Apple strudel doesn’t sound very Italian – or so you might think. The funny thing about Europe is that countries that are close to the borders of other countries take on the cuisine of their neighbours. They share the same climate therefore grow similar produce. My father was born in Istria, now in Croatia and my mother was born in Veneto. Both regions formed part of the Austro-Hungarian empire at one stage so it makes sense that some things that we think of as Austrian might also be found further south in Italy. Not only does mamma make sauerkraut with Speck and iota (which is a type of bean soup) but she makes a divine apple strudel.
The pastry of mamma’s strudel is made with olive oil and so can be stretched to be so thin that you can almost see through it. I had searched the internet some time back for a recipe and the only one that I found that was remotely close to hers was Croatian. It fascinates me how something that I thought was Austrian, made by my Italian mother is similar to a Croatian recipe online! Mamma’s strudel is filled with grated fresh apples, sultanas soaked in grappa, pine nuts, lemon zest and cocoa powder and then rolled up to form a narrow roll that is shaped like a giant horse shoe prior to baking.
Mamma always makes two strudels – one to give to friends/family and one to keep at home. Strudels were made when there was a celebration. After my parents retired, my father used to help my mother make strudel by peeling and coring the apples (14 large ones for the two strudels) while she grated them. Last weekend mamma wanted to make apple strudel for a big family lunch we were having at my sister’s house. It was a lunch in celebration of what would have been my father’s 91st birthday. Regular readers will know he passed away a few months ago. He loved apple strudel so it was only fitting that she make it for his birthday.
On the weekend I went to her place to help her make strudel and write down the recipe (which was all in her head!). Taking the place of my father, I cored and peeled the apples while she grated. We listened to music and drank coffee while we worked away. I watched her make strudel and she let me make the second one under her watchful eye. She gave me lots of tips when stretching the pastry with a rolling pin, scattering the filling and then rolling up the strudel with the help of a tea towel. The rolling was not the tricky part, it was getting the completed strudel on the tray without breaking it! She managed to do it easily – she has made strudel so many dozens of times. She wouldn’t let me do it either – she said my hands weren’t big enough. Before going into the oven, she brushed the strudel with beaten egg yolk to make it shiny once it is cooked.
So here is the recipe – written down for the first time, with years of love poured into it. It is lovely served with a dollop of cream on the side and a cup of coffee, or you could have it as we did with a glass of sweet and sticky Sicilian wine.
Livia’s apple strudel
makes 2 strudels
500g plain flour
1 egg, separated
1/2 cup of olive oil
3/4 cup water
2 tsp caster sugar
14 large Granny Smith apples, peeled and roughly grated
4 tblsp sugar
4 tblsp pine nuts
2 tblsp cocoa powder
Rind of 2 medium sized lemons
8 tblsp sultanas (presoaked in grappa or brandy)
6 tblsp bread crumbs
100g butter, melted
To make the pastry – place 300g flour and the sugar in a bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the egg white, the water and the olive oil. Stir with a wooden spoon until well combined. Place a quarter of the remaining flour on the bench and empty the pastry onto the flour on your working surface. Knead until that flour is incorporated and continue kneading for about 5 minutes. Add a bit more flour if too sticky. Wrap in plastic wrap and allow it to rest for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and line two large trays with baking paper. Peel, core and grate the apples into two large bowls (half in each). Melt the butter on low heat in a small saucepan. Add the bread crumbs, stir and remove from the heat. Place to the side. By now 30 minutes should have passed and it is time to roll out the pastry.
Generously flour your working surface and remove half the pastry from the plastic wrap. Knead, incorporating half of the remaining flour. Start rolling the pastry with a rolling pin, flipping the pastry over every minute or so as you stretch it out. Keep rolling, stretching, turning it over until it is about 50 cm by 40 cm. Place a large clean tea towel under the pastry before placing the filling.
Squeeze and drain the grated apples (drink the lovely apple juice that is left behind) and lay them on the pastry, leaving them clear of the edges by about 4cm, and leaving about 10cm clear at what will be the top of the horse shoe shaped strudel. Scatter half the remaining dry ingredients evenly over the apples (sultanas, pine nuts, sugar, cocoa, lemon zest and bread crumbs that have been combined with butter).
Use the tea towel to help you roll the strudel into a long sausage. Fold down the two ends of the sausage are carefully lift onto the prepared baking tray and make into a horse shoe shape. Repeat process for the second strudel. Brush the top of both wth beaten egg yolk.
Bake for 15 minutes at 180 degrees then lower the temperature to 170 and bake for a further 55 minutes. Swap the trays around half way through cooking so they bake evenly. About 15 minutes before they are ready check that the strudels are not browning too much. Reduce to 160 degrees if necessary. They should be a deep golden colour when ready. They keep for five or so days covered in the fridge and can be eaten hot or room temperature. Halve all the ingredients if you want to make just one strudel.