- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2003

Q: My grandmother, who was from Vienna, made wonderful apple strudel, but when I make it, it is always gummy on the bottom. What can I do to correct this?

A: One of the glories of the vast Viennese baking repertoire is strudel, and among strudels, apple strudel stands out in everyone’s mind as the classic. I have to confess that I have been making strudel for years from a wonderful recipe passed along to me by a friend during the ‘60s.

Yet earlier this year, as soon as I found myself in Vienna again, I made tracks to one of Vienna’s best strudels at Cafe Diglas, a pastry shop and cafe on Fleischmarkt, a few minutes’ walk from the center of the city and St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

Hans Diglas owns this and another such establishment in Vienna, the classic, old-fashioned coffeehouse on Wollzeile, so close to the Fleischmarkt bakery that he uses a bicycle to commute between the two. When I visited, Mr. Diglas had pastry chef Maria Gollinger prepare a strudel according to classic Viennese precepts. The whole process took all of 10 minutes, although the dough had been previously made and rested, an essential step in proper strudel making.

A 11/2-pound piece of dough is rolled, then hand stretched until it is gossamer thin. (You can read the small print of a newspaper through it.) It is generously buttered and the filling is rolled up inside, which creates many tender layers of dough that enclose the sweet-tart apple filling. I like my strudel just a little warm. This is easy to do, if you cut a portion and reheat it gently in the oven.

This recipe makes two 15- to 18-inch strudels. This may seem like a lot, but I guarantee it won’t go to waste. In case you have reservations about your skill to pull the dough out paper thin — relax — it’s easy. Just follow the directions carefully.

Wiener apfelstrudel (Viennese apple strudel)

3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading and stretching dough

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the bowl and the dough

5 pounds Golden Delicious apples

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut in pieces

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 grated lemon zest

2 tablespoons lemon juice

⅔ cup raisins

⅔ cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts

11/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter

⅓ cup dry bread crumbs

Confectioners’ sugar

To make the dough, combine flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Beat eggs and 1 tablespoon oil with a fork in a 2-cup measuring cup. Add enough warm water to make 11/4 cups (10 fluid ounces).

Stir this liquid into the flour with a rubber spatula, making sure that no flour sticks to the sides of the bowl. The dough should be fairly soft.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and begin kneading it to develop the gluten. Pick the dough up and slam it against the surface forcefully.

Fold the dough back on itself and pick it up again from the side, detaching it from the surface with a scraper.

Repeat this motion 100 times, until the dough, which started out rather sticky, is smooth and elastic.

Oil a small bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn the dough over, so that the top is oiled.

Press plastic wrap against the surface of the dough and rest the dough at room temperature about 1 hour, longer if possible.

Refrigerate dough if it is to be held more than half a day. If the dough has been refrigerated, let it come to room temperature before proceeding.

To make the filling, peel, halve and core the apples.

Cut each half into 5 or 6 slices and toss into large saucepan with 8 tablespoons butter pieces, sugar, cinnamon, lemon zest, lemon juice and raisins.

Cover and cook over medium heat about 15 minutes, or until the apples are swimming in water. Uncover, lower heat and cook until the juices have evaporated, about 20 minutes. Stir in the walnuts and cool the filling.

To stretch the dough, cover a rectangular table (30 by 48 inches is ideal) with a cloth. Flour the cloth generously.

Place the dough in the center of the cloth, making sure not to fold the dough at all when removing it from the bowl. Flour the dough and roll it as thinly as possible with a rolling pin. Brush oil on the surface of the dough.

Pull dough from center outward, stretching it over the backs of the hands, fingers folded under.

When the dough becomes fairly large, anchor one end over the edge of the table and pull in the other direction. When the dough is paper thin and covers the entire table, trim away the thick edges with scissors and let it dry for 5 to 10 minutes. Should the dough tear, patch it from the edges.

Melt remaining 12 tablespoons butter and brush dough with most of it, reserving a little for outside of the strudel.

Sprinkle dough with bread crumbs. Arrange filling in two cylinders, end to end, with a couple of inches in between, 2 inches from one of the long ends of the dough.

Roll strudels, cutting them apart with scissors after they are rolled. Twist and fold the ends of each underneath.

Transfer strudels to a 12-by-18-inch pan lined with several thicknesses of aluminum foil.

Butter outside of the strudels and bake in 375-degree oven about 30 minutes. If strudels begin to take on too much color, lower temperature to 350 degrees and cover them loosely with aluminum foil.

Cool strudels on the pan and transfer to a platter on the foil. Cut foil down the center with scissors and pull foil away.

Dust the strudels lightly with confectioners’ sugar. (Leftover strudel will reheat well in 375-degree oven in about 10 minutes.)

Makes two 15- to 18-inch strudels.

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