The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.
Frankly, I was a bit intimidated by this month's challenge. I mean, strudel dough: it has to be dime thin, and one wrong stretch can leave you with bland cardboard instead of flaky, fluffy goodness. On the plus side, it's incredibly cheap to make (only five ingredients, two of which are water and salt), and it's incredibly versatile. If my reach exceeded my grasp on this one, I could always go back to the drawing board - er, kitchen - and try, try, try again until the cows came home to marvel at my vegan diligence. Cheap and versatile it may be, however, the fact remains that strudel dough is delicate and therefore temperamental. It's one of those jewels every baker wants in their crown but only a few can get. Thus, this challenge loomed over me like a storm cloud pregnant with hesitance.
This month, I've been juggling eight million things, and to be honest, I wasn't keen on this challenge being one of them. Any other month and I think I would have delighted in the possibilities, especially the thought of pairing both a sweet and savory strudel together in one meal. What would they be, I wondered. Maybe tofutti, onions, mushroom, and "sausage" in a smattering of herbs? Followed by apricots infused with amaretto and engulfed in chocolate? Perhaps one strudel would be like a pot pie and the other would be like a shortcake. After all, there is something daring about taking conventional baked goods and abandoning their baking conventions. Oh, but I had finals to consider, and moving decisions to make, and my cat hasn't been getting along with his roommates, and this was going on and I had that problem to tend to and on and on and on! If one of my roommate hadn't had her birthday this month, I'm not sure if I would have even bothered participating. In fact, the night I made it, the real joy of the experience wasn't making the strudel itself so much as avoiding school work.
... at least, that's how I felt at first.
The cubicle I call my kitchen was a rubiks cube of activity. My roommates and I were in a late-night study frenzy, executing some strange choreography of bows and leaps in as we reached for snacks and shoved between plates. Generally, I like to bake in relative solitude; I like a calm ambiance punctuated by a little Tom Waits where no one can see me licking the spatula after every stir or pretending to be a drunk cowboy during "Goin' Out West." Instead, I embraced the chaos. It was my first real break from hours in my room relating to a giant blue baby I was painting and old Sabrina the Teenage Witch episodes. I needed to talk to anything that talked back more than I needed to get this challenge done.
But then the flour went in, and the vinegar went in... the water, the oil, the salt... At first, I had a lot of complaints about the dough because it seemed too tough, too dry, too - I couldn't even say, it just seemed WRONG. Giving up wasn't an option, though, because it meant saying good bye to the roommates and going back to the drawing board (this time, I mean that literally). So I just kept stirring and kneading, stirring and kneading, fingers crossed that something was going to come of this. Apparently, something was because lo and behold, I looked down to discover my mixing bowl had birthed this milky-yellow orb that caught the light like marble. Shocking. It felt as creamy as it looked, all putty and no stick, and I was a little confused when it had stopped being a flour-y mess and started being, well, dough. For an instant, I felt very proud, but I couldn't get ahead of myself because, hell, any asshole can make dough, and that wasn't the part I really feared for. What I really feared was the rolling part.
But as it turns out, that wasn't so bad, either. I watched some youtube instructional videos (including some in Italian! which I sort of speak!) that let me roll with confidence. My dough turned out so silky and soft that it was really easy to manipulate, and getting it to the tissue-paper thin stage became like a game. Pull a little, a little more, no, no, too much, okay, pull... ahhhh. I don't know why I took such satisfaction in it, but I did.
When it came time to fill it, my heart sank a little. In fact, I was so disappointed that I carelessly threw in some raspberries (only frozen fruit on hand) and chocolate chips, rolled the thing, made a circle sort of shape, and threw the thing in the oven. Never mind that I should have put some sugar in with the raspberries, maybe made a ganache-y filling instead of just tossing in chocolate. Heavens forbid, I forgot to glaze my dough, too! Normally, flavor and presentation are my favorite parts about desserts - like, the assembly just comes with the territory - but this time, it wasn't on my radar. The dough was such an interesting experience and I was in such a rush that, that was enough to satiate any lingering creative urges I needed to express via baking. And I abandoned the project.
Serving the strudel was unceremonious. When it came out of the oven, I tossed the pan at my roommate with an offhanded something like, "Happy birthday, slugger!" Then I went straight to bed. Straight, straight to bed. But in hindsight, the whole thing makes me kind of giddy - because hey! I can make STRUDEL. And when I'm ready to embrace the possibilities implied by STRUDEL, I'll be able to walk that road. Oh yes, I'll be able to walk that road...
What would you put in your strudel?
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers
+ 1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
+ 1/8 teaspoon salt
+ 7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
+ 2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
+ 1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
01. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.
Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.
02. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.
Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).
03. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.
Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.
04. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.