The earliest known written recipe for strudel, dating from 1696, is regarded in Austria as a national treasure, and it's kept under lock and key at the City and State Library of Vienna.
Food historian Charles Perry speculates that fillo, the paper-thin pastry that defines strudel as well as closely related pastries such as baklava, was invented in Istanbul under the Ottoman empire around 1500. Under Suleiman the Magnificent, the empire expanded to reach the gates of Vienna, taking fillo with it. The pastry itself, and the desserts made with it, became known in Austria as strudel and in Hungary as rétes.
In German, the word "strudel" means vortex or whirlpool, referring to the way the pastry is rolled around a filling to form many layers. Apples are the most popular filling in Western Europe today, especially in Austria, while in the Balkans, cherries are a particular favourite. And that original 1696 recipe? It's for Milchrahmstrudel, filled with milk-based custard.
Strudel dough's defining quality is its thinness. Stretching the dough without breaking it is a skill that takes time and patience to perfect. A kitchen table or island bench is a big help, because it will allow you to walk around the dough and stretch it from all sides. When it's thin enough, you should be able to read this text through it. At this point, use a pastry brush and a flicking action to cover the dough with melted butter (brushing the butter on directly can snag and tear the dough). Don't worry, though, if your dough has a few small holes - the results will still taste delicious.
Flaky, buttery strudel, Austria's best-known dessert, owes its existence to Suleiman the Magnificent, writes Lisa Featherby.
- 5 Granny Smith apples, coarsely chopped
- 120 gm fine fresh white breadcrumbs
- 90 gm brown sugar
- 60 gm seedless raisins
- 40 ml golden rum
- 1 tbsp plain flour
- Juice of ½ a lemon
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 50 gm butter, melted
- To serve: vanilla bean ice-cream
- For dusting: pure icing sugar, sieved
- 300 gm "00" flour (see note)
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1For strudel dough, combine flour and 1 tsp salt in a bowl, form a well in the centre, add 200ml lukewarm water, then add oil and stir until dough comes together. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and slightly tacky (8-10 minutes). Place in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat, cover and set aside to rest (1 hour).
- 2Meanwhile, combine apples, breadcrumbs, sugar, raisins, rum, flour, lemon juice and cinnamon in a bowl and toss to combine.
- 3Place dough on a lightly floured sheet or tablecloth on a table or island bench, brush with one quarter of the melted butter and roll out to a 20cm x 30cm rectangle. Gently stretch edges evenly with your hands until dough measures about 90cm x 120cm. Carefully place your hands, palms upwards, under one side of dough and gently pull and stretch, working your way around dough, into a translucent piece about 80cm x 160cm. Trim thick edges with scissors (discard), then dip pastry brush in melted butter and flick half remaining butter over dough. Scatter apple mixture across one short end of dough in a strip about 68cm x 7cm, leaving a 6cm border on long edges. Starting from the apple-covered end, and using the sheet or tablecloth for support, carefully roll dough to form a cylinder. Trim ends and tuck tightly under strudel to seal. Roll onto a piece of baking paper and slide onto a large baking tray. Brush with remaining melted butter and bake until golden and cooked through (25-30 minutes). Dust with icing sugar and serve hot or warm with vanilla ice-cream.
Note "00" flour has a higher gluten content than plain flour and makes a more elastic dough. If it's unavailable, substitute plain flour.