I just returned from a ten day trip to Germany with my mom, where we visited the Christkindlmarkts, the Christmas Markets, which are held each year all over the country during the advent, the four weeks preceding Christmas day. The markets, which are generally held in town squares and pedestrian areas, all vary in size and quality of offerings depending on the population of the host city and its unique traditions. Each city displays its own variation of the Nativity scene, also known as a creche or crib, and some of the more common items that can be found for sale in the stalls include Nutcrackers and "Smokers", ornaments, jewelry, beer steins, hand-crafted toys, traditional German clothing, and music boxes. Some of the stalls seemed to have no rhyme or reason as to what they sold, almost as if they had gathered everything that they no longer wanted and put it on display for sale, but hey, one man's trash........
One common thread in all of the markets, no matter how small, was the large percentage of stalls offering food and drink. Germans love to eat, and they really love their Gluhwein. Gluhwein is a hot mulled wine, usually with a shot of Brandy added, and although almost one-tenth of the stalls were dedicated to selling only this beverage, they were all extremely crowded. The original purpose of the Gluhwein was to keep the body going in the cold winter air, but as the evenings progressed it became apparent that many people took the strategy of drinking as much of it as they could so that they would be too drunk to even notice or care how incredibly cold it was. Either way, I suppose that it served its purpose.
Some of the other more common foods that were offered included: all kinds of German sausages or "wursts" with sauerkraut, Lebkuchen, a soft gingerbread, Bretzels, or soft pretzels, spiced nuts, all kinds of chocolate covered fruits (see pears to the right), crepes, potato pancakes, and Speculatas, a thin spiced cookie. One food that I had hoped to have while I was in Germany, but much to my dismay I was unable to find, was Apfelstrudel, or Apple Strudel, the traditional fruit-filled pastry. So, I decided to make it myself when I got home (after I recovered from my 28-hours-of-travel jet lag of course!)
This is a recipe that I have been making for several years. I got it from a German professor whose class I took while going to summer school in Switzerland during my junior year of college. I like to imagine that it is the kind of recipe that might have been in his family for generations, as the directions are a little vague (don't worry, I expanded them!), the ingredients are straightforward and simple, and the outcome is very rustic looking. This strudel crust is made from a simple elastic dough of flour, water, and oil as opposed to strudel recipes from other parts of the world, where the pastry is made from filo dough. This delicious recipe works every time--it produces a sweet and juicy filling with a thin and crisp crust. If I close my eyes and take a bite, it might seem as if I found my strudel at the Christkindlmartks after all! Here are my tips for this recipe:
- This recipe can be made one day ahead of time. Cover and store at room temperature. Reheat at 325F degrees on a baking sheet, covered with foil, until warmed through, about 10-15 minutes.
- Creme anglaise, which I suggest serving with the strudel as an alternative to ice cream, is a light pouring custard made of sugar, egg yolks, milk or cream, and vanilla. There are several good recipes for this on Epicurious or the Food Network website. I also like to serve it as a sauce for bread pudding or pumpkin pie.
- The directions for this recipe do not include peeling the apples, as I don't usually feel that it is necessary to do for most desserts. Feel free to peel the apples if you prefer your apple desserts this way. The recipe will turn out the same.
- If you don't like hazelnuts or if you don't have them on hand, you can substitute walnuts, pecans, almonds, or even chestnuts.
- If you don't have parchment paper to work with after rolling out the dough, you can transfer it to a large clean kitchen towel to use as a guide for forming into a log and placing on the baking sheet.
- The dough for this recipe is very easy to work with, strong, and also very forgiving. Don't be afraid of stretching it too much to cover the filling, and if it tears, just try to patch it up with an extra scrap of dough. It is fine if you have some small tears or gaps around the seam, as they will be hidden underneath the strudel as it bakes.
1 ½ cups bread flour
2 teaspoons vegetable or canola oil
9 tablespoons lukewarm water
2 pounds tart apples (such as Granny Smith), cored and sliced
⅔ cup plain breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons butter, cut into pea-sized cubes
½ cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling on top
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ cup raisins
½ cup chopped hazelnuts
4 tablespoons butter, melted
Confectioner's sugar, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 375F degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour, oil, and water. Mix on low speed until combined, and then increase the speed to medium. Mix until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 3-4 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine the apples, breadcrumbs, butter cubes, sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, raisins, and nuts. Toss all the ingredients to combine well; set aside.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a very thin (⅛ inch) long oval shape. Transfer the dough to the parchment-lined baking sheet and then continue to stretch the dough with the back of your hand until almost paper-thin. Pile the apple mixture into the center of the dough, leaving a 1-inch border on the shorter ends and a 3-4 inch border on the longer sides. Fold the 1-inch border on the short sides in over the filling. Using the parchment paper as a guide, roll the longer sides of the dough over the filling, and pinch the seam to seal. Carefully turn the roll so that it is seam-side-down on the parchment paper.
Lightly sprinkle the top of the roll with granulated sugar. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown. Remove it from the oven and brush with the melted butter. Let cool for several minutes and then dust with confectioner's sugar. Serve with vanilla ice cream or creme anglaise.
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