Apple Strudel Your Way!
(recipe follows — red text areas are links)
I started working with Filo shortly after starting this blog (you might remember some of the teaser posts). I couldn’t bring myself to publish anything I’d written. I was unsatisfied with the pictures I took and unsure how to present filo dough in a way which would peak your interest, especially as an undeserved reputation as being difficult to work with.
Filo needs just three ingredients: Flour, fat, water. To that you can add salt for flavor or stevia for sweetness.
The principles for making filo are easy to understand: You mix a small amount of oil with flour to prevent gluten from overdeveloping. You add warm to hot water to force the starches to absorb more (making the dough easy to stretch). You knead to develop the gluten then let it rest to relax that gluten while the starches continue to absorb the water. You stretch it by putting your hands under the dough and lift/pull, lift/pull, lift/pull — move around the table and lift/pull! — until its paper thin (click the red for a link on how). I concede the process looks intimidating but even when it tears it doesn’t matter, because you fold it over and over and over itself — and that’s where filo becomes really interesting to work with.
To make traditional Apple Strudel you need to butter all that lovely stretched out dough. The purpose of that butter — just as in pastry — is to separate the layers and add flavor, but with filo you can do both by sprinkling almond flour, cocoa, sugar, vegetable powders, powdered milk, breadcrumbs mixed with flavorings, or any combination instead of the butter and then wrap your filling, cutting a significant amount of calories from your dessert. I have made amazing, crisp Filo shells these past few months with no additional oil or fat — but let’s talk strudel.
- Apple strudel can have as little sugar as you like. I’ve peeled, sliced, and set the apple slices overnight in sugar just as in Raw Apple Pie, cooked them on a stove top first, and put them in raw tossed with sugar and cinnamon. I’ve also filled filo with curry, with chicken, with caramelized bananas, with candied oranges, and so on and so forth — I’ve made a lot of desserts.
- In traditional strudels, the chef places the fruit on a layer of bread or cookie crumbs, which absorb moisture. They also adds flavor and texture. I’ve used plain breadcrumbs, butter toasted breadcrumbs, crushed sugar cookies, torn bits of sponge cake, and left over baked pastry run through the food processor with nuts. You can be creative.
- Before you close your strudel add layers of other flavors such as rum soaked raisins, candied fruits, cheese, or even spoonfuls of cold rice pudding — all additions I’ve made with success. Or how about a jigger of liquor or a few spoonfuls of syrup from whatever you’ve been candying? Every step is customizable.
You need a flour with enough gluten. For Japan, bread flour was the best option. It has 10% gluten. I could also use All Purpose (AP) Flour, but I got more holes as I stretched — which is fine as none were visible. As the amount of gluten in a flour varies country to country, I suggest you use a white bread flour. The next time you make filo, try AP flour and make a mental note which worked best for you. (Note: You can not make this particular filo with whole wheat flour. The bran cuts the gluten. I will be posting whole grain filo later.)
You can add salt (which toughens gluten and adds flavor) or stevia which adds sweetness to the flour
Put the flour, salt, stevia in a bowl or food processor and add fat. The more fat, the more delicate the dough. I worked with 1 and 2 tablespoons per cup of flour. I preferred the constancy of 2 tablespoons, especially as I use no other fat in the recipe. You can add flavor by choosing which oil — or butter — you use. Palm kernel oil was a favorite, giving the filo a beautiful orange color. I also used pistachio, almond, walnut, olive, canola, and butter. Whichever fat you use, mix it into the flour until it’s evenly dispersed, a full pulses on a food processor, and then add the water.
Some recipes include egg white and/or vinegar. In my kitchen the dough dried out much more quickly with the egg white or vinegar, so I used plain water. Your goal is to make the flour absorb as much water as it can. Using hot water forces the starch in the flour to absorb. I used hot water from the tap which felt pleasant to the back of my hand. Turn on the food processor and add half the water. Then add it by teaspoons until it forms a ball. Take off the lid and touch the dough. Does it stick to your finger? You should add enough water so that it just starts to stick to your finger, which we say is tacky. For me, it was always under a 3/4 cup, about 80% the weight of the flour. Gather the dough into a ball and oil the surface to prevent a crust from forming. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and leave it alone for several hours, or overnight. (If you hand knead the dough, add just enough water so that it becomes tacky, oil and wrap as above.)
The fun part is stretching. I suggest watching the above videos to give you courage and see how it’s done. It really isn’t difficult, but it does take a few minutes, a lot of space, and a tablecloth. Sprinkle flour over the tablecloth, shape your dough into whatever shape your table is. Brush a layer of oil to keep it from drying out and loosen the gluten, then put your hand under and pull outward. Change positions and do it again. And again. And again. It really is a lot of fun and you will be proud of yourself when it’s all done. Here are some things I learned:
- The first few times you will make holes. It’s fine. Don’t stress. Before stretching the dough cut off a small ball and keep it covered. When you’ve finished with the main dough use that small reserved piece to fill in the largest holes. Simple break off a piece and stretch it the drape it over the hole.
- When the dough reaches the edge of the table let it hang over. At the very end you will come tear it away. The first five or six time I made filo that amount was half the dough. Now that I have a feel for it I can use half the recipe (below) and waste less. BTW, you can save that dough to roll flat bread or let it ferment into a biga.
- Once the dough is stretched out you can butter it or add the flavorings I mentioned above. You can also cut it with a pastry wheel for individual turnovers.
So before making Apple Strudel think about the flavors you want to work with. Apples, almonds, rum? Caramel, apples, raisins? Brown sugar, Walnuts, apples? Or how about a strudel with bananas or pears or apricots or peaches. Or go savory with meat, vegetable, or even curried fillings. Working with filo to make strudel is an invitation to be creative. Best of all, you can subtract calories when compared to pastry: Filo: 2 – 4 tablespoons fat. Pastry: 2 cups fat. They’re your thighs. You chose.
(note: I will post various fillings as separate recipes in later posts. In the meantime, use your imagination and create your own fillings.)
Apple Strudel Your Way! -- Filo Dough
tier one (you must use)
- 1 cup/200 grams flour (I use bread flour)
- Up to 1 cup/160 grams of water (the amount depends on the humidity, but it’s about 80% the weight of flour)
- 2 – 4 tablespoons oil or melted butter (chose an oil which suits your filling, or flavorless oil)
tier three (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon stevia
Method: Mix the flour with the salt and stevia in a food processor. Add the oil and pulse until combined. Turn on the machine and add 1/2 the water and then slowly continue to add the water until the dough forms a tacky ball. Gather the dough into a ball, oil the surface and seal it in plastic wrap for several hours or overnight. The next day drape a large tablecloth over a large flat surface, flour it, and pull your dough into the general shape of that surface. Brush some oil over the surface of the dough then lift the dough with one hand, place your other hand under and pull outward. continue until the dough reaches the edges of the table. When completely stretched, cut off the thickest parts of the overhang and either brush butter over the entire surface of the filo, or add a flavored powder. In the center of the filo add your dry ingredient and then your apple mixture. Fold the dough over itself until if forms a log. Bake in a hot 200/400 degree oven for 40 – 50 minutes and sufficiently brown. Just before it turns brown you can take it out of the oven and brush an egg yolk mixed with milk over the surface to create a color like the photo below.