“Handed down from generation to generation…” I love the sound of it; one generation living, loving and teaching the next – sharing what matters. I feel a twinge of jealousy as I imagine what it’s like to grow up with this reality, knowing that my culture has generally forgotten it. History is something vital to the human heart. We need to know where we come from, who went before us, what was important to those who came first. It gives us a sense of grounding, stability, responsibility, and belonging. It also reminds us that we must keep well what we have been given so that it is fit for the next generation.
I remember meandering along the ancient cobbled streets of Europe consumed with envy because these people had history. There was a sense of time, the weight of history, sacrifice, longing, and hope that seemed to engulf everything around me. Modern life had not forsaken the past, but included it, even cherished and honored it. It made my fast food, quick mart, pop-up world look… well, cheap and meaningless.
We are a young country, but I fear our youth has left us too impressed with trite things, not lasting ones. So what can be done of it? How can we change this trend and begin to be the history makers? It is easier than you might think. Something as simple as a recipe can become a cultural marker. Apple Strudel is considered the national dish of Austria. The oldest record of it is a hand written recipe from 1696 which is tenderly preserved in an Austrian museum. The dish is loved and celebrated in Austria, and it is handed down.
This Christmas we gathered with some of our dearest family to celebrate the holidays. Among the many activities we planned was the making of the Strudel. You see, my family has adopted an Austrian as our own. He is married to my cousin, but more than that, he is, to us, an absorbed American. He is a successful business man, extremely bright and capable. He could write computer code in his sleep and is the poster child for ingenuity. He is known for many things, but highly regarded for his Apple Strudel. His name is Thomas and his mother taught him to make Strudel as a boy.
Thomas shares the making of the Strudel when we are together. He wants to teach his son the process and then his daughter. As we sat around the table together peeling apples, I was overcome with appreciation for history, tradition, family, and the power of the “passing it on.” Sharing the Strudel process is a gift to us from Thomas, but so much more than just a recipe. It is heritage, history, honor, and hope…it is a string that ties us together as family and as humans. You are invited by Thomas to share in this tradition with us. As you do, may you feel a part of something greater, something enduring and meaningful, something… delicious!
Thomas’s Authentic Austrian Apple Strudel
original recipe from Margaretha Auzinger
8 good sized Macintosh apples (or your choice of apples)
1 package of Phyllo dough
3 sticks of unsalted butter (may use salted if preferred)
1 large container of plain Unflavored bread crumbs
Light brown sugar
Oven, preheated to 375 degrees
A small saucepan (for the melted butter to glue the Phyllo sheets together)
A large saucepan (to caramelize the sugar and to brown the bread crumbs)
A baking sheet big enough for the Strudel
One or two dish cloths/towels (to put the strudel on and to roll it)
A wooden spoon
A butter brush. Rubber or plastic is better since it doesn’t shed.
Important: Before beginning have all ingredients assembled and allow Phyllo dough to thaw. If you have not used Phyllo, be forewarned that it is a little tricky. It dries out fast when exposed to air so you have to be ready and move quickly when you begin this step.
Peel, core, and quarter apples, then slice each quarter in 1/8 inch slices or to your liking. Note: The more helpers the merrier on this step! (We were making two Strudels so there are enough for two in this picture)
In the small saucepan melt 1 ½ sticks of butter until liquid. Keep on very low heat.
In a large saucepan melt 1 ½ sticks of butter. Add 3-4 Tbs. of light brown sugar – more if you prefer it sweeter. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until all the sugar has dissolved. Continue to stir over medium heat until the sugar begins to caramelize and turn a deeper shade of brown. Watch carefully and take care not to burn the sugar. Reduce heat to low.
Add 2 ½ cups of plain bread crumbs to the caramelized sugar mixture. Mix thoroughly over low heat until there are no lumps. This takes some time so use caution not to burn the mixture on the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat.
Butter and flour your baking pan until the entire surface is covered.
Gather all of your ingredients to within reach so that you can move quickly through the next steps.
Lay out a large thin dishtowel. Use two towels overlapping if necessary. (flour sack weight works great). The towels help roll and transfer the Strudel. Unroll Phyllo dough and place near the towel so that you can work quickly. Butter should be near as well.
- Take a leaf or two of the Phyllo dough and place it on the cloths.
- Generously paint the leaf with melted butter, especially in the areas where the next leaf (or leaves) should overlap. (this helps keeping the leaves together as well as prevents drying out)
- Take the next leaf and overlap it with the first several inches wide. Paint with butter.
- Go back to step 1 until the cloth is covered (about a square shape) with at least 2, but better 3 or 4 layers of dough.
Spread the sweetened bread crumbs evenly on the strudel leaves
Spread the apple slices on the crumbs
Sprinkle raisins on all, half, or none of the strudel (some people don’t like raisins)
Add cinnamon according to taste.
Now grab the left and the right corner of the cloth that are closest to you and lift it up a few inches, 90 degrees straight up in the air.
Then pull the strudel forward and roll it up.
When at the end, grab the far two corners of the cloth and lift the strudel to the edge of the baking sheet and then let it roll on it. This is so much easier (ESPECIALLY if you are doing this the first time) if you have a helper.
Arrange the strudel so that all of it is on the baking sheet.
Use the brush to cover the outside thoroughly with melted butter.
Put the strudel into the oven and bake it for 48 minutes.
If everything went well it should come out light brown.
If you wish, you can top it with some powdered sugar. I personally like it natural, but the powdered sugar is nice for presentation.
The 2 1/2 inches at the end are usually just dry crumbs and strudel leaves. You can eat it and it’s sweet, but I wouldn’t serve it to guests. Enjoy the rest!
It doesn’t have to be refrigerated. There are reports that it is still good after 4 or even 5 days, but usually it doesn’t live that long.
Happy Strudel Making !! Thomas
A “Good” Idea:
Think about things you can pass down to the next generation. What legacy do you want to leave? We need people who will leave a legacy of integrity, strength, and Goodness. Those things are transferred in day to day life as we work, play, and cook together!