German ancestors, I wouldn't make this again. But your great aunt Nannerl would be duly impressed.

I think the best part of this challenge was that I got to abuse my sub-par, high school level German all day. "Ja, ich habe eine apfelstrudel?!? Meine apfelstrudel ist lecker, nein?!? Erm... super! Fantastisch? JA!!" Luckily, most Germans speak English better than I do and I had no problem getting across what I wanted in Germany and Austria. Bless Europeans.

So let's make some apple strudel, nein?

Blurb-o-the-month: The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

First I made the dough. Do not be afraid, prettys. Just grab a partner and when in doubt, leave the dough to rest if it's not doing what you want it to do. Here's the strudel recipe:

Apple strudel

Strudel dough
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.
Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.
Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.
Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.

4. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.


Here is your efficient, paper thin strudel dough with a creepy hand lurking underneath. Fantastisch!

All right, while it was resting I made the filling. Use whatever filling you want, really, sweet or savory. I kind of came up with my own thing, subbing matzo meal for bread crumbs and cooking the apples before baking. Here's the filling recipe we were given:

Apple Strudel Filling

from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

2 tablespoons (30 ml) golden rum
3 tablespoons (45 ml) raisins
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (80 g) sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick / 115 g) unsalted butter, melted, divided
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) fresh bread crumbs
strudel dough (recipe below)
1/2 cup (120 ml, about 60 g) coarsely chopped walnuts
2 pounds (900 g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch-thick slices (use apples that hold their shape during baking)

1. Mix the rum and raisins in a bowl. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in another bowl.

2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the breadcrumbs and cook whilst stirring until golden and toasted. This will take about 3 minutes. Let it cool completely.

3. Put the rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a large baking sheet with baking paper (parchment paper). Make the strudel dough as described below. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter over the dough using your hands (a bristle brush could tear the dough, you could use a special feather pastry brush instead of your hands). Sprinkle the buttered dough with the bread crumbs. Spread the walnuts about 3 inches (8 cm) from the short edge of the dough in a 6-inch-(15cm)-wide strip. Mix the apples with the raisins (including the rum), and the cinnamon sugar. Spread the mixture over the walnuts.

4. Fold the short end of the dough onto the filling. Lift the tablecloth at the short end of the dough so that the strudel rolls onto itself. Transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet by lifting it. Curve it into a horseshoe to fit. Tuck the ends under the strudel. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter.

5. Bake the strudel for about 30 minutes or until it is deep golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Use a serrated knife and serve either warm or at room temperature. It is best on the day it is baked.


Here is my naked, unbaked strudel. I think I rolled this a bit too tight, my filling exploded a little bit. But you cut it up anyways so that will be our little secret, ja? THE GERMANS MUST NEVER KNOW.

And here is the finished product, all crisp-like and hot. And cleverly photographed as to not show the shameful burst bits. I think I could've let it bake a little longer, even though I left it in longer than it said to. It could be a bit more golden brown, I think.

In spite of everything, it was tasty and I enjoyed this challenge. I mostly picked at the filling throughout the days but at this point we didn't have much food left in our dwindling kitchen and I think there were a few days in which Brian survived solely on strudel. There are worse things for a poor college student to eat.

Ich bin ein Auslander und spreche nicht gut deutsch. Bitte langsam, bitte langsam, bitte spreche sie doch langsam. What? Fun challenge, can't wait until next month when I actually have a kitchen again!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Is it caramel? Is it toffee? It is... delicious.

First off, Happy Mother's Day this Sunday! Cheers to my mommy and grandmamas. My mom was bugging me for a blog update so this can be part one of her present. The rest will arrive later.

Sorry for the lack of updates recently. My finals were last week so I was either studying, feeling bad about not studying or trying to not have a panic attack prior to the finals. Which doesn't allow much time for baking. Not many more updates the rest of this month either: after today I'll be traveling, moving and will be on vacay until June! I already did the Daring Bakers challenge which I'll post on the 27th so check back for that.

Joe and I are taking a mini trip to Washington, D.C this week. I've never been and Joe has a family friend there and hence: mini trip. We decided to bring hostess gifts to Joe's friends so Joe made bread and I was assigned to make something sweet. My options were kind of limited, we've packed most of my baking supplies except for cookie sheets. Cookies seemed kind of boring though so I pulled out The Sweet Life for unique ideas.

The Sweet Life has tons of unique (and delicious) dessert recipes, including a few candy recipes that I had yet to try. After narrowing down the list of things that can be made in a baking sheet, Joe convinced me to try the almond honey caramel chews. Despite the fact that we had neither honey or almonds. But dreams cannot be deterred! As long as you have $15 to spend on the extra supplies.

These were fairly easy to make, especially if you've made caramels before. These were a little different than anything I've made though because you make the caramel in pot over the oven (traditional), pour it into a pan (yawn) and then BAKE it. Odd. It worked though. Well, I'm not sure what worked because I'm not sure what putting them in the oven accomplishes. But um, they turned out.

These were good but need tweaking, I think. If I were to make them again, I would cook the caramel a little longer but I like a chewier caramel. I would also add more salt (maybe even on top, a la sea salt caramels), add vanilla and not add the two full sticks of butter. My candies came out greasy so I would definitley scale back on the butter, maybe even only one. Yes, ONLY ONE STICK and several cups of heavy cream. Practically diet food.

This would make a great holiday gift though because it's fairly simple, yummy and makes a TON. You could switch up the nuts too, I would do with pecans because I luuuuurve pecans. Pecans are really the only nut I like, actually. Other nuts I find kind of 'meh' with peanuts (though this technically not a nut, eh? Why not call it the 'pealegume' if its actually a legume, scientists?) and brazil nuts at the bottom of the list. Brazil nuts are just wrong, they are what I imagine bits of hardwood floor taste like. The most disturbing part is that despite that they taste like stale wood chips, I occasionally still crave them. Welcome to my brain. It is a strange place.

For the first time, I actually found the recipe online so I don't feel bad about posting it and you can all enjoy the deliciousness that is The Sweet Life. Check out the recipe here.

I will leave you with this Brian quote before I leave to tide you over.
BJ: Food-- the number one import into Brian's mouth.
Me: .... what's the number two import?
BJ: You don't want to know. *long awkward silence* Dirt. The number two import to Brian's mouth is dirt.

I crave wood chips, Brian apparently eats dirt... we're a household of people suffering from pica.