When I was growing up, my mother had a friend who made strudel from scratch. I remember visiting Giselle Sauerwein's home and watching her carefully stretch the dough until it completely covered the round dining room table.
She worked from the underside, palms down and hands slightly clenched, so the flat planes of her knuckles coaxed the dough outward from the center. Moving around the table as she worked, she eventually produced dough as thin as tissue paper.
Usually she rolled the dough around an apple filling, but sometimes cherries or poppy seeds were tucked inside. The resulting desserts were sublime, particularly when served warm with vanilla ice cream.
I doubt there are many people today who have the time or skill to make strudel by the traditional method, but a good facsimile can be made using packaged filo dough. It's available fresh in specialty grocery stores and some supermarkets; frozen filo can be found in almost any market. For best results, thaw the filo overnight in the refrigerator.
Remove the filo from the refrigerator a couple of hours before you plan to make the strudel, but leave the package sealed.
Making a template out of wax paper gives you a quick guide for forming the filo into a square, helps with the folding and rolling techniques and minimizes cleanup. Cut two 26-inch lengths of wax paper, overlap the long sides about a half inch and tape the two pieces together.
Using a ruler and the end of a sharp skewer, draw an 18-inch square in the center of the wax paper. Place the template on a work surface with enough room next to it for the filo dough.
Combine the filling ingredients and toss together until the apple slices are evenly coated. This will prevent them from turning dark.
Open the filo dough and carefully unroll it on a sheet of wax paper or plastic wrap. Separate half of sheets, re-roll in plastic wrap and refrigerate or refreeze for another use.
Quickly cover the remaining half of the filo sheets with wax paper or plastic wrap, then a damp towel, to prevent them from drying out and becoming unusable. (The towel should not touch the dough.)
Place one sheet of filo along the upper edge of the template drawn on the wax paper. Overlap a second sheet enough to form an 18-inch square within the guidelines. Brush the filo with melted butter (Step 1) and sprinkle with a scant tablespoon of toasted bread crumbs.
Layer the remaining filo (Step 2), two sheets at a time, each time alternating the direction they are placed. Brush each layer with butter and sprinkle with crumbs.
Place the reserved filling in a 12x4-inch rectangle about three inches from one edge of the dough (Step 3). Using the wax paper to lift the dough, fold in the sides.
Begin at the end near the filling and roll up the filo dough jellyroll fashion (Step 4), encasing the filling. It may be easier to lift the dough with the wax paper as you roll.
Place the roll seam-side down on a greased jellyroll pan and brush with melted butter (Step 5). Bake until golden brown, then cool about 30 minutes before slicing diagonally (Step 6) for serving.
1 (1-pound) package filo dough
2 tablespoons raisins
2 tablespoons chopped blanched almonds
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Dash ground nutmeg
Toasted bread crumbs
2 medium apples, thinly sliced
1/2 cup melted butter
If filo dough is frozen, thaw overnight in refrigerator. Remove from refrigerator 2 hours before beginning preparation, but leave package closed.
Cut 2 (26-inch) lengths of wax paper. Overlap long sides of wax paper about 1/2 inch and tape together. Using ruler and end of sharp skewer, draw 18-inch square in center of wax paper to use as template. Set aside.
Combine raisins, almonds, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and 2 tablespoons bread crumbs in medium bowl. Add apples and toss until slices are evenly coated. Set aside.
Open filo dough. Unroll carefully on sheet of wax paper or plastic wrap. Separate half of sheets, re-roll in plastic wrap and refrigerate or refreeze for another use.
Cover remaining half filo with sheet of wax paper or plastic wrap, then damp towel, to prevent drying. Towel should not touch dough.
Place 2 sheets filo, overlapping enough to form 18-inch square, on template. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with scant tablespoon of bread crumbs.
Layer remaining filo, 2 sheets at time, alternating directions. Brush each layer with butter and sprinkle with bread crumbs.
Place filling in 12x4-inch rectangle about 3 inches from 1 edge of dough. Using wax paper to lift dough, fold in sides.
Beginning at end near filling, roll filo jellyroll fashion, encasing filling. Continue to roll, lifting dough with wax paper.
Place roll seam-side down on greased jellyroll pan. Brush with melted butter. Bake at 375 degrees 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown.
Remove from oven and cool in jellyroll pan on wire rack about 30 minutes. Slice strudel diagonally. Serve warm or cold. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
Each of 8 servings contains about:
299 calories; 347 mg sodium; 31 mg cholesterol; 13 grams fat; 43 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams protein; 0.22 gram fiber.