My Grandmother Svec was a formidable cook. She could size up the day’s larder at a glance, start lunch and dinner for twenty, then spend the day in the vineyards clipping grapes, before returning ahead of us to get the food on the table. The best part of her cooking was her baking. She was a master of the flaky or yeasty fruit-filled concoctions that are a Czech trademark, and she baked in such quantity that it all seemed to happen in a blur – flour would fly, dough would be plumped and in minutes something mouthwatering was coming out of the oven. I learned a high standard of quality in cooking from her, as well as a predilection for doing things at top speed at all times. Her apple strudel was the favorite sweet among the extended family, and my mother, the youngest, became the keeper of the apple strudel recipe.
Mom was not big on sharing the recipe around for a long time; she even kept it from one of her own sisters, but that was a fraught relationship, and the strudel recipe was a symptom, not a cause of the problem. When I told her I wanted to write a post with the apple strudel recipe, I wasn’t sure she’d agree. My mom is eighty, and doesn’t understand anything about the internet, emails, or smart phones, and she certainly doesn’t know what a blog is, despite the fact that we’ve shown her America’s Table. But she agreed to let me use it, and I think you’re going to like it.
These old recipes are useful today because l.) they are fast and simple (nobody had time to fritter away three hours on a dessert when there was so much other work to be done) 2.) they have few ingredients and they are likely to already be found in the kitchen and 3.) the ingredients are usually unprocessed and therefore healthier.
In honor of Mom’s apple strudel recipe, I want to offer a chance to win three months’ worth of delicious Red Jacket Orchards’ apples. Each month for three months the lucky winner will receive a dozen crispy Empire, Red Delicious, or Crispin apples. They will be sent to your home directly from Red Jacket Orchards in Geneva, New York. All you have to do is submit a question to me about food, flowers, or formalities!
Makes two ten-inch strudels
Prep time: one hour, including time for pre-cooked apples to cool
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- 8-10 apples, thinly sliced
- 1 and ½ cup sugar and cinnamon, mixed together
- ½ cup chopped walnuts
- ½ cup graham cracker crumbs
- zest of two lemons
- Optional: ½ cup golden raisins
- 6 tablespoons butter, cut into fine pieces
- pie crust dough for two pie crusts
- For 2 pie crusts:
- 4 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 1 and 1/3 cup chilled unsalted butter
- 8-10 tablespoons ice water
- Using a mixer with a paddle attachment, combine flour, salt and sugar on low speed for 30 seconds. Cut the chilled butter into ½-inch cubes. Add butter to the flour mixture and combine on low speed for a minute, until mixture is crumbly, with bits of pea-sized dough.
- Add ice water, I tablespoon at a time, mixing on low speed for ten seconds after each tablespoon. Dough should begin to clump in a ball. Mold dough in a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.
OR you can buy premade pastry dough and use that instead of making the crust from scratch. I’m not a snob about these things.
- Remove chilled dough from freezer and roll out on a floured board to create an oblong shape. Roll out as thinly as possible while still keeping dough easy to move.
- Gently fold dough in half, and half again, and move to a silicon-covered baking sheet.
- Cut apples into diced pieces and put in ovenproof baking dish. Sprinkle with 2/3 of the cinnamon and sugar mixture and 4 tablespoons of butter.
- Bake in preheated 375 degree oven for ten minutes, stirring fruit every 3 or 4 minutes. Remove from oven and allow apples to cool.
- Strain excess liquid from apples. (The point of pre-cooking the apples is to remove some of the liquid that might later soak the pastry when the strudel is baking – a trick learned from White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier, and not part of the original family recipe.)
- Unwrap dough on baking sheet and gently pile cooled apple mixture in middle of dough. Add graham cracker crumbs, walnuts, and bits of butter.
- Sprinkle lemon zest on top of mixture. Bring the edges of the strudel into the middle of the apple mixture, folding one edge on top of the other until the apples are completely covered. Use a drop or two of water to hold edges of dough together, if necessary.
- Bake for 35 minutes, until light golden brown. Slice and serve while still warm. Good with vanilla ice cream.