Apple strudel doesn’t sound very Italian – or so you might think. The funny thing about Europe is that countries that are close to the borders of other countries take on the cuisine of their neighbours. They share the same climate therefore grow similar produce. My father was born in Istria, now in Croatia and my mother was born in Veneto. Both regions formed part of the Austro-Hungarian empire at one stage so it makes sense that some things that we think of as Austrian might also be found further south in Italy. Not only does mamma make sauerkraut with Speck and iota (which is a type of bean soup) but she makes a divine apple strudel.
The pastry of mamma’s strudel is made with olive oil and so can be stretched to be so thin that you can almost see through it. I had searched the internet some time back for a recipe and the only one that I found that was remotely close to hers was Croatian. It fascinates me how something that I thought was Austrian, made by my Italian mother is similar to a Croatian recipe online. Mamma’s strudel is filled with grated fresh apples, sultanas soaked in grappa, pine nuts, lemon zest and cocoa powder and then rolled up to form a roll that is shaped like a giant horse shoe prior to baking. This type of strudel is made in Trieste and it is called strucolo. Though I have heard it called this way by people from Trieste, I always knew it as strudel, or strudel de pomi in our dialect.
Mamma always makes two strudels – one to give to friends/family and one to keep at home. Strudels were made when there was a celebration. After my parents retired, my father used to help my mother make strudel by peeling and coring the apples (14 large ones for the two strudels) while she grated them. Last weekend mamma wanted to make apple strudel for a big family lunch we were having at my sister’s house. It was a lunch in celebration of what would have been my father’s 91st birthday. Regular readers will know he passed away a few months ago. He loved apple strudel so it was only fitting that she make it for his birthday.
On the weekend I went to her place to help her make strudel and write down the recipe (which was all in her head!). Taking the place of my father, I cored and peeled the apples while she grated. We listened to music and drank coffee while we worked away. I watched her make strudel and she let me make the second one under her watchful eye. She gave me lots of tips when stretching the pastry with a rolling pin, scattering the filling and then rolling up the strudel with the help of a tea towel. The rolling was not the tricky part, it was getting the completed strudel on the tray without breaking it! She managed to do it easily – she has made strudel so many dozens of times. She wouldn’t let me do it either – she said my hands weren’t big enough. Before going into the oven, she brushed the strudel with beaten egg yolk to make it shiny once it is cooked.
So here is the recipe – written down for the first time, with years of love poured into it. Strudel is lovely served with a dollop of cream on the side and a cup of coffee, or you could have it as we did with a glass of sweet and sticky Sicilian wine.
Livia's apple strudel
makes one strudel
240g (2 cups) plain flour
1/5 cup of olive oil
1/2 cup water
2 tsps caster sugar
7 large Granny Smith apples, peeled and roughly grated
2 tblsp sugar
1 scant tblsp pine nuts
1 tblsp cocoa powder
Rind of 1 medium sized lemon
3 tblsp sultanas (presoaked in grappa or brandy)
3 tblsp bread crumbs
50g (3 and 1/2 tablespoons) butter, melted
small egg, yolk only
dash of milk (if needed)
caster sugar for sprinkling
To make the pastry – place three-quarters (180g) of the flour and the sugar in a bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the water and the olive oil. Stir with a wooden spoon until well combined. Place a quarter of the remaining flour on the bench and empty the pastry onto the flour on your working surface. Knead until that flour is incorporated and continue kneading for about 10 minutes, adding more flour if too sticky. It is ok if you have some flour left over (you will use it later). The dough should be cohesive but have stretch in it, like a loose pasta dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and allow it to rest for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and line a large tray with baking paper. Peel, core and grate the apples into a large bowl. Melt the butter on low heat in a small saucepan. Add the bread crumbs, stir and remove from the heat. Place to the side. By now 30 minutes should have passed and it is time to roll out the pastry.
Generously flour your working surface and remove the pastry from the plastic wrap. Knead, incorporating about half of the remaining flour until it is smooth (about 5 minutes). Start rolling the pastry with a rolling pin, flipping the pastry over every minute or so as you stretch it out. Keep stretching, using your hands to stretch the centre of the dough and turning it over until it is around 50 cm by 40 cm. If it is smaller than this, you have not stretched it thinly enough. Place a large clean tea towel under the pastry before placing the filling.
Squeeze and drain the grated apples (drink the lovely apple juice that is left behind) and lay them on the pastry, leaving them clear of the edges by about 4cm, and leaving about 10cm clear at what will be the top of the horse shoe shaped strudel. Scatter the remaining dry ingredients evenly over the apples (sultanas, pine nuts, sugar, cocoa, lemon zest and bread crumbs that have been combined with butter).
Use the tea towel to help you roll the strudel into a long sausage. Fold down the two ends of the sausage and carefully lift onto the prepared baking tray, moulding into a horse-shoe shape. Brush the top of strudel with lightly beaten egg yolk, thinned with a dash of milk to make it easy to brush on. Scatter on a bit of sugar if desired.
Bake for 15 minutes at 180C/355F then lower the temperature to 170C/340F and bake for a further 55 minutes. About 15 minutes before it is ready, check that the strudel is not browning too much. Reduce to 160C/320F if necessary. It should be a deep golden colour when ready. The strudel keeps for five or so days covered in the fridge and can be eaten warm or room temperature.