Last weekend our blogger friend Frank from Memorie di Angelina messaged us on the Due Spaghetti Facebook page asking whatever had become of us. Had we quit blogging? It’s been SO long since we’ve published a post! July 28th, in fact.
We haven’t stopped cooking, of course. But life became ridiculously busy for a few months, and the time simply was not there for photo taking, photo editing, and writing. The arrival of autumn and the apple harvest changed that.
Cara’s computer does a funny thing – every time she connects it to an LCD projector, which she does often at work, it changes the desktop image to a photo of a slice of torta di mele, apple cake, the subject of a blog post from autumns past. Her computer executes this backdrop change entirely of its own will, with no human solicitation, as technology gadgets sometimes do. This week, it served as a hint that it is time to do some baking.
There is nothing better than baking with apples during the fall season. Apples are native to our resident state of Minnesota, and people make weekend pilgrimages to local apple orchards for fruit to transform into apple pies, apple crisp and apple butter.
In Italy, apples are cultivated in all regions but are particularly common to Valle d’Aosta, Piemonte, Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige. In fact, when we toured Northern Italy in summer of 2011, we were surprised to discover what looked like vineyards from a distance were actually row after row of apple trees.
Strudel di mele, a distant cousin to baklava, is a recipe with Byzantine origins. The word strudel is borrowed from German, and it follows that the recipe is native to northern Italian regions which were once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Golden delicious apples are the preferred baking variety in Italy for their delicate flavor and ability to maintain structure during cooking. However, feel free to experiment with your favorite apple. Sultana raisins, pine nuts and a dash of rum give this baked dessert sophistication and an subtle Middle Eastern quality.
We adapted this recipe from one we found in the Cooking section of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. The crust was good, but not perfect. In future versions we will experiment with a lighter and flakier crust. If you have a favorite strudel crust recipe, please share it with us!
Strudel di mele
For the crust
300g (just over 2 cups) flour
50g (about 1/4 cup) sugar
100 ml (a little less than 1/2 cup) milk
75 grams (just over 5 Tablespoons) butter, plus a few tablespoons for melting
For the filling
1 kg (2.2 lbs) apples. We used 6 medium Golden Delicious apples
70 grams (about 5 Tablespoons) butter
2 dashes of rum
50 g (about 1/2 cup) bread crumbs. We substituted with the soft, inside part of day-old crusty rustic bread.
100 g (about 1/2 cup) sugar
100g (just over 1/2 cup) sultana or golden raisins
50 grams (just under 1/2 cup) pine nuts
A dash of cinnamon
Prepare the dough for the crust by adding the sugar, 75 grams of butter, egg and milk to the flour, either in a small mixing bowl, or on a smooth counter top and forming a well in the mound of flour. Mix vigorously until the dough is a smooth ball. Cover with a dishcloth and set aside.
Peel and core the apples, halve them, and slice them thinly. We used a mandolin slicer on the second-largest width setting for uniform slices.
Place the apples in a skillet with 70 grams of butter, and cook over medium heat until the butter is melted, stirring occasionally. Add two generous dashes of rum, and allow the liquor to cook off. Add the sugar, breadcrumbs, raisins and pine nuts, and cook together over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Sprinkle flour onto a smooth work surface and roll out the dough into a rectangle of about .5 cm, (1/5 inch) thickness. Place parchment paper onto the surface of a baking sheet, and brush a thin layer of melted butter on top of it. Carefully transfer the sheet of dough onto the parchment paper. The dough will extend over the edges of the baking sheet.
Transfer the filling onto the dough and spread it lengthwise over the center of the dough. Fold the shorter sides of the dough up over the filling, and then carefully wrap the longer sides over the filling. Seal the dough with a bit of milk, brush melted butter over the top, and perforate the dough with a few air-holes to allow the steam out while cooking.
Bake at 180° C (350 F°) for about 45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Allow the strudel to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature, with a dusting of powdered sugar on top.