The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.
Browsing through the foodporn-ish content on Foodgawker and Tastespotting last month, I came across submissions from a cadre of bloggers who belonged to The Daring Bakers. At the time I didn’t think too much of it, but as I delved further into the archives, I began to see a common theme; recurring weekly or monthly challenges. It turns out that the weekly challenges are hosted by another web group called Tuesdays With Dorie, who concentrate on preparing one recipe a week from Dorie Greenspan’s delectable cookbook. The Daring Bakers (and Cooks) by contrast choose one recipe per month (per group) and then mass-post the results online on a pre-set date.
I was initially drawn to Tuesdays With Dorie (mostly because their photography was so enticing) but when I tried to register I learned that membership was closed for the time being. I then investigated The Daring Bakers, and was intrigued by their dual challenge options, featuring both sweet and savoury iterations. Erring on the side of caution for once in my life, I decided to only register as a baker at first, in order to test out the waters and complexity of their challenges. Unfortunately, by that time the April challenge had already been announced and was in progress, so I had to wait until May to join in the fun.
On May 1st I logged in to the covert challenge section of their site, and there it was… my very first Daring challenge! When I initially read the recipe I was a little let down, if only because I’m not an apple strudel fan. It turns out that the Everyman is though, so I jumped in wholeheartedly and decided to try my hand at it that weekend. At worst it would be a chance to improve my craptastic pastry skills and leave me with plenty of time for a do-over if I failed, and at best, it meant I’d have dessert for a few days.
After assembling a motley pile of ingredients on the counter (mise-en-place, people), I re-read the recipe once more and set to work. Peeled, cored and chopped apples were mixed with sugar, rum and spices, and for a bit of textural contrast I added in some dried blueberries, strawberries and cherries as a substitution for the raisins (which I hate) and the walnuts (which would kill the Everyman). In the meantime the fruity filling sat and macerated on the counter while I began to prepare the pastry.
One thing I will say about strudel pastry; it’s actually not as hard as it looks (or sounds). Reading through the multi-step recipe, I had worried I would surely bollox this up, but it turns out strudel dough is surprisingly resilient. I even rolled up a dough ball after I’d made too many holes during my first go and tried again, and it still turned out fine.
What really amazed me was how easily the dough stretched, and how incredibly thin it became. After working it for some time in a manner similar to tossing pizza dough, it appeared gossamer-like and delicate, to the point that it rippled gently from the spring breeze wafting through my kitchen window.
By the time the pastry dough was ready, I could see right through to the patterned tea towel underneath and I marveled at the thought that something so fragile could contain such a heavy, voluminous filling. I was hesitant to bog the dough down with all 2 pounds of fruit, but figured that Daring Bakers is all about the learning experience so I might as well go all in.
With the help of a few well placed tea towels, I managed to roll up the strudel and keep it (mostly) in one piece. In case you think I’m over-exaggerating, the recipe specifies that the dough should be 60×90 cm prior to applying the filling (hence the need for that tape measure). The most challenging part of the entire process was probably when I had to maneuver the finished roll onto my Silpat-lined baking sheet – quite a test with such fruit-laden pastry, indeed.
Once it was settled and kissed with melted butter, it reminded me of one of those oxen collars you could buy in quaint 80′s computer games like Oregon Trail (I think they’re called yokes?) It still wasn’t entirely appetizing to me, but I was definitely looking forward to witnessing the end result.
I kind of liken it to a form of giving birth; you spend all this time nurturing your product and then just hope for the best in the end. When I retrieved it from the oven, it still wasn’t bowling me over with decadence, but it was golden, flaky and ever so slightly puffed. And the smell emanating from it was beyond heavenly!
After waiting out the requisite half hour before serving (which was sheer torture for the Everyman, who devours all things apple), I sliced into the strudeliciousness and served forth a hearty slab. Nibbling a corner myself, I mentally patted myself on the back. It was pretty damn good! I’d probably never make it again (in apple format anyway) but I had a fantastic sense of accomplishment after completing such an onerous task. This Daring Bakers thing isn’t half bad. What do you think?
Until next time…