“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” I repeated the reassuring mantra this past weekend as I mixed together butter, margarine, and sour cream for my apple strudel. It wasn’t just any apple strudel. After years of rolling flimsy dough, re-rolling, and piecing together unshapely strudels, I learned the tricks of the trade from the expert bakers at Gluckstadt’s St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. Hundreds of strudels were made and sold at Sunday’s Germanfest, each one as perfectly-shaped as the next. Learning their technique opened the door for my first — and I might add perfect — apple strudel of fall.
The keys to rolling strudel, or making dough for pie crusts or any pastry, actually, are simple. It’s imperative to work with firm, chilled dough. Dough must be combined the day before, covered, and chilled in the refrigerator overnight. Just like that, no more flimsy dough when the rolling process begins.
Also, instead of using a pastry board, a pastry cloth is the way to go. The thin cloth is made of a utility fabric called unbleached drill, similar to light canvas. It can be found in the kitchen gadgets aisle next to rolling pins. If you’re a DIY kind of person, you can make your own by purchasing the fabric in the craft section and hemming the edges.
To begin, sprinkle flour directly onto the cloth and spread it over the surface with your fingers. Then, place the dough on the floured cloth and grab your rolling pin. The floured cloth creates a smooth, non-stick surface for rolling dough for strudels, pie crusts, cobblers, and anything else that needs straightening before baking.
Now, to the all-important rolling process. Spread the filling, leaving a border of dough around the edges. Starting at the far end, grab the cloth by the edges and flip the top edge of the dough over the filling. Repeat lifting and folding once, leaving sides open. Then, tuck in sides of the dough to enclose the filling. Continue lifting and folding until the dough is completely rolled into a flat log. Just like that, you have a perfect strudel!
Learning the secret to strudel rolling, including purchasing a secret weapon pastry cloth, made for a memorable weekend. As a result of my newfound knowledge, friends and family can expect many homemade apple and cherry-cream cheese strudels in their future.
Despite its importance, my takeaway from this year's Germanfest included more than apple strudels. After sampling delicious grilled shish kabobs filled with tasty chunks of beef, sausages, onions, and peppers, I was inspired to make miniature versions for next week’s tailgate party.
Last, I flipped over a few pages in the church cookbook from the apple strudel section and found a recipe for fall apples and one of my favorite cakes. Hot from the oven with a cup of coffee, it’ll be the perfect way to herald fall’s first cool morning or enjoy a bright harvest moon.
German Apple Coffee Cake
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup orange juice
6 apples, peeled and sliced (the church ladies use Granny Smith)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a bundt pan. Beat all ingredients, except apples and topping ingredients. Pour half of the batter into bundt pan. Add one layer of apples on top of batter, then cover with one-half of the topping mix. Pour remaining batter into the pan. Apple remaining apples into the batter around the pan. Bake for approximately 70 minutes. Cool on wire racks, then release cake onto a cake plate.
Topping mix (combine)
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Kara's tip: Spray Bundt pan with a baking spray called Bake Easy! It can be found in the craft section next to cake supplies. Cakes are released with ease, no greasing or flouring required.
Recipe from Recipes and Remembrances II, St. Joseph Catholic Church