Helmut Who?

Twice a year I allow myself a delicious indulgence (okay, so I indulge ALOT during a year's time, but for the sake of this post we'll stick to only one of my indulgences and keep it food related, okay?)

The Queen City hosts the Southern Spring Show and the Southern Christmas Show in March and December and I am usually in attendance at one or both shows for one purpose only.....

Helmut's Strudels.

The food vendors are always set up at the far reaches of the show...all the way in the third building but I can smell them as soon as I hit the door of the first building....the wafting aroma of freshly baked strudels with their golden brown flaky crust covered with a sensual dusting of powdered sugar. Your choice of peach, apple, or cherry. I think there are a few savory offerings as well but I bypass those. Helmut knows my weakness is cherry.

When the advertisements for the show start playing on the radio, I immediately formulate a mental vision of Helmut's taut German muscles clad in a crisp, stark white baker's uniform lovingly shaping my cherry strudel with his manly hands and lightly dusting it with powdered sugar as it comes out of the oven steaming hot. If my family is visiting at the time, they usually buy several strudels to take home and give as gifts. I, being the selfish person that I am, buy several strudels and eat them all myself. What can I say? I look forward to my twice-a-year love affair with Helmut and I intend to gorge myself with all the fresh from the oven lovin' that I can stand.

But Helmut, honey...I hate to tell you that our affair has to end. I've found someone else. Oh, sweetie, don't be upset. It's not you. It's me. Really. I can take all the blame for this break up because the May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers. These lovely ladies gave us free reign with our choice of strudel filling and after just one try at the strudel making process, I've kicked Helmut to the curb and added yet another "keeper" recipe to my file.

The real challenge of this recipe is taking a dough ball the size of the palm of your hand and shaping it into a 3'x2' sheet. Believe it or not, it's easier than it seems because the dough is very forgiving. My baking constituents confirmed that holes in the dough sheet were okay and while many of them had dough similar to Swiss cheese, I ended up with only 2 holes!
A quick tour of the freezer and pantry confirmed that I would be filling my strudel with orange infused cranberries left over from this recipe, Granny Smith apples, crystallized ginger, Chinese five spice powder and walnuts. Helmut, honey, you never stood a chance with this winning combination! This strudel wound up being about as long as my arm and I could have seriously eaten it all the way up to my elbow. It was seriously that good!

Thank you Courtney and Linda (make sure you head to their sites if you are interested in seeing the recipe as written) for broadening my horizons and showing me that Helmut isn't the only strudel in town!



Strudel Dough from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

1-1/3 cups unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

Alison's Filling:

1/2 cup butter, melted & divided
1-1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1 large navel oranges
12 ounces fresh or frozen cranberries
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled & cored & sliced into half moon rounds
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
1/4 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice powder
1/3 cup granulated sugar

For the dough:
1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary. Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally. Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches. Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can. Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.

4. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet wide and 3 feet long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.

For the filling:

Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the breadcrumbs and cook whilst stirring until golden and toasted. This will take about 3 minutes. Let it cool completely.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, combine the granulated sugar and water. Scrape the vanilla seeds onto a small plate and add the pod to the saucepan. Using a vegetable peeler, remove 2 long strips of zest from the orange and add them to the pan. Halve the orange and squeeze the juice into the saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Add the cranberries and cook over low heat just until the berries are softened but still intact, about 8 minutes. Let cool completely. Discard the vanilla bean and orange zest and refrigerate until chilled. Drain cranberries well in colander.

Put the rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a large baking sheet with baking paper (parchment paper). Spread about 3 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter over the dough using your hands (a bristle brush could tear the dough, you could use a special feather pastry brush instead of your hands). Sprinkle the buttered dough with the bread crumbs. Spread the walnuts about 3 inches from the short edge of the dough in a 6-inch-wide strip. Layer the apples over the walnuts and top with drained cranberries. Combine 1/3 cup sugar and Chinese five spice powder and sprinkle over fruit filling.

Fold the short end of the dough onto the filling. Lift the tablecloth at the short end of the dough so that the strudel rolls onto itself. Transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet by lifting it. Curve it into a horseshoe to fit. Tuck the ends under the strudel. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter.

Bake the strudel for about 30 minutes or until it is deep golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Use a serrated knife and serve either warm or at room temperature. It is best on the day it is baked.

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