Lifestyle

Anatomy of an apple strudel: A favorite thing, for centuries

Apple strudel MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Deb Lindsey
Apple strudel MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Deb Lindsey

Apple strudel has a way of evoking nostalgia. For Helene Gallent, owner of Little Austria, a small Leesburg, Virginia, company specializing in Austrian sweets, apple strudel is the taste of childhood spent in the southern Austrian region of Carinthia. The sweet pastry filled with cinnamon-spiced apples is a welcome sight any time of year, but perhaps more so in autumn.

Strudel, with a number of fillings savory or sweet, is found throughout central and western Europe. The first written recipe dates to the 1696 manuscript “Koch Puech.” Its connection to German-speaking nations (“strudel” means “whirlpool” in German – a reference to the swirly appearance some types have when sliced) provides a boost of popularity come Oktoberfest season, in mid- to late September.

Crust

Gallent stretches her sunflower-oil-based dough into a super thin sheet, which, once rolled with the apple filling and brushed with butter, creates a multilayered, slightly crisp crust. German Gourmet in Falls Church, Viriginia, and Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe in Arlington, Virginia, use puff pastry, creating a flaky, slightly doughier shell.

Fruit

Nearly any variety of fruit can be used, but apple seems to be the most popular; likewise, the slice and texture of the filling is quite variable. Some apples, like those used by Little Austria, are thinly sliced; German Gourmet’s filling is chunkier, while Heidelberg Pastry’s recalls apple sauce, as the filling is cooked before going into the strudel.

Raisins

Love it or hate it, the dried fruit is a common addition. It adds a dimension of sweetness and a bit of chew.

Sugar and spice

Naturally, cinnamon is the spice of choice here; Little Austria treads lightly with the spice while also keeping the sweetness in check. German Gourmet’s strudel is more cinnamon-forward.

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