16 September 2012

Apple strudel - 'Apfelstrudel'

Apple strudel is an Austrian specialty that is also very popular in southern Germany (and in many other European countries). Unfortunately, all kinds of baked goods containing apples are passed off as apple strudels these days. What makes a strudel a strudel, however, are not the apples (you can also get them filled with quark or other fruit, as well as savoury strudels filled with meat and/or vegetables). Instead, the very particular paper-thin pastry enveloping the filling gives a strudel its character. So Masterchef contestants take note (I have seen this on this favourite TV show of mine before): a bit of chopped apple wrapped and baked in some ready-rolled puff pastry is just that: a bit of chopped apple wrapped and baked in some ready-rolled puff pastry. But it certainly is not an apple strudel! 

The strudel pastry is versatile and actually quite easy to make and use. All it takes is a bit of patience and (as we call it in German) ‘fingertip feel’ to roll and pull the pastry carefully until it is paper-thin. The recipe below makes one strudel that cuts into about 6 thick slices. The filling in my recipe is fairly classical, but endless variations are possible (other good fruit to use are pears, cherries and apricots. You can also add some sweetened quark or rum raisins or you could replace the breadcrumbs with ground nuts of your choice). Traditionally the strudel is served hot with chilled vanilla sauce (like custard just thinner). Whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or Greek yogurt is also great, but decent hot custard would also do very well!

For the strudel pastry:
3 tablespoons melted butter or sunflower oil
125 g flour
1 egg

For the filling:
About 50 g melted butter
3 tablespoons fine dried breadcrumbs
3 large apples
Sugar to taste mixed with cinnamon
A handful of chopped almonds
A handful of raisins

For the pastry combine the flour, butter and egg and then knead vigorously on the kitchen surface for at least 10 minutes. This is very important to ensure that the pastry is elastic enough later to be rolled out and pulled as thinly as possible. Once the pastry is quite elastic cover it in clingfilm and leave to rest in a warm place for about 1 hour. A good way of doing this is to heat up a ceramic bowl with hot water and then dry it and place it upside down on top of the wrapped pastry.

In the meantime prepare the filling. Peel and core the apples and cut them into very thin slices. Roughly chop the almonds and melt the butter.

When the pastry is ready to go sprinkle a large dishtowel with flour and put the ball of pastry in the middle. Roll out the pastry as thinly as possible with a rolling pin on top of the dishtowel. Then use your hands and carefully pull the pastry in all directions until it is so thin that you can see the pattern of the dishtowel through the pastry.  The sheet of pastry should be about 40 by 30 cm big and not much thicker than 1 mm. Now brush the pastry with the melted butter and add the filling. Start with the breadcrumbs and then add the apples. Sprinkle with as much sugar and cinnamon as you like (I use about 80 g of sugar with about half a teaspoon of cinnamon) and add the raisins and nuts. Leave about a 2 cm edge without any filling on the short sides and on one of the long sides of the pastry. Fold the edges of the short sides over the filling to prevent this from spilling out later.

Now roll up the strudel. This is very easily done by just carefully lifting the dishtowel on the long side of the pastry without the edge and the strudel will more or less roll itself up. Transfer the strudel onto a baking sheet (it is best to lift it onto the baking sheet with the dishtowel and then to carefully remove this) covered in baking paper and bake in the preheated oven at 200 degrees Celsius for about 40 minutes.

When the strudel is golden brown remove it from the oven and leave to cool slightly. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve with vanilla sauce or anything else you fancy.

9 September 2012

Marzipan Twist - 'Marzipanzopf'

After a fairly long break I am back and ready to do more baking. We spent an excellent couple of weeks hiking and climbing in the Bavarian/Austrian Alps, mostly in a region called the Allgäu and Tirol. This is one of my favourite holiday destinations, partially because it is connected with a lot of childhood memories and family holidays, but also because the hiking and mountaineering there is amazing. It is a bit touristy, but not too crowded and it is absolutely beautiful. Our base was a sweet little town called Oberstdorf and we also spent a few days in the more famous Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Now I am back in the somewhat less scenic East Midlands (bless!) and slowly getting used to staring at a computer screen again for the majority of my waking hours... From experience I know that in a couple of weeks (or even days) it will feel like I have never even been away, but for the time being a bit of comfort food is called for. My holiday inspired me to bake and cook some regional specialties, such as Apfelstrudel and Germknödel. But the first ‘welcome back’ recipe is a sweet bread filled with marzipan and nuts. The thought of having this for breakfast always helps me get up early in the morning. The recipe makes one large loaf, which also freezes well.

For the bread dough:
500 g plain flour
20 g fresh yeast (or one sachet dry)
250 ml milk
1 egg
60 g butter

For the filling:
200 g marzipan
200 g ground almonds
2 tablespoons amaretto
4 tablespoons crème fraiche
1 egg
1 tablespoon cocoa powder (for colour, optional)

To brush before baking:
1 egg yolk and 2 tablespoons of milk

Put the flour in a bowl. Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm milk and pour on top of the flour. Leave for about 20 minutes. Now add the egg and the melted butter and knead until you have a smooth ball of dough (you can add a bit more flour if it is too sticky, but not too much!). Leave to rise in a bowl covered with a dish towel for about 30 minutes or until it has visibly increased in size. Stretch and fold the dough and leave to rise again.

In the meantime, make the filling. Mix all the ingredients well (I put everything in a food processor and whizzed it until I had a sticky paste). Put aside until the dough is ready.
Roll out the dough to a square about 40 x 40 cm and then cut it in half. Add half of the filling each in a strip down the middle of both rectangles and then fold over the dough from both sides to get two long sausage shapes. Twist the two sausage shapes around each other and put on a baking tray covered in baking paper. Leave to rise while you preheat the oven to about 200 degrees. When the oven is hot brush the bread with the egg and milk mixture and bake for about 40 minutes.