Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Making Strudel the Old-Fashioned Way (despite my best intentions to go modern)



I promise a new baking post soon, maybe even tonight, but in the meantime, please enjoy this post from the DH, Paul LaRosa, about my baking-related experience this weekend!


FedEx delivers from Brooklyn to Manhattan — by air!

Normally, I have no complaints about FedEx. They do a pretty good job with most everything I send but last night I entered into the twilight zone of FedEx and the experience left me feeling like Tom Hanks in “Castaway” without the coconut to keep me company.
My wife is planning an event this week called “Real Housewives of Henry Street” and the idea is to show how immigrant housewives lived on the lower East Side back around 1905. In fact, the event costs $19.05 to get in. Clever, right?
Anyway, one of the treats she’s cooking up is apple strudel and she plans to make a lot of it. She needed a dough hook to knead the strudel dough so she wouldn’t be tied to the kitchen all day like, you know, a 1905 housewife.
Taking advantage of a modern convenience, she went online and ordered a dough hook to be delivered to her by FedEx to her work address which is on Henry Street in Manhattan. That’s where the fun began because there is also a Henry Street in Brooklyn and, for whatever reason, FedEx took it upon themselves to make “an address correction” and sent the dough hook to Brooklyn. My wife found out about the mistake yesterday and told FedEx they had made “an address in-correction” but it was too late. The hook was in Brooklyn, not far from Red Hook coincidentally.
After many phone calls and hours on the phone, she told FedEx she would pick up the package at the FedEx “world center” in Brooklyn. Some anonymous person on the phone agreed.  And that’s how we wound up on a very rainy Friday night on a long line at the FedEx “world center” in Brooklyn in a neighborhood where you definitely wanted to make sure your car doors were locked.
Finally, we got to the front of the line and, after much hemming and hawing, a FedEx gal produced a package. We signed, relieved and were about to walk out when I looked down at the name — it was not my wife’s.
“This is the wrong package,” I said.
The FedEx gal then disappeared into the back again and, when she reappeared, said another employee was doing her “a favor” by looking for our package. This is why I love when FedEx packages just appear and I am not forced to come face to face with this kind of customer service.
Another ten minutes went by and finally, a rain-soaked, frightened-looking FedEx clerk appeared. “Your package is here but I can’t give it to you,” he said. “It’s already been containerized and on the truck.”
Now mind you, we could see the trucks which were in the next room, a garage.
“What does containerized mean?” I asked.
“It’s in a container in the front of the truck and we can’t take it out without taking out a whole bunch of other packages. I’d get in trouble. We have to make the plane but it will be in Manhattan tomorrow.”
There were a couple of things about what he said that struck me. First that the package was going to the correct address, Henry Street in Manhattan but no one would be at my wife’s closed office the following day. She needed the dough hook to make a whole lot of strudel for the Sunday event. It was get it now or forget it.
The other thing that struck me was….THEY WERE PUTTING IT ON A PLANE TO GET TO MANHATTAN?????
“What do you mean, you’re putting it on a plane?” I asked. “There are no planes that go from Brooklyn to Manhattan!”
“Right,” he agreed, “we’re flying it from New York to Newark and then it will be delivered by truck to Manhattan.”
Even Mr. Rain-soaked man could see how insane this was. Remember, the package we desperately needed WAS IN THE NEXT ROOM AT THAT VERY MOMENT!
“I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do,” he said. “That’s just how we do things.”
I flashed on Tom Hanks with his stopwatch in “Castaway” where he plays a FedEx employee and realized he had nothing on this guy.
What followed were a lot of irritated sentences that ended with the phrase “you realize how insane this is” but he wasn’t budging. Finally, my wife told him to send the package back from whence it came — if she didn’t get it immediately, she couldn’t use it. The irony is that she wound up making the strudel by hand with no help from a motorized dough hook — just like they did in 1905.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I Was a Strudel Virgin



I'm happy to report that I conquered my fear of strudel -- and then ate it!
I had a very compelling reason to practice -- on September 25th, I'm baking apple strudel for the 60 guests attending The Real Housewives of Henry Street, 1905, an event I'm hosting at Henry Street Settlement.

Making strudel dough is fun, much easier than you might imagine and very satisfying.  I was lucky to get a fabulous recipe from Jane Ziegleman, author of 97 Orchard, who will be the event's main speaker and who will demo strudel dough, with audience participation!

Basic Strudel Dough (Jane Ziegleman)
Ingredients
2 cups bread flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 cup warm water
1/2 tsp. white vinegar
3 tbls. vegetable oil
4 tbls. melted butter for brushing the dough
1/3 cup breadcrumbs

Special equipment
clean cotton or linen tablecloth
pastry brush
rolling pin
parchment paper

Combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl.  Make a well in the center of the bowl and pour in the water, vinegar and oil.  Stir from the center outward in ever widening circles until all of the flour has been incorporated into the liquid.  The dough should look shaggy and somewhat dry.
Turn dough onto a floured work surface and knead vigorously for 10 minutes.  Alternately, you can knead the dough in a standing mixer using the hood attachment for 3-4 minutes.  After kneading, the dough should be springy and glossy.  Coat lightly with oil and leave in a covered bowl to rest for at least 1/2 hour.


While the dough is resting, prepare your filling. (See recipe below.)
Preheat oven to 425.


Cover a fairly large table with a clean tablecloth and dust well with flour.  Place dough on the dusted cloth, flatten with your palms and, using a rolling pin, roll into a 9 inch circle.  Drape the dough over the backs of your hands, you fingers loosely bent, and begin to pull the dough outward, stretching it gently.  Keep rotating the dough so it stretches in all directions.


 When it gets too large to handle, lay it on the table and continue.  Ideally, the dough should be rectangular, 3 - 4 feet long, and thin enough to see through.  The edges will be comparatively thick; trim them off with kitchen shears.


Brush dough lightly with melted butter.  Sprinkle with breadcrumbs.  Spread filling along the bottom third of the dough.  To roll strudel, hold the edge of the tablecloth that is closest to you and gently raise it above the surface of the table so the strudel flops over.  Repeat until strudel is fully rolled.


 Using the tablecloth as a sling, transfer strudel to a baking tray that has been lined with parchment paper.  If the strudel is too long, bend it into a "U" shape. Brush one last time with melted butter.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden and crisp.


Apple Strudel
1 recipe basic strudel dough
Ingredients for filling
5-6 tart apples, peeled and finely sliced
1/4 cup sugar (or more to taste)
1 tsp. cinnamon
juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup currents or raisins


Mix and knead strudel dough as instructed.  While dough is resting, prepare the filling.

Preheat oven to 424.
Toss apples with sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice.  Stir in chopped walnuts and raisins.
Ross out strudel according to instructions in the Basic Strudel Recipe.  Brush with butter and sprinkle with breadcrumbs.
Spoon filing along the bottom third of the dough, leaving an inch or two on the sides to prevent the filling from oozing out the ends.  Roll strudel.  Transfer to baking tray.  Brush the top with butter and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden and crisp.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Cheese Apple Cake


This cake is like a lot of guys I dated -- they had possibilities, but needed some *work* to reach boyfriend perfection.  And so it is with Cheese Apple Cake -- an excellent and unusual cake, but one whose execution needs a bit of tweaking to make it as good as it can be.

This is, in fact, not a cake but a very large biscuit flavored with cheese.  Not that there's anything wrong with that!  I've never been a fan of the cheese and apple pie combination, but if you are, this may be the perfect cake for you.

The bottom (biscuit) layer is made by cutting the butter into the flour, a normally tedious task made easy with a food processor.  Just cut cold butter into chunks, add to the flour and pulse until the butter is the size of small peas, or smaller.


After the butter is incorporated, add the rest of the ingredients, including grated cheese.



When the batter is all mixed and you place it in the pan, it will look like it does below.  You need to gently press it down until it is evenly distributed so that the entire bottom of the pan is covered.


Next, slice some apples -- I used about three or four medium ones -- and arrange them atop the bottom layer. The arrangement, like most relationships, need not be perfect to work.


The next step is where the recipe can use some tweaking.  Instead of using confectioners sugar, as the recipe calls for, use regular old white sugar.  Confectioners sugar, which contains cornstarch, does not melt in the heat of the oven, leaving the just-baked product with an odd and kind of displeasing powdery topping.  You can see it in the picture at the top and below.  (I ended up over-baking the cake because I kept waiting for the sugar to melt -- don't do that!)


But after I let it sit for a day, some kitchen magic happened:  the confectioners sugar dissolves into the apples, creating a lovely European pastry-like glaze on top. That was a nice and unexpected surprise, which tends to happen a lot more in baking than in relationships.  (Although DH turned out to be a nice and unexpected surprise, so it does happen!)