Apple Strudel

Apple strudel, fresh from the oven.The most common form of strudel in North America is puff pastry filled with sticky jam or compote, the final product very similar to a turnover or a chausson.

The original strudel, the Viennese strudel, is a different beast entirely.

Austrian strudel is made with a simple dough consisting of flour, salt, water, and vegetable oil.  High protein flour is used, and the dough is mixed extensively so that there is intensive gluten development.  This allows the baker to stretch the dough until it is so thin it is almost transparent.  The expression in Austrian kitchens is that the dough should be thin enough that you could hold the dough over a newspaper and read the text through the dough.  In concept the dough is similar to phyllo, though the finished baked goods that the two doughs make differ greatly.

A dough that has been stretched so thin must be layered several times for the pastry to have any structure.  With phyllo, the baker stacks a few sheets of the dough, separating each with a layer of butter.  During baking the water content of the butter turns to steam and keep the layers of dough separate.  The butter also aids in the browning of the pastry.

With strudel a similar effect is created not by stacking sheets of dough, but by spreading butter over a single sheet and then rolling the sheet around itself a few times.  Since the dough is so delicate, the traditional method is to stretch the dough out on a table cloth, add the filling, then lift the tablecloth so that the filled pastry rolls away from the baker.

When prepared properly and eaten fresh, strudel is a very unique pastry.  I compare the preparation of the dough to phyllo, but the eating experience is completely different.  Baked phyllo is delicate like thinnly blown glass: it is brittle, and fractures if you press on it.  Strudel dough is delicate and slightly crisp, but also has a little bit of give to its structure.  It is firm and crisp but also slightly yielding and pliable.

How this preparation ended up as a puff pastry turnover, I have no idea.

 

Apple Strudel

Dough Ingredients

  • 225 g bread flour
  • 4 g kosher salt
  • 195 mL water
  • 35 mL canola oil
  • 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar

Filling Ingredients

  • 900 g apple, peeled, cored, quartered, and sliced into pieces not exceeding 1/4″ thickness
  • 240 g dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp rum
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 360 mL toasted breadcrumbs
  • 450 g unsalted butter, melted

Combine all of the dough ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Mix with a dough hook on high speed for 10 minutes.  This is a very slack dough.  It will pool on the bottom of the mixer bowl.  After mixing, cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for several hours, or overnight.

Once you are ready to stretch the dough, rub flour into a clean tablecloth.

Stretch the dough until it is extremely thin.  The recipe above should be able to be stretched into a sheet that is 2′ x 3′.  Most bakers use the back of their hand to do this.

Stretching traditional Austrian strudel dough by hand.

The stretched dough:

The fully stretched strudel dough

Brush the entire surface with melted butter, then generously sprinkle the toasted breadcrumbs.  The breadcrumbs help keep the layers of dough separate.  Lay out the apple mixture in a line along the 3′ edge closest to you.

Filling the strudel dough with toasted breadcrumbs and apples

Lift the edge of the tablecloth closest to you so that the apples fall away from you and roll themselves in dough multiple times.

The raw strudel, all rolled up.

Now you have to get this two foot long pastry onto a tray somehow.  You may need an extra set of hands to accomplish this.  You can curl or snake the strudel to fit it onto your bake sheet.

The rolled strudel on its baking tray, ready to be baked.

Bake at 425°F until the pastry is golden brown and crispy, and the apple filling is softened and started to leech sugary goodness onto the pan, about 30-40 minutes.  Dust with icing sugar.

The finished, whole strudel, ready to be cut.

Let stand to cool before cutting.  Service with whipped cream.

A piece of strudel awaiting whipped cream.

Highbush Cranberries

A tub of highbush cranberries, picked in the Edmonton river valleyMost of the highbush cranberries in the nearby park have lengthened into a distinct oval shape, which means they’re ready for picking.

Often when harvesting or foraging in balmy summer, I find myself looking forward to the colder months ahead.

Much of the past year has been devoted to exploring seasonality beyond ingredients: looking at traditional dishes and meals that mark the season.  I pick highbush cranberries mostly for use in two meals: Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.  (If there’s a little extra that can be enjoyed in November with some game meats, all the better.)  So as I romp through the bush in late summer, I’m actually thinking about fall and winter.

Similarly, when candying cherries in August, I might envision a Christmas cake, or when picking pumpkins in September, a jack-o-lantern.  So it is with seasonal eating, that one eye looks back on the past, and one looks forward to the future.

To separate the cranberries from their stems and pits, I use a food mill with a fine die.  I cook out the sauce with a good pinch of salt, and honey.

After being processed in the canning pot, the jars will wait in the cellar until the turkey is killed.

Ingredients

  • 1 kg highbush cranberries
  • 120 g white sugar
  • cornstarch slurry

Procedure

  1. Pass the cranberries through a food mill to separate the flesh from the seeds.  This process will yield about 600 g of cranberry purée.
  2. Put the cranberry purée into a heavy pot with the sugar.  Bring to a gentle simmer.
  3. Add a small amount of cornstarch to thicken.

Pressing Apple Cider

Yet ev’n this Season Pleasance blithe affords,
Now the squeez’d Press foams with our Apple Hoards.

-John Gay

 

To most contemporary city-folk the word “cider” implies fermented apple juice.  My grandparents made the distinction between “cider” (juice pressed from apples) and “hard cider” (fermented apple juice).  For now I have simply made cider, and will leave the discussion of hard cider and its variants for another post.

This week we picked about 150 lbs of apples from three different trees:

  • one beautiful, well-trained tree yielding large, blushing apples, which I will be referring to as “Ron’s apples”;
  • one crabapple tree with bright red, tart fruit;
  • one hideous, unkempt tree in our backyard that grows small green apples.  The tree is so large and spindly that we harvested its apples by climbing into it, shaking it vigorously, and then collecting the fallen fruit from the surrounding grass.

After harvesting, we borrowed a crusher and press from Kevin.  The crusher is a garburator, intended for a kitchen sink, outfitted with a hopper and a power switch.  You can read about Kevin’s design here.  The press is a strong wooden frame with a carjack that drives a plunger onto the crushed fruit, described here.  Thank you, Kevin.

Some notes and photos from our cider day.

Here are the apples we used.  Below, left are the crab apples.  Below, right, Ron’s gorgeous apples.

Left: Dolgo crabapples, Right: Norkent apples (I think...)

And here are the tiny, bruised apples from our backyard.  They don’t look particularly appetizing – you would never pay money for them at the grocery store – but they make for good cider.
our_apples.JPG

Some sources say to wash and stem the apples before crushing.  Others say this is unnecessary.  I subscribe to the latter theory.

You also don’t need to peel or core the apples.

Below is Kevin’s crusher, doing what it does best.  The apple mash comes out white, then rapidly oxidizes to the rusty colour we associate with apple juice.  With a traditional crusher the mash will sometimes be put through a second time for a finer grind.  This in unnecessary with the garburator.  It’s very thorough.

crusher.JPG
Apple sauce from the crusher
The apple mash is scooped into a piece of cloth, which is twisted and squeezed to extract some of the juice.  We found that at least 90% of the juice could be pressed from the mash in this manner, without the use of the actual press.
Once the mash wrapped in cloth is shaped into a disc it is called a “cheese.”  Some sources say to tie the cloth with a piece of string.  This is unnecessary.  The cheeses are stacked inside the press.  Some sources say to place wooden discs between the cheeses.  This is also unnecessary.
Then the car-jack is opened to drive the plunger onto the cheeses.  The juice flows out of a spigot at the bottom of the bucket.

pressing.JPG

After being pressed, the cheese is dense, dry, and crumbly.  The left-over bits are called pomace.  In many parts of Europe grape pomace is mixed with water and sugar, fermented into a weak “wine,” and then distilled.  The resulting liquor is called grappa in Italy (especially famous in the provinces of Friuli and Piedmonte), marc in France, and tsipouro in Greece, to name only a few of the regional variations.  I suspect a similar drink could be made from this apple pomace.

pomace.JPG

We crushed and pressed the three different apples separately so we could taste the juices on their own.  Tasting notes:

  • Ron’s Apple Cider – A good balance of tart and sweet, with a hint of almond extract, probably from the seeds and skins.  Slightly silty mouthfeel.  Reddish brown.
  • Crabapple Cider – Very tart, but still surprisingly flavourful and pleasant to drink.  Brilliant pinkish red.

 

  • Our Backyard Apple Cider – This was the real surprise for me.  They are by no means choice eating-apples, and most were battered and bruised by our harvesting method.  Their juice, however, was fantastic.  A great balance of tart and sweet, and a distinct grassy finish.

The three types of cider were then mixed together.  While “single variety” may be popular with coffee and wine, apple cider and any of its fermented and distilled derivatives are always made from a blend of several apple varieties.  Half the work of the cider producer is in finding the right mix of sweet, tart, and aromatic apples to create a balanced drink.

Once mixed, the cider was syphoned into carboys to clear over night.  The roughly 150 lbs of apples made 40 L of cider.

This really is one of those epic, rewarding, seasonal “chores,” like tapping maple trees and slaughtering pigs.  There’s lots to be done with the cider, yet.  Stay tuned.

Apple-Braised Grouse

Step One: Acquire Grouse

A friend’s father, Mr. McLarney, hunts game birds with his English pointer. I had never, not once, paused to consider the signficance of common canine descriptors like pointer, setter, and retriever, until Mr. McLarney’s hunts were explained to me. The dog walks a ways in front of him, and when it comes upon a bird it stops and “points”: it aims its snout at the prey. Mr. McLarney moves within range and readies his gun, then makes a call to the pointer. At the signal, the dog scares the bird into flight, so that Mr. McLarney can pull it from the sky with his shotgun.[1]

Mr. McLarney trained his pointer in his backyard with a fishing rod and a feather. I have a hard time imagining what those sessions might have looked like.

This fall I received two grouse from the McLarneys. They had been shot the day previous. The condition of receiving the birds was that I provide the McLarneys with a recipe. Apparently Mr. McLarney is such a skilled hunter that Mrs. McLarney has run out of ways to prepare the birds.

Step Two: Clean Grouse

The most common way to clean game birds is to remove the skin, which takes all the feathers with it. I spread the feathers on the breast to expose the skin, which on this bird was paper thin and easily torn.

The breast and ruptured crop of a grousePulling the skin and feathers away from the breast, I had my first glimpse of the crop, which is a pouch at the base of the throat that moistens the food before it is sent to the stomach and gizzard. As I removed the skin, I broke the wall of the crop, exposing a handful of bugs, berries, and leaves that released a pungent aroma into my kitchen. This discovery affected me. Not because it was grotesque, but because later, when eating the meat, I could taste that same sourness I smelled in the crop. The picture at left could be titled, “Why game meat tastes different than farmed meat.”

The next step was gutting, which was easier than I anticipated. I cut around the anus, then slid my fingers through the incision and into the chest cavity. The organs separated easily from the walls, and came out in a fairly uniform piece.

Step Three: Cook

One of the main reasons I was excited to receive the grouse was because this would be one of the few times in my life that I would get to cook an old bird.

Let me explain.

Almost every chicken in the grocery store was killed about one month after it hatched. Young animals have tender flesh, and many of their bones and joints are still made of flexible cartilage. Next time you are breaking down a chicken, observe how the keel bone (sternum) is still pliable and lustrous, almost like plastic.

Older birds have much tougher flesh, their bones are solid, and their joints have little cartilage. These birds need long cooking and moist heat. Chances are you will never find an old bird in a grocery store, which is unfortunate, because we have inherited recipes, like coq au vin, that depend on them. If you were to try a traditional recipe for coq au vin with a young chicken, the lengthy braising would leave you with mushy meat.

I am very grateful to the McLarneys. This was my first experience plucking and gutting birds, and my first taste of wild poultry (and buckshot). As promised here is a recipe that I think will suite Mr. McLarney’s palate. It is based on faisan à la normande, or “Norman pheasant,” the word “Norman” simply indicating that there are apples in the dish.

Mrs. McLarney’s Apple-Braised Grouse (or Pheasant)

Ingredients

  • a few thick slices of bacon, cut into small pieces
  • half an onion, diced
  • a grouse (or pheasant): two breasts and two legs
  • half a cup of white wine or cider
  • three apples, peeled, cored and quartered
  • two cups stock (ideally made from the bird you are cooking, but chicken stock would work fine)

Process

  • Sweat bacon pieces until they are lightly browned and all their fat has rendered into the pot. Remove the pieces of bacon from the pot.
  • Crank the heat and deeply brown the grouse. Remove the grouse from the pot.
  • Lower the heat and sweat the onion in the same pot until translucent.
  • Deglaze the pot with white wine or cider.
  • Return the bacon and grouse to the pot. Add the apples.
  • Add the stock and bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer.
  • Cover the pot and simmer until the grouse is tender, maybe two hours. The apples should break down into a sauce that can be served with the bird.

A plate of apple-braised grouse

1. After learning that pointers point and setters set, I spent the next hour looking up the etymology of every breed of dog I could think of, just to make sure there wasn’t an easily understood meaning to their name that I was missing. “Poodle” is derived from the German word “pudeln,” meaning “to splash in water,” which makes sense, as poodles were originally bred as retrievers for hunting water fowl. Shitzu is mandarin for “Lion Dog,” as apparently those pups were bred to resemble the lions in traditional Chinese art.
Addendum: Apples

Ask, and it shall be given you

-Matthew 7:7, also Kevin Kossowan

A box of apples from a neighbour's treeWe received the grouse at the height of apple season, so the apple-braise was a no-brainer.

I just wanted to mention that Lisa and I don’t have our own apple tree, but this year we asked some tree-owning acquaintances if we could partake in their bounty. Overwhelmed with deteriorating fruit, they happily obliged us, as you can see at left.

This fall Kevin drew a lot of attention to the amount of fruit that grows in Edmonton, and I just wanted to corroborate his statement that, regardless of how much or how little you speak with your neighbours, they are probably eager to share their crop with you.

Foraging Fruit in and around Edmonton

A few of the many wild edibles that are in season in and around Edmonton in early fall:

Highbush Cranberries

Highbush cranberries are traditionally picked after the first frost, when they are said to be sweetest. I don’t know if the freezing temperature itself does something to sweeten the fruit, or if it’s simply that waiting until the first frost gives the fruit the longest possible time to ripen and sweeten.

Cool, cloudy summers like the one we’ve just had yield berries with more acid and less sugar. Even so, the berries will still be good, so go pick a handful to save for Thanksgiving dinner.

Highbush cranberries in the Edmonton river valley

Chokecherries

Cornucopic clusters of chokecherries hang along the trails of the river valley this time of year. The ease of picking is counteracted by the relatively low yield of usable fruit: there is after all a large pit in each cherry (hence the name..) A food-mill with the right sized plate will separate the flesh from the pits. Chokecherries are extremely astringent, and make a superb fruit wine.

Chokecherries in the Edmonton river valley

Rosehips

The fruit of roses.

A quick digression: I’ve often wondered why rosewater hasn’t become an Albertan specialty, given the provincial association, the omnipresence of wild roses, and how easy it is to make.

Rosehips in the Edmonton river valley

Juniper

I’ve pondered for some time whether the low-lying juniper planted in front lawns (Juniperus horizontalis) is edible, like its cousin Juniperus communis. I recently decided to stop wondering and start eating. These berries rarely seem to get as dark blue and fleshy as those sold at the grocery store, but they still taste fantastic, especially with game and sauerkraut.

Fruiting juniper in Edmonton

Fairybells

When Lisa and I started noticing these bright, matted red berries, we thought for sure they were poisonous. Turns out they’re not. The berries and the root of this plant taste uncannily like watermelon.

Fairy bells in the Kananaskis River valley

Mountain Ash (Rowan)

I always assumed that mountain ash berries were inedible. They stay on the trees through the winter, and I figured that if the birds don’t eat them, people probably shouldn’t, either. Then I stumbled over the entry for rowanberry in Larousse: “An orange-red berry the size of a small cherry. It is the fruit of the mountain ash tree, a species of Sorbus. The berries are used when almost overripe to make jam or jelly (good with venison) and, on a small scale, brandy. They have a tart flavour.”

As with the juniper, I worried that Edmonton had a different, inedible species of Sorbus. Then, after a certain botanist assured me they were safe, I started eating them. They’re sour, and kind of taste like rhubarb.

Mountain ash in Edmonton

Buffaloberry

Many trails I recently walked near Hinton were absolutely overgrown with buffaloberry.  The fruit is tart, bitter, and slightly soapy.  There is some good information on-line about the traditional uses of buffaloberry (also known as foamberry, soapberry, and sopolallie).  Most interesting is the practice of beating the berries in a large bowl until a meringue-like foam develops.  This preparation is called Indian ice cream.

A branch full of buffaloberries

Bog Cranberry

I didn’t even know bog cranberries grew in Alberta.  These are the low-lying cranberries that are traditionally maintained and harvested by flooding the field in which they grow.

While we stepped over plenty of cranberry bushes, ripe berries were few and far between.  Those I was able to sample had the classic tart and bitter blend we expect from bog cranberries.

Some of the low-lying bog cranberries we found

 

Walking in the woods is fun.

 A look up through the pines


Pickling Without Vinegar

Cucumbers

Naturally fermented dill picklesI come from a land of “refrigerator pickles”: cucumbers steeped in syrupy vinegar and spices, and stored in the fridge through the fall. The idea of producing an acidic pickle with only brine was a revelation.

The procedure couldn’t be simpler. Make a brine of one cup salt in one gallon of water. Cover your chosen vegetables in the chilled brine (most vegetables want to float, so you’ll have to find a way to keep them submerged) and leave for a week at a cool room temperature. This is the only tricky part: the solution must stay below 23°C to prevent the proliferation of harmful bacteria. I don’t have any air-conditioning, so I wait for weeks like this, when it barely reaches 20°C outside, and then crack open the window in my “cold storage room” (also my office, where I am typing this post).

The familiar Lactobacillus bacteria consume something (lactose?) in the vegetables and create lactic acid. Lactobacillus can survive in the saline solution, while most undesirable bacteria can’t.

Once the vegetables have reached the desired balance of salty and sour, they are removed from the brine and placed in a new container. The brine is boiled to kill off any pathogens, then chilled and poured back over the vegetables. The pickles will keep indefinitely in your fridge.

That is my only misgiving about this preservation technique: the pickles are not properly canned, and so they tie up fridge space. The bulk of my cucumbers are cooked into syrupy relish, properly canned, and kept in the pantry. It’s worth saving a few vegetables for this natural pickling process. The taste is exquisite: delicate acidity and a high crunch-factor.

Cabbage

Naturally fermented sauerkrautWe’re starting to get 5lb heads of cabbage from Tipi Creek. While I have a gargantuan appetite for braised cabbage at this time year (apples come into season, I smoke pork, maybe there’s some kohlrabi kicking around…) there’s still plenty left over to make sauerkraut by the traditional brining method. This year I tried canning my sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is often cooked before eating anyways, so I figured it will hold up to the canning process nicely.

There’s still a nagging voice in the back of my mind, a voice insisting that canning without a recipe is dangerous.

I need a book that liberates me, the home-canner, from recipes. A book that says: “This is the pH, salinity, or sugar content required to safely jar food. This is how to measure the pH of your pickles. This is the approximate pH of common household pantry items. This is how to calculate the pH of your pickling solution.” That way, instead of working from a recipe, I could start with a set of ingredients or cured products like sauerkraut and salt pork and test and adjust them to make sure they’re safe to can.

Even though I didn’t have a recipe for the canned sauerkraut, there are plenty of forums and Youtube videos from the northern US that detail the jarring of traditional home-cured sauerkraut. All the folks in these videos have friendly, trustworthy faces, so I gave it a go.