Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Traditional never tasted better!

IP Lesson XIV- Apple strudel

Tradional apple strudel

Often, we get excited about new desserts; the more foreign they look and sound, the more we want to try them.

Like all things traditional, traditional desserts tend to be forgotten or neglected. Or sometimes, they have evolved radically. Think of the Opera cake: How many variations of it have you seen?

While I don’t think that this evolution in the pastry world is a bad thing, I feel that we should not forget the good old traditional ones. For in them, we can learn about the fundamentals of baking, to understand culture, and to enjoy something that our predecessors have devoured and enjoyed.

I for one am guilty of embracing new dessert creations. I loved the surprise in every bite- new and unknown combinations of flavours and textures tease me and marvel me. Sometimes, I tend to snub off traditional pastries because most of the time, they are very humble or simple. Sometimes I am not even aware of the traditional pastries because of the ‘bastardized’ versions in the new world.

When you mention apple strudel, I think of the ones made with layers of puff pastry, pastry cream and apples, the ones that were responsible for a huge apple strudel craze in Singapore years ago.

Class today opened my eyes to the traditional apple strudel and to put it simply, I love it!

The traditional apple strudel is best known in Vienna, Austria. However, it actually originated in Hungary before spreading to the rest of the Austrian-Hungary empire.

Basically, this traditional apple strudel that we baked uses a paper-thin dough and filling the dough with tart green apples and flavourings before rolling and baking it.

The making of the strudel isn’t difficult. The hardest part lie in stretching the strudel dough. It was such a fun experience! Imagine just pulling the dough at all four corners till you get tracing paper thin dough where you can see your hands through it!

This must be done with much care and being impatient will just ruin the dough. Once you cause a tear or hole in the dough, you can’t scrunch up the dough and start over. This is due to the fact that the gluten needs to be well-relaxed (we left the dough overnight in the fridge) before stretching it.

Well, this is not to say that this dough is entirely unforgiving. A small tear wouldn’t hurt. Just continue with it and most probably you wouldn’t see it the moment you roll it up.

My Malaysian coursemate actually commented that the texture of the dough feels like prata (or the Malaysians will call it ‘Roti Chennai’) dough and to prove his point, he really went to pan fry the dough.

Surprisingly, it did have the taste of prata without the greasiness! Ch*ef G*ert, my Danish chef, liked it so much that he actually asked for seconds and thirds!

And so all students from SIM (Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia) all went crazy with the leftover strudel dough making variations of the prata (or roti Chennai)-with egg and without egg.

Now, while I can go on and on about the crazy variations of the prata, I should probably get back to the apple strudel proper.

Once you get past the hard bit, it’s time to be rewarded with the easy bit: comes the easy part: the random scattering of the ingredients for the filling. That is to allow those apple slices, brown sugar, sultanas and whatever you fancy to fall like autumn leaves onto the paper thin strudel dough which has been brushed with melted butter.

Then, it’s off to the oven to get it baked! Even though the apple strudel can be served cold, I think that it’s best served warm with a scoop of vanilla bean ice-cream.

That would be heaven on a plate.

Sometimes it is the most traditional desserts can taste so good and can be so comforting.

Give me this apple strudel and I will give up my fancy desserts!

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