A Gift to Our Readers: Easter Strudel
We here at the Bellarmine Forum have often spoken of the revered traditional customs, especially those that take place at Easter and Christmas. Pope Benedict XVI has spoken eloquently of these and we have endeavored over the years to celebrate and bring to a wider audience these traditions. We have probably been disproportionate in our celebration of Central European traditions, but that is because of the heritage of the contributors here. I have written elsewhere of these traditions and how they are a foretaste of the eternal banquet–what Chesterton called the “Inn at the End of the World.” Manos has also never tired of repeating that the influence of the ethnic parishes and their traditions are not negligible; indeed, those parishes are what have kept the flame of the faith alive in the midst of increasing secularization and a Catholicism-Lite.
Thus in an effort to bring some of the old world traditions to our readers–and by popular demand–I am parting with a great treasure: the recipe for “DeJak Strudel.” This strudel recipe hails from my Slovenian ancestors and, like many of the former Habsburg territories, has an influence of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. “Strudel” is the term in English, though depending where in the former empire your family may hail from, it is known as štrudelj, zavitek, rétes, štrúdľa, or ștrudel. If your family is from any of the following places, this ought to be on your Easter Table next week:
1 tablespoon butter (melted)
1 whole egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup lukewarm water
2 cups flour (though I end up progressively adding a bit more)
Mix butter, egg, and salt in a mixing bowl. Add lukewarm water and mix. Add flour gradually and mix to a soft pliant dough. On a floured board knead for 10 minutes or so. Dough will be sticky, so add some flour gradually. The goal is to get a pliant dough–the more elasticity, the easier it will be to work! At least half a beer should be drunk at this point in the process. Place the dough in a greased bowl and (very) lightly coat the top with vegetable oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rest in warm place for about an hour. As dough rests, prepare the filling!
Apple Filling (Jabolcni nadev):
1/2 cup butter
1 cup dried bread crumbs
10 cups apples–peeled and sliced; Granny Smith are the best to use
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 lemon rind, grated
You should be moving on to beer #2 at this stage. I also recommend tuning into 24/7 Polka Heaven on the internets to bring you back to your Grandma and Grandpa’s house as you prepare the rest of the strudel. You may want to involve your children as it is the more kid-friendly portion of the process. I digress. Melt butter in pan and lightly brown the bread crumbs. Set aside to cool. Peel and slice the apples; recommend using an apple-corer-slicer-peeler thing. In a separate bowl mix together the sugar and cinnamon. At the end of this, your dough should have rested and you are ready for the third phase–stretching the dough and filling the strudel.
Preparing and Stretching the Strudel Dough:
A two beer job. Patience is key here. Don’t worry about perfection…as my Grandpa used to say: “It’s all going to the same place.” The more times you do this, your technique will improve. Spread a dining table with a cloth large enough to hang over the sides. I use a thin table cloth. Sprinkle the cloth with flour and place the dough on the center of the cloth. Make sure that you have the flour handy through the whole process–you want elasticity, but you need to make sure that the cloth is floured appropriately, lest there be any sticking. With a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough into a rectangular shape. I’m not an engineer, and engineers cooking are usually a disaster (Manos may be an exception); they take the fun out of it and end up in a depressed state if the rectangle is not made up of four 90-degree angles. Approximate your rectangle to about 18″ in length. Now, at this point, you need to enagage the art of the stretch. Your goal is to be able to stretch the dough thin-enough to read a newspaper underneath. (If you are not on your fourth beer, you better hurry up. If beer is not your preferred drink, I recommend a shot of slivovic or a Manhattan. Your choice.) Here is the key to a good stretch: melt 1/4 cup of butter and sprinkle over the dough. Spread it out over all the dough with your hands. This makes the dough very pliant and easy to work with–and butter makes everything taste better! Slide your hands gently under the dough and begin stretching the dough gently towards you, always stretching from the center outwards and moving around the table as you stretch. This is not the time for the kids to help or for your spouse to bug you; sequester them from the room. This time is simply you, the dough, your beverage, and the polkas. Try to leave about 1-2 inches hanging over the table. Stretch as far as you can minimizing holes. If there are a few holes, no problem. But if the dough is paper thin–you are good. Don’t force it. When the dough is stretched as far as you can, begin the filling. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the stretched dough and gently–with your hands–spread evenly. You can now release the children and spouse from their temporary sequestration to help you spread the apples evenly over the dough. It tends to be fun and can be a great time to teach the children of their [insert former Habsburg Empire ethnicity here] heritage, the temperate drinking of slivovic, and how learning the skill of strudel making will bring joy to any celebration. After the apples are spread, sprinkle the sugar and cinnamon mixture evenly over the apples and also the lemon rind. Now on to the final phase.
Final Phase: The Roll
You may consider having your spouse assist in this phase. Not only will she be amazed at your craftsmanship, she will be happy to assist and her appetite will be whet for the fruit of your labors. Remember, strudel makes for happy marriages. Roll gently by lifting the cloth and holding on to it as you slowly roll. Slowly roll all the way until you have a massive strip of strudel. Depending on size, you may choose to divide into two strips. This recipe generally does make that. Place on a well-greased large baking sheet. Once again, brush the top with melted butter and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour. At 45 minutes check to ensure that it is not overly browning or burning. As the smell waftes through the house, recognize that you are part of a tradition thousands of years old–with a brief interruption by the lazy Baby Boomer Generation–and are providing joy to all whom you serve. Let cool for a bit and cut into pieces. You may wish to sprinkle with powdered sugar for presentation purposes. Enjoy after the Easter ham, zelodec and klobase. A Te Deum is appropriate at the conclusion.
This article, A Gift to Our Readers: Easter Strudel is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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