I had wanted to try making pulled strudel (ťahaná štrúdľa) for some time, but the idea of making it seemed intimidating, no matter what videos I watched. Having now made it with a babička and then on my own, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that making it perfectly is tricky and takes practice; the good news is that making it perfectly is not at all necessary and it will still taste and look fantastic.
Most recipes touted today are all about being quick. Lunch on the go, dinner in 30 minutes. It’s easy to see why, of course, as we rush about with work, family, obligations, after school activities. Our lives are full but we still need to eat and desire tasty homemade food.
This recipe, however, is not such a recipe. This is a recipe about connection. Connection with the care matriarchs of the home have put into feeding their families. Connection with the food of the past, the tastes our forebearers knew. Connection with others, as this recipe is perfect as a group activity. Connection even with oneself, to take a step back from the to-do list and immerse yourself in an activity that knowingly takes time and patience.
As I wanted an experienced grandmother to show me how to make pulled strudel - also called závin - I went to visit Pani (Mrs.) Slobodová. While making pulled strudel she also showed me how to make opantance, an old dish of gnocchi with millet.
Her daughter and granddaughter joined us in the kitchen, the daughter reminiscing of when she was recruited as a child by her grandmother to make pulled strudel. All the grandchildren surrounded the table to pull on the dough, the experience strengthening the connection between each other and with their grandmother.
A few notes about the ingredients:
Flour: Pani Slobodová said that everything depends on the flour. A high content of gluten makes pulling easier, but using bread flour can also result in a more dry and tough dough once baked. If in Europe, use the finest grind (00 or hladka muka in Slovak). If you are elsewhere and can’t get 00 flour, try using 3/4 all-purpose and 1/4 bread flour to start with.
Recipe amount: 300 grams (2 ½ cups) flour does make a lot of strudel. The recipe can be halved, using only an egg white rather than a whole egg. However, I found that a half recipe is the same amount of work as a whole recipe, and I’d rather make more at one time. If you aren’t able to eat it all, the logs of strudel can be wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen to bake later.
Total cooking time: 4 hours
Servings: about 1 metre strudel logs
- 1 egg
- pinch salt
- 175 ml (3/4 cup) water
- 2 teaspoons butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon vinegar, any kind
- 300 grams (2 1/2 cups) 00 flour
- 125 grams (1/2 cup) melted butter (for drizzling/brushing)
- large clean cotton or linen cloth to cover table, for example a sheet
- 1 filling recipe (below instructions)
In a bowl, whisk together the first five ingredients. When mixed, add the flour. Or, like a true babička, make a well in a pile of flour on a pastry board and mix the liquids in from there.
Turn the flour onto a flat surface and knead the dough from underneath, pull up, and fold back underneath (see video) for about 30 minutes, or until the dough no longer sticks to your hands. Don't include your thumb in the kneading. The dough is ready when it is smooth and a little shiny, forming little bubbles on the top. Alternatively, knead the dough in a mixer for 20 minutes and finish off the dough by hand for a minute or so.
Flour a flat surface and let the dough rest for 30 minutes to two hours. Warm an empty dry pot on the stove and place upside down over the dough to provide a warm environment. The dough will spread out a little.
Place a large cotton or linen cloth (like a clean sheet) over a table and liberally sprinkle with flour. Place an extra amount of flour in the centre, and transfer the dough carefully over onto the extra flour. You can use a rolling pin to start rolling the dough out, in the same shape as the table.
Grease the back of your hands with butter and start stretching the dough from underneath with the back of your hands. Walk around the table, gently stretching the dough from the centre. If you have a group of people, they can stand around the table all pulling outwards. Ignore any holes that develop - this is the part that takes practice to avoid but doesn't really matter, as the holes will be lost in all the layers of dough. The dough can also develop "veins" of thicker dough, and this is ideally avoided.
If you can pull the dough over the sides of the table, the weight of it will help keep the dough stretched out. Cut the thick outer edges of the dough and discard (although my mother-in-law remembers that very talented strudel makers could make another strudel with the cut-offs). Ideally, the dough should be thin enough to read a newspaper underneath.
Preheat the oven to 200C (400F).
With a pastry brush, liberally sprinkle the pulled strudel dough with melted butter. Do not brush. Add fillings on top (specific instructions in each recipe), folding the dough hanging off the edge over top of the filling and adding some more filling on top. If you are using two fillings, cut the dough down the middle where the filling switches.
Pick up the narrow side of the cloth and lift to roll the strudel (see video). You may brush on additional melted butter of each layer for a flakier richer crust, but I found this effective only if there is no filling. If you want to freeze some to bake later, cut off part of the log, wrap in plastic wrap, and freeze. (To bake later, let it thaw out and proceed as normal.)
Place the strudel roll in the shape of an S or U, or cut it to fit, on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Make a few small slits with the end of a sharp knife to allow steam to escape and prevent cracking. Brush the outside with melted butter again, and bake for about 40 minutes.
Allow the strudel to cool before cutting into thick chunks. Optionally dust the top with icing sugar (powdered sugar) to serve. Enjoy the fruit of your labours, ideally with others!
Choose one of the following fillings for your strudel. You can choose two fillings for one batch of strudel dough.
While some people use sliced apples that are first cooked, which may give a less soggy strudel, in these parts most people make strudel with grated apples.
- 1 kg (2 lbs) grated apples
- 200 grams (1 cup) granulated sugar
- 100 grams (1/2 cup) raisins
- 100 grams (1 cup) breadcrumbs
Grate apples and gently squeeze out excess juice. Sprinkle over the pulled dough, fold over the hanging sides and covering with apples as well. Sprinkle sugar, raisins, breadcrumbs, and cinnamon over the apples. Sprinkle again with melted butter. Continue with above recipe.
Cheese curd filling
Tvaroh, or curds in English, is often used in sweets in Slovakia. Quark is the German name, also called farmers cheese. You could probably use ricotta cheese in a pinch. Make sure to use the full fat versions! This recipe is only for one half of the dough recipe.
- 750 grams (27 oz) tvaroh/quark/farmers cheese
- 5 teaspoons heavy cream
- 3 egg yolks
- pinch salt
- 200 grams (1 cup) sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla extract OR peel of one lemon optional
- 100 grams (1/2 cup) raisins
Mix all the ingredients together except raisins, making sure to mash the cheese well. Some recipes call for vanilla sugar, some call for lemon peel, some call for neither. Choose according to taste.
Drop in clumps along half of the dough and spread with your fingers. Sprinkle with raisins and melted butter. When you roll the strudel, after rolling the cheese part brush each round of dough with melted butter for extra flakiness. Continue recipe as above.
Cherry or sour cherry filling
You can use either sweet or sour cherries for this filling. Add a bit more sugar if using sour cherries as they are (obviously) not as sweet. This is for one half of a strudel dough recipe.
- 2 cups canned cherries, sweet or sour, pitted and drained
- 1 1/3 cup powered sugar
- 1 cup poppy seeds
Put poppy seeds through a coffee grinder or food processor to grind them. Sprinkle ground poppy seeds over the dough, then powered sugar. Place canned cherries over half of the dough. Dribble with melted butter, roll, and proceed with recipe above.
Poppy seed or walnut filling
The same method can be used for ground walnuts or ground poppy seeds, both popular fillings. This filling needs to be made ahead, so it has time to cool before using it.
- 300 ml (1 1/4 cup) milk
- 300 grams (2 cups) powered sugar
- 500 grams (1 lb) poppy seeds, ground OR 400 grams walnuts, ground
- 100 grams (1/2 cup) raisins (only for poppy seeds)
- lemon peel from 1/2 lemon
Warm the milk and sugar together, stir in poppy seeds and raisins and lemon peel or ground walnuts. Leave it to cool.
Cover about one third of the dough with poppy seed or walnut mixture, drizzle with butter and roll, brushing the layers without the filling with butter for an extra flaky crust. Proceed with recipe as above.