“Will you make me apple strudel?”
With old age, my mother has acquired a sweet tooth she never had before. Even when I was a child, sweets were always my domain and, left up to her, would not often grace our table.
Sure I would make strudel: it’s been a Summer of berry crumbles and pies, meringues and whipped cream, her favorites, but apple strudel was a new request.
While my mother makes gnocchi, cursing American potatoes under her breath as they are apparently different from their Italian cousins, I take a sheet of puff pastry out of the freezer. In this heat, it won’t be long before it softens.
I bask in the privilege of cooking side by side with my mother: the kitchen used to be her kingdom but she relinquished some of her power to me; maybe the more apt image is a passing of the baton. When she first started spending time at my house over the Summer, dinners would be entirely of her own making. I would request my favorite dishes and she would always fill my freezer with lasagna and meat sauce before returning to Italy. Slowly, I inserted myself in her cooking enterprise and this year, I noticed, she is the one rattling off requests (can you make that lemon chicken you made last year?) so, more often than not, dinners are of my own concoction, or we end up cooking side by side.
I am often unnerved by her criticism: Your vegetables are undercooked, she would protest.
And yours are mushy, I would retort, with the truth squarely in the center between statements. When I make cakes, she observes and asks questions and picks at bits and pieces, unable to keep her opinion to herself. It should be sweeter, gulping down whipped cream. No, it shouldn’t.
The tables are slowly turning, as they should and need, although I can’t say I am entirely comfortable. For now, I enjoy the experience of cooking together, fully aware it could be taken from me from one year to the next. And I oblige her every request, like she used to do with me.
Including apple strudel. Or lazy strudel because the dough used for real strudel is not puff pastry but a distant relative, more laborious than puff pastry from the store.
With Autumn around the corner and apples already filling the produce aisles of the market, this is an easy dessert, to continue in C&S’s quest to go against fashion and help you down more sugar. If you buy puff pastry, make sure it’s of the all-butter variety, which tastes considerably better. I like apples that are neither too sweet nor too astringent, Honey Crisp for example, and you want to slice really thin, rather than cube them – they will cook much more evenly. The rest is child’s play.
1 rectangular sheet of puff pastry, thawed
3 apples, peeled, cored and quartered
White and brown sugar to taste
a handful of raisins
a handful of walnuts, chopped
a few dots of butter
a pinch of lemon zest
1 egg yolk
Pre-heat the oven to 425F/220C.
- Place the puff pastry sheet on a parchment covered baking sheet.
- Slice the apples very thin, using a mandolin if you have one.
- Place the apples in a bowl and add brown and white sugar to taste, some lemon zest, raisins, walnuts and cinnamon to taste. Taste as you go along. Mix everything well with your hands.
- Pour the apple filling on the puff pastry, distributing it along one side, leaving an inch/3 cms border on both of the short sides. Place a few dots of butter on top of the apple filling.
- Roll the pastry tightly, wetting the borders with a bit of water so the seams won’t open. Turn the strudel around so the seams are on the bottom.
- With a paring knife, make three slits over the top of the pastry. Mix the egg yolk with a few drops of water and brush it over the top of the strudel. Sprinkle some sugar.
- Bake for about 25 minutes or until the top is golden brown.