Aunt Martha to the Strudel Rescue

 I was a little girl the first time I watched my Hungarian grandma move around the wooden table in her farm kitchen as she played with dough. At least, to a young child, it looked like play. Her hands were hidden under a large sheet of dough as she moved around the table. She used the backs of her hands to pull and stretch the dough. For some reason, I never tried stretching the dough with her. Maybe she never asked for my help, thinking my little fingers may punch right through the thin dough.

In no time at all, my grandma would have that dough so thin, we could see right through it. Then, she’d make one more trip around the table, removing the thick edges of the dough as she wound it around her hand.

With her goose-feather brush, she coated the dough with melted butter. A sprinkling of bread crumbs went over the dough before she toppled a bunch of cinnamon-sugared apples speckled with golden raisins over the whole thing. I watched with curiosity as my grandma lifted the tablecloth, using it as an aid to roll up the strudel dough with its filling. Before long, that stuffed tube of rolled dough was baking in the oven, sending a delicious fragrance through the kitchen.

I always wished I could have learned how to make apple strudel from my grandma. I loved those crispy, flakey layers of pastry filled with an apple-pie kind of goodness.

Lucky for me, my husband’s Aunt Martha, of Croatian and Slovenian descent, is an expert strudel-maker. During a recent visit with her, she shared her recipe with me. She reassured me that it was not difficult to make and that I really should try it. So, I did.

A week later, my husband and I were in our kitchen making strudel. Martha was right. It’s not that difficult. But, I can see it is one of those things that gets easier with practice.

We covered our kitchen island with an old white sheet before I started rolling the dough. When it got too large to roll, we worked together to continue the task of pulling and stretching. It is amazing how the dough is able to stretch without tearing. We were feeling smug as we admired our work — a thin sheet of dough completely covering the (approximately 30-inch x 60-inch) island.

Martha told us her favorite apples to use in strudel are Granny Smith. I found they became nearly sauce as the strudel baked. I think next time I would try using an apple with more flavor and one that would hold its shape a little better as it baked.

As I browsed around the internet checking out strudel dough recipes, I never came across a recipe like Martha’s. While most I read used just flour, water and oil, Martha adds a little bit of sugar and an egg to her strudel dough. Since I’ve never worked with any other dough, all I can tell you is that Martha’s strudel dough was so easy to work with.

My husband and I filled it, rolled it, baked it and ate it. That was Saturday. On Sunday, we did the same thing all over again. We’re hooked on strudel. At this rate, it won’t be long before we’ll be whipping up this Austro-Hungarian pastry using a Croatian-Slovenian recipe, as if it were second nature.

I smile when I think of how proud my grandma would be of me and my strudel. She’d be happy to know I’ve finally learned how to play with dough just like she used to do.

I made the strudel using Martha’s recipe for the dough. I used tips and techniques from Kaffeehaus: Exquisite desserts from the Classic Cafes of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers. I also used his recipe for the apple filling.

(Over at Chef In You, there are some good step-by-step strudel-making pictures as well as the Rick Rodgers Apple Strudel recipe. You’ll find the photos and recipe very helpful when you make strudel. But I’m sticking to Aunt Martha’s strudel dough recipe.Click here to get to the strudel at Chef In You.)

Martha’s Strudel Dough

  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup warm water
  • Approximately 5 cups of flour

Beat the egg in a large mixing bowl. Add sugar, salt, oil and water. Mix well. Gradually add flour, mixing to create a soft dough. You may not need all of the flour. Gather the dough into a ball. Grease the dough and place it in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and give the dough time to rest, at least 30 minutes. Both times I made the dough, I gave it 2 hours.

Cover a table with a clean sheet or tablecloth. Rub flour into the cloth. Roll the dough on the floured cloth until it gets too large to continue. Use backs of hands to stretch dough very thin.

Brush dough with butter, sprinkle with fresh bread crumbs. Cover half of the dough with thin apple slices that have been mixed with cinnamon and sugar. Use sheet or tablecloth to roll up the dough. Carefully transfer the strudel to a large parchment-lined baking sheet and form into horseshoe shape. Brush with melted butter.

Bake in preheated 400-degree oven for about 30 minutes. The strudel should be golden brown when you remove it from the oven.

This is best eaten the day it is baked. Invite friends over to taste the strudel with you. It brings great holiday cheer!

2 thoughts on “Aunt Martha to the Strudel Rescue

  1. Your story reminded me of when I used to watch my Baka, who imigrated to Duluth from the former Yugoslavia, do the same thing…it amazed me how far she could stretch the dough and not tear it. I tried a recipe just last year and was very proud of myself for not tearing the dough either. It just takes patience and a little time to get such a wonderful treat!

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