The Saturday after Thanksgiving, we went to Mt. Angel, Ore. We visited the breathtaking Mount Angel Abbey, perched high on a hill with a heart-stopping view of Oregon’s pastoral beauty spread out below like a green-and-yellow tablecloth. Later, we drove into town to see the famous four-story glockenspiel, a clock tower with music and moving parts. Mt. Angel’s glockenspiel is, shall we say, perhaps not as sophisticated as glockenspiels in Germany, like the one in Munich’s Marienplatz square. Nevertheless, it’s amusing to watch painted wooden figures depicting Mt. Angel’s history spin around to tinkly tunes and I found myself singing along to “Edelweiss.” But the most marvelous thing about the glockenspiel is what’s underneath it: a German restaurant called (rather obviously) The Glockenspiel, where we sat by the fire and ate from plates heaping with schnitzel, cabbage rolls, bratwurst and braised red cabbage.
A day later, I was still obsessing about German food. I wanted to eat in a big, open-beamed building that felt like a hunting lodge or ski chalet, even though I have never hunted except for bargains and would rather eat my own toenails than ever go skiing again. Gustav’s fit the bill so off we trundled in the pouring rain to enjoy the cozy atmosphere. We ordered apfelstrudel with whipped cream and I’m pretty sure it was the best thing I’ve ever eaten. I asked about the recipe and was told that the apfelstrudel is brought in from Germany. It is enveloped in a thin, wonderfully soft dough that’s almost like a pancake or crepe.
I thought, “Maybe I can make this at home!” Thus began a very long trip down a doughy rabbit hole, reading various recipes and watching video after video of skilled bakers knead and stretch the dough. It’s said that strudel dough isn’t thin enough until you can read the newspaper through it. Furthermore, to get the gluten to be that stretchy, the dough must be kneaded a lot. I looked at recipes with kneading times that varied from 10 to 30 minutes total. It made my arms ache just from watching.
I also found several recipes for apple strudel with sheets of phyllo dough, available in most grocery stores. It makes a crispy exterior rather than the soft pastry I wanted, but it looked pretty easy so I thought I’d give it a whirl. Well, I could not find phyllo sheets anywhere, so I bought puff pastry sheets instead. I aimed to make a strudel that was as authentic as possible without really being authentic at all.
The recipes said to make the apples first, because you don’t want the dough to dry out. To keep my thawed pastry malleable, I covered it with a damp tea towel while I peeled, cored and finely diced five extra-large Honeycrisp apples, about 6 cups. I added ½ cup raisins, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and ¼ teaspoon salt, then set the apples aside. (Many apfelstrudel recipes call for rum-soaked raisins, which I’m sure would be delicious, but I’m an impatient woman and couldn’t wait for rummy raisins.)
Next, I removed the damp towel from the two sheets of puff pastry, laid it flat on the counter and dusted it generously with flour. This was a mistake. I should have used a dry tea towel but for some deeply misguided reason I thought it would be less sticky if it were wet. Um, nope. Anyhow, I set the two pastry sheets side by side, overlapping a little in the middle to make them into one big piece, then I began rolling … and rolling … and rolling. I rolled that puff pastry until it stretched within a couple inches of the edge of the tea towel. I could nearly see the tea towel’s pattern through the dough. I tried writing “apple strudel” on a piece of paper and putting it under the dough, but it wasn’t legible. Still, at about 22 inches across in both directions, I thought it was thin enough.
I melted a tablespoon of butter and brushed it over the half nearest me. Then I mixed ½ cup breadcrumbs with ¼ cup sugar and ½ teaspoon cinnamon and sprinkled it over the butter. I got the bowl of apples and saw that they were sitting in liquid. Sugar and salt make apples taste good but they also draw liquid out of the fruit. I drained the liquid off with a colander, sad to see all that flavor go down the drain but hopeful that now my strudel wouldn’t be soggy. I spread the apples over the butter and breadcrumbs, leaving about an inch or two of dough on the margins, which I folded in over the edges of the filling. Now I needed to roll everything into a log.
Slow your roll
This is where I ran into problems. The dough stuck to the parts of the tea towel that were damp and it was very difficult to peel it away without breaking the dough. It worked best if I lifted the whole thing with the tea towel and let gravity help me with the rolling. Instead of peeling the dough away from the towel, I peeled the towel away from the dough and kept rolling everything forward inch by inch, tucking in the dough on the sides. I thought the puff pastry would split into a thousand pieces but it miraculously stayed intact.
To avoid lifting the entire apple strudel onto a baking sheet and possibly breaking it, I used the towel to roll it into place, seam side down. The rolled strudel was quite long, about 16 inches from end to end. To give it a nice golden color, I whisked a whole egg with 1 tablespoon of milk and brushed it generously over the strudel. (I didn’t use all of the egg wash but saved it for scrambled eggs.) “Real” apfelstrudel doesn’t have vents but I thought they might be a good idea so I used a sharp knife to make diagonal slits on top every two inches.
I baked it at 350 degrees for exactly an hour. It was the most beautiful golden brown and smelled like a German bakery. I pulled it out of the oven and let it cool for about 10 minutes before cutting one end off. I didn’t bother with powdered sugar, which is traditional, but crammed it directly into my mouth, where the apples and raisins melted together with the flaky, buttery pastry. It might not be authentic apfelstrudel, but it’s by far the best thing I’ve baked all year, like angels dancing on my tongue. Now I just need to build my own glockenspiel.