From Austria to the United States, through Israel or Argentina, its reputation is worldwide. The Apfelstrudel is emblematic of Central European cuisine and has traveled along historic migrations, specifically of Jewish Ashkenazi communities.
Austria, Germany, Switzerland, North-Eastern Italy, Hungary, Alsace, Slovakia, Czech Republic, even the Balkans, every country has its recipe and keeps it as a memory of the Habsburg monarchy, which made it its official pastry. It is even said that it was Marie-Antoinette who introduced it in the repertoire of Versailles sweets!
The Apfelstrudel has probably an oriental origin. The thin crust, filled with diced sour apples, raisins, cinnamon and breadcrumbs, might be originally a near-Eastern pastry and would have been imported in Europe through the Ottoman Empire. The Balkan baklavas are a good illustration of this.
Austrians have borrowed Apfelstrudel from Hungarians. Some think that it appeared in the Habsburg Austrian kingdom already in the Middle Age, but the first mention of it, in an anonymous cookbook, the “Koch Puech”, dates back only to 1696, ten years after the Ottoman defeat in front of Vienna. The coincidence is startling.
Purists say the Apfelstrudel crust is somewhere between the Oriental Filo pastry and the Occidental puff pastry. It is a “gezogener Strudelteig”, a “stretched strudel pastry”, which should be kneaded and stretched by hand. It should be as thin and translucent as possible. The Austrians traditionally say that you should be able to read the paper through it!
Strudel meaning whirlwind in Middle High German, this pastry is shaped like a long, slightly flat cylinder, that you slice and serve with a custard-like cream, a scope of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. Tarantino himself shot this delicious tradition – remember that memorable scene from Inglorious Bastards…
The balance of this very chic patisserie comes from the alliance of a light, airy pastry and a dense and juicy filling. For Eastern French people like myself, the cinnamon in the Apfelstrudel make it a typical dish for Christmastime!
« In Roma, do as the Romans do; if elsewhere, live as people live ». Therefore I didn’t wait for Christmas and it was in full-blown August that I tasted a delicious Apfelstrudel with a traditional Wiener Melange at the Café Landtmann in Vienna, a combination with a little selige Sehnsucht side to it, right from the greatest hours of the Austro-Hungarian Empire…
There is a profusion of Apfelstrudel recipes on the Internet – here is one from the Austrian tourism board: http://www.austria.info/uk/austrian-cuisine/wiener-apfelstrudel-1561393.html!
* From the title of a poem by Goethe, difficult to translate, « Blissful yearning », 1814 – 1815.