// Written By Francisca Gomez //
Apple strudel, in German “apfelstrudel,” is a variety of the strudel, a pastry that is made with very thin dough, filled with something sweet or salty, then rolled into a “strudel” which in German means “whirlpool.” As you can probably guess, apfelstrudel is a traditional strudel filled with apples. Ubiquitous in Central and Eastern Europe, especially in Austria and Bavaria, the strudel has an interesting history that starts with the invention of the baklava.
Although the origins of the baklava can be the subject for another post, the baklava requires thin dough, a technique likely perfected by either the Greeks or the Ottomans. The pastries made with this kind of dough are called filo pastries – in Greek, “phyllo,” which means leaf. These pastries are popular in the Balkans and the Middle East.
It is very likely that the technique behind the filo pastries arrived to Central Europe via the Ottoman Empire, as the Habsburgs had constant interactions with the Ottomans. It is believed that the Strudel arrived to Hungary first, then traveled to Austria. Although it is difficult to establish a specific date, the oldest known Strudel recipe dates back to 1696. The handwritten recipe is in Vienna’s National Library, and it gives instructions for making a milk-cream Strudel.
Later, other varieties of strudels were invented and popularized. By the 1800s, many varieties, including the apfelstrudel existed. Others are filled with almonds, poppy seed paste, cabbage, meat, cherry, apricot, herbs, and cinnamon.
The filling of the apfelstrudel consists of chopped apples, sugar, cinnamon, raisins, and breadcrumbs. Sometimes a variety of nuts are used. There is also a version with rum. The strudel dough is made with flour that has a high content of gluten, water, and oil. According to the Schönbrunn’s Apfelstrudelshow (a show at the café in the Habsburg’s royal palace in the outskirts of Vienna that demonstrates how to make the “royal and official” version of the Apfelstrudel*), the secret is using sunflower seed oil. This makes the dough highly flexible and elastic. The baker rolls it out so thin you can read a newspaper or a book through the dough! The filling is then spread over one edge of the large sheet of dough, the Strudel is made into a long roll, and baked until crispy.
One unexpected fact is that the Strudel was the official pastry of the state of Texas from 2003-2005. The unlikely combination dates back to settlement by Germans in the 19th century, who brought the recipe with them. Along with the sopaipilla, the strudel earned this honor by being one of the earliest pastries known to have been baked in Texas. Furthermore, the strudel is baked with wheat flour, which according to the legislation concerning this unusual distinction, has been used in Texas since the 17th century, thus adding even more history to the strudel.
Although much less controversial than other traditional dishes, the apfelstrudel is well worth a taste on a rainy or snowy day. And don’t forget to follow the suggestion of this Austrian proverb: “first bake the strudel, then sit down and ponder.”
*If you are interested, you can watch a video of the Schönbrunn’s Apfelstrudelshow here.