Sunday, May 31, 2009

Daring Bakers: Apple Strudel

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caf├ęs of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

In my life, I've known two incredible bakers. One that I've mentioned many times before, was my grandmother, Pat, who taught me how to bake. From her, I learned how to follow a recipe and measure precisely.

The other is my step-father's step-mother Rozina, or Rosie as we call her. She's one of those people that never uses recipes and never measures a thing, and yet everything she makes comes out perfect. (I'm sure she'd disagree with that statement, but it's so true!)

Rosie grew up in Slovenia before moving to Canada and later to the U.S. As soon as I saw that the challenge was a traditional European dessert, I knew what I had to get her involved. So the e-mail went out asking if she'd be interested in making strudel with me. She surely was and the plans were made.

Rosie grew up eating, and later making, strudels. It was a tradition to have them for holidays. Since fruit, especially apples, was rare in Slovenia, the typical strudel in Rosie's home was made with farmer's cheese, sour cream and raisins. I later found that Kaffeehaus includes a recipe for this style strudel.

As it turns out, Rosie hadn't made strudel in years ... but even still, she knew it by heart. In keeping with the challenge, we used the recipe from Kaffeehaus for the dough. Though we measured the ingredients for the dough, Rosie mostly went by feel. She knew what the dough should look and feel like and added extra flour until it was just right.

Then, Rosie kneaded the dough using a side-to-side motion that I had never seen before. She was moving so fast I had a hard time catching a photo of her in action! She has clearly made a strudel or two over the years.

The dough was kneaded until it was no longer sticky and had become smooth and firm. Then the dough was oiled and covered. It rested for about 45 minutes while we prepared the filling.

Rosie's favorite strudel filling is apple walnut. She typically uses shredded apples for her traditional apple-walnut filling, but for our joint-effort version, we thinly sliced five Granny-Smith apples and then roughly chopped them. They were sprinkled with a bit of lemon juice to prevent browning, then covered with 1/2 cup of granulated sugar.

The apples were set aside while we prepared the walnut portion of the filling. 1/2 pound of shelled walnut halves went into a food processor with 1/2 cup of brown sugar. Cinnamon was added, though I couldn't tell you how much - Rosie sprinkled it until it looked right. My guess would be about 2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon.

The final filling component was 1/2 cup of ground Nilla wafers (in more traditional strudels, breadcrumbs would be used), about eight wafers worth.

The filling was set aside while we worked with the dough. Rosie spread out her strudel tablecloth (yes, she has a tablecloth just for strudel!) and sprinkled it with flour.

The challenge recipe called for rolling the dough, but Rosie did everything by hand. She sprinkled a little flour on the dough ball, picked it up and stretched it over the backs of her hands.

Once the dough was too big to hold, she set it down on the tablecloth and began stretching it carefully.

She lifted an edge, reached under the dough, then with her hand flat against the dough, gently pulled it toward her.

For me, this was my favorite part of making the strudel. It wasn't nearly as difficult as I had expected - it was even fun!

Once the dough was tissue thin and very large, we trimmed off the thick edges and added the fillings.

First, we sprinkled the walnut mixture evenly over the dough, then the Nilla wafers. We gently spread the nuts and crumbs to just an inch shy of the edges being careful not to tear the dough.

We followed the walnuts with the apples but only along one end of the dough.

The last step before rolling the strudel was to drizzle one stick of melted unsalted butter over everything. Alternatively, you could brush the just-stretched dough with a butter-soaked pastry brush, but you risk tearing the dough.

Then it was time to roll. We gently folded about an inch of dough at the edge over the apples. I fully expected the rest of the rolling to be difficult. I thought the dough would be gently and slowly rolled to prevent tearing. Boy, was I wrong!

Rosie grabbed the tablecloth and with one swift motion, flipped the strudel over. She did this repeatedly until it was completely rolled. She went so fast I couldn't get a good shot of it!

The roll was then cut into two pieces, so as to fit on the sheet pan, and brushed with more melted butter.

The strudel baked in a 350 degree F oven for 45 minutes to an hour until it was golden brown. Then it was covered in a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

This challenge was fantastic! Not only did I get to spend time with Rosie, but I learned to make something new from an experienced baker and it came out beautifully. The strudel was much easier to make than I expected and I would love to make it again and again.

If you'd like the recipe for the dough, please check out Linda's post.

Now get yourself over to the blogroll and check out the other Daring Bakers' strudel creations!

Monday, May 11, 2009

What the?

So I was flipping through one of my many food-themed magazines yesterday when I came across an ad for I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Cooking & Baking sticks.

Their big claim is 50% less saturated fat than butter. But in a way, I'm not sure it's worth it as there is no difference between butter and this product in terms of total fat and calories.

Now, I've got to ask. Has anyone tried these? I'm so curious about their taste! I'd love to try a side by side comparison by baking a recipe once with these and again with butter.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A confession

I have a confession to make.

I've been afraid of yeast. It's true.

For the longest time, I've been watching other bloggers post beautiful breads, doughnuts, bagels, pretzels, etc., etc. and I've been jealous.

That's one of the reasons I joined The Daring Bakers back in September. I was hoping to overcome my fear of yeast. I thought surely I'd be thrown in to a world of yeasted treats – then I'd have no excuse. I'd have to jump in and get over it.

And sure enough, my first challenge was a lavash cracker that included yeast. And though my batch came out all right, they were too thick and not quite right.

Then, my second challenge was pizza. Again, a yeasted dough. And while I thoroughly loved this challenge, my dough, again, wasn't quite right.

So, I decided to try again. I'd find a recipe that featured yeast and give it a shot.

Months ago, I saw Amber's post on Focaccia, a no-fuss recipe that looked simple enough. Yet, I bookmarked it and tucked it away in the corner of my mind. You see, I was still scared.

Finally, I convinced myself to give it a try. Why hide forever when I can keep trying until I get it right?

Luckily, this recipe really was no fuss. It worked like a charm! The bread came out light, airy and full of flavor!

No-Fuss Focaccia
Adapted from: King Arthur Flour, as seen on Amber's Delectable Delights
1 1/2 cups warm water
3 tablespoons olive oil (plus additional for drizzling)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
14 ¾ ounces King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1/2 white or yellow onion, frenched
3 to 4 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves removed and stems discarded
5 sprigs fresh thyme,
leaves removed and stems discarded

Lightly grease a 9" x 13" pan, and drizzle 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil in the bottom.

Combine all of the ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer and beat at high speed for 60 seconds.

Scoop the sticky batter into the prepared pan, cover the pan, and let it rise at room temperature for 60 minutes, until puffy.

While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Gently poke the dough all over with your index finger.

Drizzle it lightly with olive oil, and sprinkle with additional herbs.

Bake the bread until it is golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes.

Remove from the oven, wait 5 minutes, then turn it out of the pan onto a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Stay tuned – there are more yeasty recipes to come!