Apple strudel has a way of evoking nostalgia. (This is almost certainly aided by its immortalization in the lyrics of a certain earworm by Rodgers and Hammerstein.) For Helene Gallent, owner of Little Austria, a small Leesburg, Virginia, company specializing in Austrian sweets, apple strudel is the taste of childhood spent in the southern Austrian region of Carinthia. The sweet pastry filled with cinnamon-spiced apples is a welcome sight any time of year, but perhaps even more so in autumn.
A brief history lesson, with help from “The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets:” Strudel, with a number of fillings savory or sweet, is found throughout central and western Europe. The first written recipe dates to the 1696 manuscript “Koch Puech.” Its connection to German-speaking nations (“strudel” means “whirlpool” in German — a reference to the swirly appearance some types have when sliced) provides a boost of popularity come Oktoberfest season, in mid- to late September.
Gallent stretches her sunflower-oil-based dough into a super thin sheet, which, once rolled with the apple filling and brushed with butter, creates a multilayered, slightly crisp crust. German Gourmet in Falls Church, Virginia, and Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe in Arlington, Virginia, use puff pastry, creating a flaky, slightly doughier shell.
Nearly any variety of fruit can be used, but apple seems to be the most popular; likewise, the slice and texture of the filling is quite variable. Some apples, like those used by Little Austria, are thinly sliced; German Gourmet’s filling is chunkier, while Heidelberg Pastry’s recalls apple sauce, as the filling is cooked before going into the strudel.
Love it or hate it, the dried fruit is a common addition. It adds a dimension of sweetness and a bit of chew.
Sugar and spice
Naturally, cinnamon is the spice of choice here; Little Austria treads lightly with the spice while also keeping the sweetness in check. German Gourmet’s strudel is more cinnamon-forward.