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Rolled Up and Ready to Go: Where Strudel Really Came From

September 20, 2022 | by Shira and Rabbi Chef David Trakhtman

Discover all the ins and outs of this delicious pastry.

It’s hard not to love a good strudel, a delicious pastry made of thin, flakey dough and scrumptious fillings.

The strudel is typically thought to come from Germany or Hungary, however, that’s not the whole story! This tasty treat can trace its original roots further East, from Asia.

Over a thousand years ago, before refrigeration existed, central Asian nomads began rolling unleavened bread very thin, and without moisture, so that it could travel well under dry conditions. When it came time to eat, the dry dough was sprinkled with water and left to refresh for 10 minutes. And then, poof! The original puff pastry! This process eventually traveled westward to Europe, thanks to the Turks.

By the end of the fifteenth century, the Turks added a little oil, stretched it even thinner, and layered it with butter and fillings. Later called phyllo in Greek, it was brought into Central Europe when the Turks occupied the Balkan and Hungarian Empires. However, unlike the Turks and Greeks who cut and layered the dough, Hungarians rolled it and expanded it with fillings. When Hungary was absorbed into the Austrian Empire the dough rolled with the times, and strudel was born! The name strudel came from the German word for “vortex,” inspired by the swirl of pastry and filling.

The earliest recipe for strudel in Vienna can be found in the Viennese City Library, handwritten and dated to 1696. And since many top bakers at that time were Jewish, it also became a staple at many Ashkenazi tables. Later, immigrants brought the strudel to America, where the first record was found in Aunt Babette’s cookbook, published in Cincinnati in 1889, and reflected recipes from her German Jewish background. In the past, because the process was so demanding, many housewives saved it for special occasions. It would typically be done only once or twice a year for holidays like Rosh Hashana or Sukkot, since the timing coincided with the seasonal apple crops. But people wanted more, leading to creative takes on the dessert for other holidays, such as savory poppy strudel for Purim, or with cherry cheese filling for Shavuot.

To enhance your own Shabbat or holiday table with a delicious strudel, follow Rabbi Chef David’s original dairy-free recipe.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound (2-3) apples such as Granny Smith or other tart apples
  • ½ cup canned cherries
  • 1 cup walnuts or pecans, finely chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon, optional
  • ½ pound (about 6 sheets) phyllo
  • 1 cup vegan butter, melted

PREPARATION

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Place whole apples in a baking dish and bake in oven for 30 minutes. Let cool.
  3. Once apples are cool, peel and remove core and seeds. In a bowl mash apples with a fork, add cherries, nuts, sugar and cinnamon. Stir well, the mixture should have the consistency of a thick paste so that it will not leak. Add more crushed nuts if the mixture is too wet.
  4. Lay 1 sheet of phyllo on lined pan. Brush with butter and continue layering and brushing remaining phyllo.
  5. Spread filling on phyllo, being sure to leave a ½-inch border. Place the filling onto the layered pastry about 6 cm off its edge along the length of the pastry. Roll phyllo, starting on the long side, to enclose filling. Tuck seam under.
  6. Brush top with remaining butter. Bake at 350°F/180°C for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
  7. Let cool a bit before serving. It is best to serve warm, but it can be made ahead and kept in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days.
  8. Garnish with powdered sugar, cinnamon, or cherries.



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