Although I have been cooking for years now and think of myself as quite a confident cook, I have never dared to venture into making real, original, traditional Viennese apple strudel. The reason being that producing your own filo pastry has scared the living daylight out of me, I have visions of my mum in the kitchen, throwing some extremely thin dough around and catching it with her hands, always in danger of tearing it and having to start afresh.
So in an attempt to overcome my phobia, I asked my mum to give me a tutorial and I was extremely lucky, for the strudel turned out fine at the first try - and it was edible! I altered my Mum's recipe slightly by adding whole raisins and mixing some ground nuts in with the breadcrumbs - but as with many traditional recipes, there's so many variations around that I cannot claim to have invented it! You can serve the strudel cold with whipped cream or warm with a warm custard sauce or crème anglaise, vanilla icecream works well, too!
The great thing about this recipe is that you can use the filo pastry with many different fillings - try cherries, vanilla quark and raisins, plums, pears, poppyseed and plums, but also savoury options, like spinach and ricotta or potato, onion and bacon. Some people add sour cream or creme fraiche to the strudel, and some won't bake it on a rack, but put it in a pan, cover it with milk and cook until all the liquid is absorbed/set. In any case, grate your own breadcrumbs from old white bread (or even old brioche, if you have some at hand) rather than using artificially created ones from the supermarket, you won't believe the difference it makes!
I realise now that I have been paranoid for no reason and you will certainly be able to produce fine results even if, unlike me, you have not got a qualified psychotherapist around...
(Not-so) traditional Viennese Apfelstrudel
For the dough:
250 g flour
125 ml water (warm)
1 tbsp oil
1 egg (optional - if not using, use less flour or more water)
pinch of salt
flour for dusting
butter for resting
oil for resting
For the filling:
1.2 kg apples, preferably slightly sour
150 g caster sugar
100 g breadcrumbs
70 g ground nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts or a mixture)
80 g butter
1 tsp ground cinnamon
100 g raisins
2 tbsp rum
100 g butter for baking
icing sugar for sprinkling
Put the flour in a small plastic bowl, add the salt, oil and egg (if using) and combine. Gradually add warm water and knead, using your mixer or a food processor, until you have a smooth dough which doesn't stick to the bowl. You might not need all the water, the dough shouldn't be sticky. Form a ball and brush thinly with some oil. Leave to rest for half an hour.
In the meantime, prepare the filling. Brown the breadcrumbs and ground nuts in a pan, without using any fat. Peel and quarter the apples, then cut into thin slices (ca. 2-3 mm). Soak the raisins in the rum, heat in a pan if they're very dry. If they don't absorb all the rum, drain and set aside.
Spread an old cotton sheet on the table and sprinkle with flour evenly, lay the dough on top, sprinkle it with some flour and roll it out evenly using a rolling pin. Brush thinly with melted butter and leave to rest for a few minutes, covered with a cloth. Rub your hands with flour and, passing the dough over the back of your hands and wrists, stretch the dough (you'll have to work fast) until it becomes transparent. Don't worry about the occasional hole, but make sure you don't get too many of them!
Lay the dough back on the sheet, sprinkle with melted butter, the breadcrumb mix, the raisins and the apples and dust with the cinnamon. Then cut off any thick ends, and, lifting the sheet in stages to successively fold the dough and filling over, create an even roll of about 10 cm width and 8 cm height. Brush with some melted butter. You can, at this point, cover the strudel up with some cling film and reserve until you're ready to bake it.
Pre-heat the oven to 220 C and bake the strudel for ca. 40 minutes, until golden brown. Brush with melted butter a couple of times while it's baking. Let cool down, sprinkle with icing sugar and serve, either with whipped cream or some warm, runny vanilla custard.