Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sweet November Strudel

Who doesn’t love a good strudel? It’s one of those things that’s hard to say without an Austrian accent, where the most historic recipe—one for a milk-cream strudel with a mile-long German name—is exhibited as a handwritten recipe in the Viennese City Library. FYI: it’s stuffed with sweet bread, raisin and cream filling and served right in the pan with hot vanilla sauce. It’s the perfect intro image to get you psyched for Butternut Squash and Pear Strudel.

But first, an Ode to Strudel

I love it because it’s so versatile. You can stuff it with pretty much anything you want. As long as you’ve got a little phyllo dough or puff pastry for wrapping, you can take your strudel to sweet confectionary extremes with sugar-laced fruit, or go savory, with potatoes, turkey, cheeses and smoky meats. While I advocate strudel for using the leftover turkey you’ll soon have, the recipe I’m excited about today is full on sweet, with just a hint of chili powder. And it’s fun because it uses seasonal fruit.

Then a Nod to Perfect Winter Pears…

In the rearview of our fruit buying days, we can all look back and say we started buying good pears in the late summer, when we stocked our fruit bowls with Bartletts; those were soon followed by Bosc and Comice, in season during early fall through winter. But it’s the Anjou pear that made it into my sweet November strudel. The Anjou, A.K.A. “the winter pear.” has a crisp green skin, is very, very juicy, and doesn’t change color once it’s ripe.

I can’t tell you how good these pears smelled fresh out of the often, commingling with the bright orange squash and cinnamon and rosemary…it was actually kind of hard to complete the recipe at that point, prepare the phyllo dough and spoon in this heavenly mixture—made even better with the goat cheese I decided to use at the last minute instead of the Gouda. I could have substituted any number of things in this strudel and had it turn out fabulous: instead of pears, I could have used apples; raisins would have been a nice touch too.

And a Crash Course in Phyllo

And as for the phyllo dough, some home cooks may not be all that familiar with it, so I’m going to talk about it a little bit here. Many of my readers have enjoyed Spanikopita in a Greek restaurant, or baklava; these are Mediterranean and Middle Eastern favorites that call for phyllo (phyllo is the Greek word for “leaf” and when you see how sheath-like phyllo is, you’ll understand its name better).
Phyllo may be paper thin, but it’s not so brittle that you have to worry about it falling to pieces when you work with it. Just relax and roll it out in a sheet; no worries! You’ll find it in the frozen food aisle, with the pie shells. Keep your eye out for a rectangular box (looks just like a roll of aluminum foil, actually) marked “Phyllo.”

You could use puff pastry for this recipe too. The only difference between Puff pastry and phyllo is that you fold the dough when you’re working Puff and stack it for phyllo—once you’ve stacked the phyllo—as I suggest in this recipe with breadcrumbs separating each of the 5 phyllo layers that compose 1 log—you can then roll it to your heart’s content. Remember that with Phyllo, it’s very important to brush each layer with generous amounts of butter, or it won’t brown up in the oven the way you want it to.

Once you get comfortable with Phyllo, you’ll be making strudel every other weekend to go with your coffee. Make sure you make my other Phyllo Fav: Just like Grammy’s Apple Strudel. Happy Strudeling, everybody!

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