Just before Easter our extended family gathered together for a bittersweet reunion. To say good-bye and celebrate the long and well lived life of our dear Nono. There were a few tears. And many, many happy memories associated with his generosity, wisdom and love. Over an incredibly eventful lifetime spanning over one hundred and one years.
Before too long our reminiscences turned to past family celebrations and food. Our Nana, Nono’s wife, our mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, had been a wonderful cook. One of my favourite and enduring childhood memories is Nana’s apple strudel. Wonderfully flaky and light. Jam packed with apples and scented with lemon. Served hot. Freshly baked from the oven. Our Nono loved that strudel.
Nana’s daughters, my mother and aunt, learnt to cook almost by osmosis. In the kitchen. At her elbow. There were few written recipes those days. It was a matter of making do with whatever was in season and available from the pantry. No Internet and iPad. Family recipes were passed down through the generations practically. Communally. Written recipes were few and far between. Many were closely guarded family secrets.
This week-end I thought it was high time I baked an Apple Strudel myself. A first step in passing on the recipe to my daughters. The next generation. They adore their grandma’s strudel. Fortunately, I had previously interrogated both my mother and Aunt. At length. About the ins and outs of strudel making. My mother swears that the addition of a little cider vinegar makes the dough wonderfully elastic and smooth. My aunt insists the banging or throwing of the dough onto the kitchen bench while kneading at least one hundred times makes the pastry light and flaky.
Here is my version of Apple Strudel. I’m handing down the baton. Through the generations. In honour of my Nana. Using my mother’s suggestion of the addition of cider vinegar. And my aunt’s technique of throwing down and banging the dough on the kitchen bench. A technique which I found strangely satisfying and therapeutic.I was very happy with the end result. A gloriously golden Apple Strudel. Crisp,light and flaky. Plump and delicious. Perhaps Nana and Nono were watching over me. Willing me to succeed.
For The Dough
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup warm water
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
110g butter, melted
40g butter,melted, extra
For the Apple Mixture
6 large green granny smith apples
1/2 cup castor sugar
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons golden rum
3 tablespoons raisins
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
For the Breadcrumb Mixture
1 cup white breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
Prepare the Strudel Dough
SIFT flour into a bowl, make a well in the centre of dry ingredients and add egg and oil. Stir with a wooden spoon to incorporate.
COMBINE water and vinegar in a jug. Gradually add to the flour mixture. Using your hands mix to a soft dough.
TURN OUT onto a lightly floured work surface; knead to a ball.
PICK UP the dough and throw it down onto lightly floured surface at least 100 times.
KNEAD again for 5 minutes. The more the dough is thrown and kneaded the lighter it will be.
FORM the dough into a ball and place into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover and stand in warm place for at least an hour.
Prepare the Filling
MIX together the rum and raisins in a small bowl. Set aside for 15 minutes.
PEEL, core and slice apples thinly. Place apple slices into a bowl with sugar, lemon juice and vanilla; mix well. Cover bowl and allow to stand for 1 hour.
MELT 30g butter in a pan, add bread crumbs and stir over low heat until golden brown. Allow to cool and then mix the bread crumbs and brown sugar together.
SQUEEZE apples and place in a colander to drain any excess liquid.
COMBINE drained apples, nutmeg, cinnamon and lemon zest with the rum and raisins in a large bowl. Mix lightly to combine.
Assemble and Bake the Strudel
PREHEAT oven to 200 C. Line a large oven tray with baking paper.
COVER a large kitchen or dining room table with a clean cloth, rub flour over surface. Roll out the dough with a rolling-pin as far as it goes .
FLOUR your hands remembering to remove any rings. Slip them under the dough, then start pulling the dough from the centre with the back of your hands to stretch it. It’s best to tuck your fingers under the palms of your hands to avoid puncturing the dough. Do this gently and carefully.
CONTINUE stretching dough until it is paper-thin. I like to stretch it out to a rectangle measuring about 80cm x 60 cm. Trim any thicker edges with a sharp knife.
BRUSH the entire surface of the stretched pastry with 110g melted butter.
SPRINKLE combined breadcrumbs and brown sugar over half the pastry.
SPOON the prepared apple mixture along one of the short ends of the pastry, about 5cm in from the edge.
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, tucking in the sides of the pastry as you roll.
CAREFULLY lift the strudel into a prepared baking sheet . Curve it into a horseshoe shape to fit. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter.
BAKE the strudel in a hot 200 C oven 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, dusted with icing sugar. Strudel is best eaten on the day it is baked.