Apple strudel is without a doubt the most famous German dessert outside of Germany. I am well aware that it is the pride of Vienna and credit for it should rather go to Austria rather than to Germany. But even the Austrians didn’t invent this dish. The only thing they did was to refine it.
The apple strudel was originally invented in Hungary. The royal cooks there learned how to prepare the thin pastry from the Turks who occupied Hungary during the 17th century. The first written evidence of a dish called apple strudel dates back to 1696.
Strudel doesn’t necessarily have to be a sweet dish. The name literally translates to ‘swirl’ or ‘whirlpool’. Any filling that is rolled inside a thin layer of pastry can be considered a strudel. It doesn’t even have to be baked. In Southern Germany, there’s a popular variety called ‘Brätstrudel’ which is basically a sausage stuffing that is wrapped in German pancakes and boiled. If you’d like to try another popular savory variety of strudel, you can check out my recipe for spinach strudel.
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Stretching the strudel dough takes a bit of practice
This recipe for apple strudel uses the traditional strudel dough which is pulled apart until paper-thin. It takes some skill to stretch the dough so it doesn’t tear and I only prepare a very small amount of strudel dough. If you’ve never prepared strudel dough before, you might want to prepare a double batch of dough. There is no room for error if the dough tears apart or if you can’t get it thin enough. It’s better to play it safe if you’re not confident about your strudel stretching skills.
If you can’t be bothered to make the dough yourself, you can simply use puff pastry or filo dough. I think puff pastry is a bit more luxurious and much more common in Germany than filo dough. So I would go with that if I’d be given the choice.
The filling for apple strudel is very simple. You don’t need to precook anything. It’s best to use a tart apple variety that retains some structural integrity after baking. I really like Belle de Boskoop apples but you can use any tart apple variety that you prefer.
It’s very important that you don’t omit the breadcrumbs in the filling. They will soak up the juices from the apples and prevent your dough from getting soggy. I know that some people don’t like rum-soaked raisins but I think they are essential for good taste. However, you can omit them if you’re a raisin hater.
How to serve your apple strudel
Don’t be disappointed if the strudel dough doesn’t look very shiny when you take it out of the oven. It is traditionally not brushed with egg wash but with melted butter. However, that doesn’t matter as the finished strudel will be dusted with powdered sugar. So you won’t see any of that pale crust.
Apple strudel can be served in many ways. I don’t really need anything with it but whipped cream is a very nice and simple condiment. In Germany, it’s also very common to serve it with vanilla sauce. Vanilla ice cream goes nicely with warm apple strudel as well.
75 g (2.65 ounces) white soft wheat flour or all-purpose flour (German Type 450 or 550)
38 g (1.35 ounces) water
6 g (0.21 ounces) canola oil
a small pinch of salt
For the filling:
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
3 medium-sized tart apples, peeled and cut into small pieces (about 1.2 pounds (550 g))
1/2 cup rum-soaked raisins
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
salt, to taste
For assembling and baking the strudel:
3 tablespoons melted butter, for brushing
powdered sugar, for dusting
Prepare the strudel dough:
In a mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients for the dough. For such a small amount of dough, it’s best to knead it by hand. Knead the dough for 10-15 minutes. You need to develop a strong gluten network so that the dough won’t tear when you pull it out. Generously oil the surface of your kneaded dough and cover with plastic wrap. Let it rest for at least 30 minutes at room temperature.
Prepare the filling:
Heat the butter over medium heat in a small nonstick pan. Add the bread crumbs and toast them in the hot butter until lightly golden, about 3-4 minutes.
In a mixing bowl, combine the bread crumbs, apples, raisins, sugar, lemon juice, and cinnamon. Season the filling with a touch of salt and adjust to your desired sweetness and acidity level by adding extra lemon juice or sugar.
Assemble your strudel:
Preheat your oven to 320°F (160 °C) on the convection setting.
You will need a large work surface covered with kitchen towels to stretch out the dough. Lightly flour the kitchen towels, then take your dough and roll it out with a rolling pin as thin as possible. Pick up the dough with your knuckles and rotate it around in a circular motion as if stretching out pizza dough. The dough needs to be stretched out as thin as paper. It needs to be transparent. You should be able to read a newspaper through it. Stop stretching out your dough just before it is about to break. Place it back on your kitchen towels and stretch the sides with your hands to shape it into a rectangle. Brush generously with melted butter.
Spread out the filling on top of your dough in one even layer. Roll the dough into one large roll as if making cinnamon rolls. You do that by lifting the dough from the back with your kitchen towel. Lightly wet the edge pieces of the dough with water to seal your strudel. Carefully pick it up with your hands and transfer the strudel to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Generously brush the strudel again with melted butter before baking.
Bake your strudel:
Bake your strudel in the middle rack of your pre-heated oven for about 45 minutes, or until the crust is lightly golden and crisp. It will take a long time for the crust to develop because at first, the moisture from the filling will steam the crust before it can crisp-up.
Take your baked strudel out of the oven and brush it with melted butter. Generously sprinkle the strudel with powdered sugar while still hot. Let it rest for at least 20 minutes before slicing. The crust will lose some of its crispiness while the strudel rests. If that’s an issue for you, then you can place the individual pieces back in the oven for 5 minutes to crisp them back up before serving. Apple strudel can be eaten warm or cold. Serve it plain or with vanilla sauce and cream on the side.