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Apple Strudel/Jablkovy Zavin

Homemade 1-2-3-4 Cake to use for crumbs in apple strudel.
Though I've heard much joking over the years about "mixed marriages" - Germans and Czechs marrying each other - I haven't heard much about their traditional foods crossing or cross-polinating. Last summer, my 13-year-old son, 2 friends from Austin and I met my parents in Round Top to see the musical "The Heart of the Tin Trunk." The show had a sub-theme about Czechs and Germans having to get along once they moved onto the Texas frontier, no matter how much they hated each other in the old countries. There were two songs in the Broadway-style show that addressed the issue. One featured Czech and German female characters in a kitchen making strudel together, the point being that though the Germans called it strudel and the Czechs called it jablkovy zavin, it was the same pastry with the same ingredients... sugar, butter, cinnamon, apples, and dough. (If we love the same foods, surely we're not THAT bad.)

I always thought of strudel as Czech growing up. But when I mentioned to a food writer friend a list of Czech pastries I would offer if I ever had a bakery, she saw strudel on the list and said "I thought that was German." Wikipedia says "Strudel is most often associated with the Austrian cuisine, but is also a traditional pastry in the whole area formerly belonging to the Austro-Hungarian empire." which, of course, includes the Czech Republic.

I remember strudel always being on family celebratory tables... for Christmas, weddings, reunions, and even funerals, like at my grandmother's last weekend. It was a comforting sight to see one on the table when I walked into the Family Center of Sacred Heart Church.

Filling ingredients assembled - sliced apples, chopped pecans, cake crumbs, sugars, raisins, melted butter.
Ironically, my boys and I had made strudel just the weekend before. Below is the recipe we used, which is a variation of one I picked up at a long-forgotten Czech heritage event. I was familiar enough with stretching the dough from watching many family members do it and practicing with my mom several years in a row... a post-Thanksgiving tradition we tried to start (to freeze them for Christmas.) 

Apple Strudel

2 cups flour
½ cup warm water
1 tbl. Melted butter
½ tsp. salt

Mix water, egg, and melted butter. Add salt. Work the flour into the liquid mixture either by hand or in a stand mixer with a paddle. Knead the dough until its very elastic ad no longer sticky. Cover and keep in a warm place, letting the dough rest for at least an hour. In the meantime, prepare the filling.

Stretching the dough by hand. Whoops, I see a hole!
1 c. crumbs (like vanilla wafers, dry bread crumbs, stale cake crumbs)
¼ c. butter
4 large apples, peeled and sliced thin
¼ c. raisins
½ c. white sugar
½ c. light brown sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ c. chopped pecans
Optional ingredient – flaked coconut

Spread a cloth (tablecloth or sheet) over a large table and sprinkle it lightly with flour. Roll the dough evenly into a large square and place it in the center of the cloth. Begin pulling and stretching the dough away from the center, gently to prevent tearing, until it is evenly thin as paper and in as much of a square or rectangle shape as you can manage. Snip off the thick edges – this dough can be rolled thin and used to “patch” holes, if they occur.

Fun for all ages. (We trimmed the stretched dough into a rectangle using a pizza cutter.)
Brush the dough with melted butter and sprinkle the crumbs over ¾ of the surface. Try to leave at least an inch of uncovered dough around the edges. Spread apples, raisins, and nuts on the crumbs. Mix the two sugars together with the cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over the strudel. Using the cloth to lift and tilt the strudel, start rolling from the covered side toward the empty side, like a large jelly roll. Tuck the ends under so that no filling is exposed.

Lift the roll with hands or spatulas and gently place on a greased baking sheet. Brush the top with butter and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Brush with butter again and reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 30 minutes. Baste with melted butter again and sprinkle with white sugar (optional).

Makes 1 large strudel (12 to 16, 1” slices.)

More butter, please.
Yum, yummy, yum-yumminess, yum, yum.


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