How to Make the Perfect Apple Strudel

apples

After three attempts, two days and one satisfying result, I can honestly say I know something today I didn’t know a week ago—well, make that, I know a lot of somethings, and they all have to do with one thing, the kind of thing that’s no small feat, especially when you’re a slow learner (hand raised!) and prone to catastrophe (why yes, that was me that put wax paper in the oven on attempt #1)—I now know how to make the perfect apple strudel. There are bigger accomplishments to be made in life than this, I know, but there are few I’d be more happy about and few I’d be more excited to share with you.

So here is the story.

green apples in basket

You could say things began last Saturday, at an evening wedding on the lake, where all the tables in a big white tent in Michigan were topped by gorgeous, green apples and a certain beautiful bride insisted we take a whole basket home with us, because have you read her blog? she’s always generous like that and, our arms full while we walked to the car, we brainstormed what to do with them.

chopped apples

But in another way, you could say the story starts even earlier than that—decades earlier—in a small Maywood kitchen where my grandma liked to bake and in the house I grew up in, where my mom liked to make her recipes. I found the original version of this strudel, one in Grandma’s writing, one in Mom’s, tucked into an overflowing cookbook, the kind you have to hold carefully or papers start falling out, and although there were many [crucial! important! why-don’t-you-guys-write-this-stuff-down?] instructions missing, my third attempt at following it was a charm, particularly when I enlisted my mom’s trained eye for help.

strudel filling

Secret #1: With apple strudel, it’s all about technique.
There are many things you can fudge on: slice the apples, dice the apples; add nuts and raisins to the filling or leave them out; make one strudel or make them two at a time (the way the women in my family liked to). But one thing you can’t alter is the way you roll out the dough and spread the filling in a compact, uniform mountain right in the center. It should be high and even and just in the center of the dough. This is key.

strudel ready to bake

Secret #2: You don’t have to chill the dough. This is mind-blowing. I mean, the original instructions insist you refrigerate the dough, in wax paper, for eight hours or overnight, but: Mom has never done this, and now I’m just guessing Grandma didn’t either. I could launch into a long aside here about how home cooks really should write their recipes down accurately! for posterity! for struggling granddaughters! But I already whined about this to my mom, so I’ll just assume you all know this and we’ll move on.

baked strudel

Secret #3: You control the dough. I could have called this one, Use lots of flour or This is why you don’t have to chill it, but I like mentioning control because it emphasizes how the power is in your hands, literally. The dough will seem very sticky and elastic when you first work with it, but you are free (as free as can be!) to add flour to get stuck pieces off the parchment paper, to make the dough move around better, to just get it feeling the way you want. You’ll know when it’s the right amount because the dough will roll out easily and yet not stick uncontrollably. It’s magical.

slice of apple strudel

Secret #4: It’s OK if it leaks in the oven. Listen, the pastry dough is thin (that’s what makes it all flaky and buttery and mmmm), and the filling is wet, so you may have some leakage. That’s totally fine. Use a rimmed baking sheet, and make a little parchment paper wall around the strudel if you want, rolling up the edges. It will still taste good.

apple strudel and a fork

All these secrets would mean nothing if it weren’t for the results: a long, golden strudel with flaky crust surrounding hot, apple-pie-like insides with nuts and raisins and gooey sweetness. Have it with hot coffee! Top it with vanilla ice cream! Eat it on its own! This is an apple strudel to be excited about. And I am.

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thin, chewy pizza crust

thin and chewy pizza crust

You remember what it was like when you were a kid and you hated to go to bed? You could have just had the best day in your life—a birthday party, playing with friends, swimming, riding bikes, building pretend houses, eating fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, whatever—but when the sun went down, you knew what was coming. No matter how great the last few hours had been, no matter how much joy you’d been offered—and especially no matter what anyone else had told you about thankfulness—there was only one thing on your mind when your mom said to put your pajamas on, and it was a disheartening thing indeed: all this fun had to end.

That’s a little how I feel this morning.

adding mushrooms to pizza

It’s funny to think about, really. I mean, we all look at a child throwing a tantrum before bed and see precisely what he doesn’t, the very factors that would take his fear away: Morning will come, we want to say to him. There’s more fun to be had. And besides, you have to rest; you need it. We know he doesn’t see these things yet, that to him, today feels like eternity, Right Now feels like all that matters. And we know too that he’s greedy, the way we all are, the way I am about many things. Give me a good, long weekend like this last one, for example, filled with pure enjoyment every step of the way, and come Monday morning, Right Now is all I see. It’s not gratitude I’m filled with; though some gratitude is there. What I most fight and what I most feel is the same thing a child deals with who keeps hopping out of bed: wishing I had more.

I also get greedy about food—certain types more than others. Like when I bake a fresh batch of cookies, it doesn’t matter if I’m full, it doesn’t matter if it’s 11 PM; I eat at least four. Really. Or garden vegetables: offer me something from your garden, anytime, and I will take it, gladly, arms wide open, whether or not I know what to do with it, whether or not my fridge is full.

neapolitan-style pizza

But mostly, there is pizza. Is it terrible to admit, in this world of gourmet recipes and expensive ingredients, that it’s still my favorite meal? I won’t eat just any kind anymore, but I’ll eat the kind I like every day of the week. I promise if you give me a slice from Spacca Napoli, I’ll want more. That’s just how me and pizza work.

In my opinion, the key to the right pizza is the crust: it should be thin and chewy, slightly charred around the edges, with dough so translucent you almost see through it and moist enough to fold in half like they do in New York. Toppings are flexible. There’s the classic: tomatoes with basil and mozzarella, also known as Margherita. Or you can go cutting edge with potatoes! or arugula! or a white bean pesto like I had at this restaurant Friday night. Yesterday, after making our crust with white spelt flour (why? results identical to all-purpose but better for you) and in a free-form shape (why? because why not!), we topped it with diced green peppers, thin wisps of onion and sauteed mushrooms, with large rounds of mozzarella throughout.

The idea came from a post at The Kitchen Sink Recipes, which I’d read last April (!) and not forgotten about, and Kristin draws her crust from The Fresh Loaf, where the instructions are so thorough, I really have to point you over there directly.

slices of homemade pizza

We set the oven to 500F, then 525F, then eventually to 540F (who knew my oven went that high?) for our second pizza. Don’t be afraid to do the same: high temperatures are key to getting that blistered, still chewy crust. Other keys I picked up from Kristin: paint the sauce on very thinly, use parchment paper beneath the pizza for an easy lift out, keep your eye on it after five minutes (our first one took 10 minutes at 500 degrees) to watch for golden cheese and browned bread.

I’d also add that vegetables work beautifully as toppings in this style of pizza because the high temperature essentially roasts them, right on the crust, and you know how much I love roasted vegetables.

And anyway, this Monday, while I work on remembering the things that children can’t (I am thankful for the weekend I had, other good weekends will come, today is also a gift and I probably need it just as much as children need sleep), I will do it with at least one reminder of what we just had: a few more slices of this pizza.

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coconut flour pancakes (+ thoughts on the survey)

coconut flour pancakes

You guys are really something. Thank you so much for completing the survey yesterday—and for maxing out the limit of free responses within like 24 hours! The good news is we are all on the same page: I really love this place we have, as so many of you said you did. I love talking to you like old friends and dialoguing in the comment sections of posts, I love writing about my life here, I love getting to know so many of you while you get to know me. If anyone ever doubts the community of blogging, they need only read your survey responses, I mean it. Thank you.

And thank you, too, for giving me some great ideas with your constructive criticism—ideas which I think can make this site better. You hit on some of the very same flaws I see here, which is good because it means we both see them, and you also brought up some questions I didn’t know you had. I’d like to address as many of these issues as I can in this post, starting with a pretty big one: The new ingredients of 2010.

coconut flour pancakes on blue plate

At this point in our story, based on the title and the photos above, you’ve probably gathered that today’s recipe involves pancakes. Pancakes made with coconut flour. Coconut flour like we used in those cookies last month, coconut flour that doesn’t contain gluten and is high in protein and, I’m just going to guess for some 85% of you, coconut flour that is not sitting in your kitchen pantry at home.

While the survey said about 17% of you seem to be coming here actually looking for our new style of recipes focused on whole foods, the rest of you are either (a) feeling intimidated by new ingredients (it’s “a stretch” or a little “out there”) or (b) you don’t mind this new focus but you’re not that interested in it either.

coconut flour pancakes

Listen, I get it. I really, really get it. I’d never heard of coconut oil or spelt flour before the beginning of this year, and when I was first introduced to them, I saw mainly their price tags. Second, I sometimes take for granted that you can adapt a recipe to your own way of eating (from white spelt to all-purpose flour, for example, or from coconut oil to butter in a cookie recipe). I’ll try to explain that better in the future. Contrary to how it might seem, I’m not trying to convert anyone to my way of eating. I do think 2010 has improved my health drastically, both in more energy/less weight and better digestion (which has been a huge issue for me), so I’m pretty happy to tell people about it. But you don’t have to eat this way to come here, not at all; you just have to be willing to hear about it (and thank you, again).

silver dollar coconut flour pancakes

One of you suggested I make a sort of pantry list, with links to distributors, so it would be easy to know what kind of ingredients I’m using on a regular basis. (No, I don’t have five kinds of flour in my pantry, those of you who wonder.) I think that’s a great idea, and I’m going to work on that.

A few of you are interested in gluten-free recipes—well, today’s your day! You GF types are more familiar with this ingredient already, I suppose; but for anyone looking for a new take on a pancake, not to mention one that will be easier to digest because it has no gluten, just pure coconut, this is a good one. It’s an example of a recipe that you kind of have to use the “stretch” ingredient for, but it’s nice to have in your back pocket, whether for gluten-free friends or your own willing-to-experiment lifestyle. Very simple in method, it yields doughy pillows of pancake slightly eggy in flavor (most coconut flour recipes are, I’ve noticed), lightly kissed with coconut and, the way I make them, beautifully browned around the edges. For added flavor value, I like mine covered in butter and pure maple syrup. They’re not the same as classic buttermilk pancakes, but I think what I’ve been learning these last few months—and what I’ve been wanting to communicate here—is that these new ingredients have a beauty all their own, the way most new things do.

I’m glad to share it with you.

(Didn’t see your question answered? Scroll all the way to the bottom, below the recipe!)

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Curried Coconut Chicken & Peanut Butter Noodles

Listen, it’s not like I never do adventurous things. I mean, you know: I ride roller coasters. I cut 11 inches off my hair. I launch out into self-employment. And hello, there was that mountain in Maine I won’t let anyone forget about. Remember?!

But when it comes to my kitchen and new types of cuisine, even I will admit that I stick pretty close to the basics: American, Italian, sometimes Greek, but pretty rarely anything outside that. And if it weren’t for my friend Stacey, who came over Tuesday night to, at her suggestion, try making Thai food, that would all be exactly the same.

peanut butter noodles

Our plan of attack was simple: pick two recipes, adapt the ingredients to be fully natural, follow the instructions and cook.

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Fried Zucchini

There are days when you don’t feel like cooking.

You spend the morning writing, you spend the afternoon not buying a dress at the mall, you do a conference call, you head to a meeting, and you think: I’m hungry, but I don’t want to put any effort into it. You don’t want to cook, but you want to eat (you always want to eat), so you pull something out of the fridge or off the counter, be it an apple or a cookie or a large piece of bread, and it is enough.

There are many days like this. Maybe most days are like this.

slicing zucchini

On the better of these many days, you come home and you see a zucchini on the counter, one you bought at the farmers market—the same farmers market that you will miss come winter, if only because it puts fresh and local vegetables in your kitchen each week—and you think with your lazy heart that you’d like to eat it without much work. So you slice it into rounds, and you sauté them on the stove in coconut oil and butter until they’re crisp and golden, like little chips, and you pop them in your mouth, one by one, as quickly as they cook, until they’re gone.

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Interview with Honey Cafe

Back in February, when Jacqui and I first stepped inside Honey, on an afternoon where there was muddy snow on the ground and we wore winter coats, I knew right away we’d found something special. It was either that visit or our next where this café filled with Amish chicken, grass-fed meat and organic greens had me fully won over, slapping the table and saying, New life goal! I’ll try every single item on this menu, just wait!

Seven months later, after more visits with Jacqui, several lunches with friends, weekend breakfasts, random takeouts, a great dinner date and a quiet birthday brunch, would you believe it, I am more than halfway there.

Honey sign

In fact, since I last told you about it, Honey’s become a part of my regular life, that place where I celebrate and enjoy conversation and always want to bring friends. We’ve now spent three seasons getting to know each other, the way you want to do when something (or someone) has really caught your fancy, and I’m happy to tell you this: we’re still going strong. In fact, yesterday, you could say we hit a new milestone, because yesterday is when I sat down with Honey’s lovely owner, Elizabeth Janus.

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