My mother often used to describe how her grandmother used to make apple strudel, paper-thin strudel paste stretched over a clean white table-cloth, the strudel paste dripping over the table edges like a floury antimacassars. Although a good cook, she never made it herself; queen of puddings was her speciality.
It’s funny that the pudding we never had is the one that stuck in my memory, and after many years of cooking professionally thought it about time I made it for myself. It’s not difficult, although it does need a little time and care; which I guess is why so many recipes use filo pastry. I don’t think there’s anything wrong in this, but filo doesn’t have the same taste and texture as strudel pastry.
Strudel is generally associated with Austrian cuisine, although the pastry bears similarities with Middle Eastern dishes such as baklava, and like most things in food there are variations across the Austro/Hungarian region.
So it’s not completely implausible to call this Moroccan Strudel because the apricots and sultanas are soaked in orange blossom water, the spicing is ras al hanout (cinnamon, cassia, coriander, cumin, rose petals etc) the nuts are pistachio and everything is sweetened with honey, rather than sugar.
Recipe. Serves 4 – 6
Dough: (Before you make the dough, soak the apricots – see below).
100g plain (all-purpose) flour
A pinch of salt
¼tsp white wine vinegar
4tbsp cold water
1tbsp vegetable oil
Make a well in the flour and add the salt, water and oil. Work into a smooth, elastic dough. Traditional way to do this is to throw the dough from shoulder height onto the work surface to really knead the dough and work the gluten to make it nice and stretchy. It’s strangely satisfying…
Wrap the dough in cling film and rest in a cool place – at least 30 min, if not longer.
125g halved, dried apricots and 30g sultanas soaked in 2tbsp orange blossom water – for at least 1 hour.
2 large, crisp apples – Granny Smith is ideal, you need an apple that will not cook to a puree. Peel, core and slice thinly.
Combine in a large bowl the apples and soaked apricots / sultanas (which should have absorbed all the orange blossom water) with 30g pistachio nuts, 1tsp ras al hanout, 2tbsp honey, 1tbsp breadcrumbs and 30g melted butter.
Pre-heat the oven 180°C.
Lightly flour a clean tea towel – a thin one is best. Flour the dough and roll out into a circle. The best way to do this is always start from the middle and roll towards the edges. Flour as necessary and lift to make sure the dough does not stick to the tea towel. The easiest way to do this is to roll the dough on the pin. Lift and then unroll again.
The dough will pull back – this is what it does. Don’t worry, if you feel it is a case of 1 step forwards, 2 back, cover it with a clean tea towel and make a cup of tea. This will give the gluten in the dough time to relax.
Once you have pinned the dough out as thin as you think you can, it is time to use your hands.
Remove rings first! Flour your hands and work them under the dough, palms down. In this way by moving your hands apart you should be able to stretch the dough over the backs of your hands. Keep doing this until the dough starts to become transparent.
Try not to let it tear, but it’s not the end of the world if it does.
I know it sounds very fiddly, but it’s actually quite relaxing – take your time and remember – it doesn’t have to be perfect – it’s still going to taste great!
Brush the dough generously with more melted butter and put the filling down one side (if you have any thick bits of dough around the edges, trim off with a pair of scissors or a knife).
Using the tea towel, lift and roll and then lift and turn onto a greased baking sheet.
Brush more melted butter over the top and bake in your pre-heated oven for 30 – 40 minutes.
Dust with icing sugar and serve with Greek yogurt.