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Dada’s Apple Strudel

October 16, 2011

Dada's perfectly flaky apple strudel

This is one very old family recipe that I have finally tackled on my own, and I am so excited to say that I did it. I actually did it! I made apple strudel with my own home made near paper thin phyllo pastry.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt so triumphant baking something before. Pauline and I used to make it centuries ago at her dining room table, stretching and stretching the dough until it reached across the table end to end. It was so thin you could read a newspaper through it.

Dada's perfectly stretched pastry. The edges will be trimmed with scizzors.

Okay, so mine today wasn’t that thin, but it was close. And it didn’t exactly reach across the table end to end, but it did stretch quite far.  For a first solo try I didn’t do too badly.  When I attended a baking course at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris a couple of years ago, the French chef marveled at the women of Eastern and Central Europe who still made the pastry by hand, a dying art, he said. Well, I’m here to keep it going.

A picture from an old family album - Dada's mother makes strudel 50 years ago

Ok, so there were a few holes in my pastry. Hey, it was my first attempt! Nick sauntered by and pointed out that this was not an old tablecloth but a new one from France. Must clean it before he sees the stains.

I apprenticed a couple of weeks ago with Dada, Pauline’s cousin, in Dolny Kubin, Slovakia and learned a few tricks.  First, you need an old table cloth that is only ever used to make the strudel. Dada’s is worn and pilled, which she informed me with a straight face that it adds texture to the strudel.  When she was done making her pastry, the tablecloth was spotless. Mine was filled with crumbs and grease spots.  Adds texture, I told myself.

Apples, sugar, bread crumbs, cinnamon and melted butter scattered across the dough

Dada uses apples that grow on trees in her front yard. Decades ago her house was moved from the forest where her mother grew up in it, and moved into the town of Dolny Kubin where she lives with her apple trees and 2 huge, ferocious sounding German Shepherd dogs.  Left over apple cores are dried and used to make tea.  The dough that is clipped from the edges is used to make dumplings with in garlic soup.

The strudel is rolled across the table using the tablecloth

I think I was a little heavy on the crumbs. I also added walnuts. After eating a slice of strudel my son asked if there was meat in it.

Ingredients – Filling

  • Peel and core 8-9 crispy apples (Granny Smith, Honey Crisp or Macintosh are good choices); sprinkle with lemon juice to keep from turning brown
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup bread crumbs (I used a slice of whole grain bread, crumbled and toasted)
  • 1/2 stick butter, melted
  • 1-2 tbsp lemon juice
Ingredients – Pastry
  • 2 cups flour, such as King Arthur Unbleached Pastry Flour, which is the silky smoothness you need (I used all purpose)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 egg
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp lard, melted (I used pork fat)
  • juice from 1/2 lemon

Dada bathes the baking strudel with melted butter and hot milk.

Steps – Pastry
  1. Take a medium pot and turn it upside down on a burner set to low to heat it up inside
  2. Place the flour on a cutting board, sprinkle with salt and make a well in the center
  3. Crack an egg into the center, and pour in the water, fat and squeeze in the lemon
  4. Mix with a fork until blended, and then turn onto a floured board to knead until soft and smooth and no longer sticky, about 1-3 minutes
  5. Flatten the mound of dough and place on the cutting board, and place the hot pot on top of it, covering it. Leave for 1/2 hr.
  6. Take the warmed dough and place on a clean tablecloth on a small, cleared table sprinkled with flour
  7. Roll out the dough until about 18×18 inches, then start to stretch it out in the middle by placing your hands underneath the dough and pulling gently
  8. Working around the table, keep pulling the dough longer and longer. Don’t worry about the shape, and don’t rip the dough, at least not in the middle
  9. When the dough is see through (takes about 5 minutes of stretching), take some scissors and snip off the thick dough around the edges
  10. Preheat the over to 350 degrees
  1. Scatter 1/4 cup melted butter across the pastry
  2. Scatter about the bread crumbs, then the sugar and cinnamon
  3. Slice the apples about 1/4 inch and scatter across the pastry (I messed up and spread apple chunks. Oh, well.)
  4. Sprinkle again with 1/4 cup melted butter and squeeze on the 1/2 lemon juice
  5. Taking the edge of the tablecloth on one side, and gently roll the dough over itself forming a log
  6. Brush the first roll with melted butter and roll again, buttering the next roll and so on to the end
  7. Carefully transfer the log onto a greased cookie sheet and brush with melted butter
  8. Slide into the oven and bake for 15 minutes
  9. Brush the log with a mix of melted butter and hot milk and return to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes until golden brown
  10. Remove from the over and douse with one final butter/milk blend
  11. Cover with a cloth and let it sit for 15 minutes
  12. Slice into 1 inch slices, sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve

My masterpiece. Not quite as flaky as Dada's. In fact, the pastry was a little tough. Hmmm... Next time I will have to try kneading less and using better flour. And stretching the pastry about twice as much.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary Milec permalink
    October 16, 2011 7:47 pm

    Proud of you Tonya! Don’t think I’m up to trying that.

    • October 17, 2011 11:48 am

      Oh, come on, we’ll try it when I’m up there next time. It really isn’t that hard, and is much easier with an extra pair of hands to help stretch.

  2. October 17, 2011 2:40 pm


  3. George permalink
    October 26, 2011 10:04 pm

    Pauline, thanks for for this fascinating website,I am a Slovak living in Florida. I escaped from Czechoslovak communist country in 1987. My wife from Dothan,Alabama can cook some Slovak food,but makes fantastic chicken paprikas. I subscribed her to this website,I hope she will like it. Thanks again.

    • October 26, 2011 10:31 pm

      Hi George, you are very welcome and I hope your wife likes it too. Would love to hear some stories you must have about living under communism. I am just learning about what it was like for my relatives to lives there. It makes me feel very lucky to have lived in this country, as crazy as it is these days. Tonya

  4. George permalink
    October 26, 2011 10:39 pm

    Sorry Tonya,Pauline was your amazing grandmother

  5. Adrianne permalink
    November 29, 2011 11:04 pm

    Thrilled to have found your site! Spent two weeks in Dolny Kubin while visiting family in Pribis. I still crave the food and am happy to have the chance to make something other than stuffed cabbage and chicken paprikash.

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