Back home in Romania, in my parents’ house, a strudel didn’t use to make it on to the cooling rack. As soon as it was ready to cut, we were gathering around the table in the kitchen eating it slice by slice.
Strudel is a staple dessert in my family, and this is my mum’s recipe. She used to make a stunning strudel dough, not puff or filo pastry – just flour, water, oil and vinegar. Rest it for 1 hour and then stretched it by hand to make it really thin.
In truth, variations of this recipe are popular throughout the whole of Eastern Europe as well as Austria and Germany, but its origins are rather surprising: Turkey.
The Ottoman empire was all-mighty from the Balkans to the gates of Vienna for about 700 years, up until the beginning of the 20th century. When the Turks left, some of their chefs and cooks found employment in the rich Austro-Hungarian families, or they opened their own shops, baking and selling delicious desserts based on filo pastry.
Filo pastry required a highly skilled pastry chef, so variations of different doughs that could do the job at a lesser cost appeared in many households.
I guess that not too many people realise that in Romania we have a rich Austrian culinary heritage, especially in the north and north-west of the country, in Transylvania. Together with other dishes, the strudel has been successful on a national scale and it is now one of our national desserts.
The fillings vary: from pumpkin and cherries, to apricots and sweet cheese.
On this occasion, I am using rhubarb. It is only when I moved to the UK, that I discovered the rhubarb, and I’ve been fascinated by it ever since. Its colour, texture and versatility allow me use it in both savoury and sweet dishes.
As a Romanian cook, I like to bring together dishes that remind me of my home with ingredients that are part of my day-to-day life here in the UK.
Here is how to make this delicious rhubarb strudel. You will need a clean linen tea towel for stretching the dough.
For the dough:
3.5 cups/400g of plain flour
1 cup/250ml water
2 tbsp vinegar
2 tbsp oil
1pinch of salt
For the crumble:
2 tbsp butter
4 tbsp breadcrumbs
zest from one orange
For the filling:
3 cups/ around 400g fresh rhubarb
2 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup or 55g melted butter for brushing
Make the dough and leave to rest for 1 hour: put all the ingredients together and mix thoroughly. I like to knead the dough by hand and feel it grow silky and soft, but if you prefer to knead it by machine, it is perfectly ok. The kneading should take about 15minutes by hand, 8-10 by mixer. Then rest in the fridge for 1 hour.
Make the crumble and leave to cool completely: melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat, add the breadcrumbs and the orange zest. Keep stirring gently until the breadcrumbs turn golden brown. While they are cooking, keep a close eye on them, because they can burn very easily. Put them aside to cool.
Make the rhubarb filling: put all the rhubarb with the sugar in a pan over a gentle heat. Leave for 8-10 minutes until the rhubarb is just a bit soft but still retains its shape. Put aside for when needed – it doesn’t have to be completely cool.
Shape the strudel: place a clean linen tea towel on the kitchen table. Dust it with flour and place the dough in the middle of it. Flour your hands and start stretching the dough gently. Use the back of your hands or/and your fingers to pull it outwards until it is very thin. It needs to go over the edge of the tea towel, but don’t worry if you don’t manage to stretch it that far.
Distribute the crumble evenly over the pastry. Then spread the rhubarb filling.
Grabbing one edge of the towel, roll the strudel gently away from you and over itself. Place it on to a baking tray and brush it generously with melted butter.
Bake in the oven: at 450F/230C for 40 minutes. Let it cool, sprinkle with almonds, zest from one orange and icing sugar.
Serve with vanilla custard or ice cream. If you liked my recipe, I would be very grateful if you follow me on Instagram for more Eastern European, Romanian inspired cooking @lifeinsmallbites. Thank you.