Apple strudel is a healthy dessert option - honestly

Have a go at this traditional fruit-filled pastry that’s surprisingly easy to make

Apple & Cinnamon Strudel baked by Venessa Greenwood. Photograph: Harry Weir

Apple & Cinnamon Strudel baked by Venessa Greenwood. Photograph: Harry Weir

 

 What could be more delicious in winter than the comforting aroma of lightly spiced apple baked in layers of buttery pastry? Often mistaken as a German pastry, apfelstrudel or apple strudel has its origins in the Austro-Hungarian empire. It is a favourite in all the best Viennese cafés, where artisan bakers still craft the silky sheets of wafer-thin filo pastry by hand using only the finest high gluten flour.

I always think of strudel as a healthier than average dessert, as filo pastry has no butter or sugar added, and using any fresh fruit in baking is pure goodness. I can only marvel at the dexterity and patience required to make filo pastry from scratch – I always buy it.  That can be a quest at this time of year when filo is in high demand. Amid the maze of shopping aisles, it will be nestled in the freezer section but you can always make a strudel with a sheet of puff pastry if you are stuck.

Strudels are great fun to make and fillings can be both sweet and savoury (sweet potato, thyme and goats cheese strudel – yum!).  A rainy day task might be to make a few strudels with different fillings and tightly wrap and freeze them. The sweetness of this strudel is offset by a slight zing from the lemon zest. 

The Austrians dust their strudels with icing sugar and serve them with a light custard. I find this strudel irresistible served hot and crisp against the chill of vanilla ice cream, others prefer lashings of thick custard.

Apple Strudel

Serves 4

6-7 sheets filo pastry (approx 270g)

60g melted butter

For the filling

4-5 large cooking apples, peeled, cored, cut into large dice

50g demerara sugar and extra for the top

Finely grated zest and juice of ½ lemon

1 tsp ground cinnamon

25g sultanas

50g flaked almonds

3-4 tbsp white breadcrumbs

150ml whipped cream, to serve

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C fan. Once the oven is hot, use a baking tray to lightly toast the almonds for 6 minutes or until golden, then crispen the breadcrumbs (approx 10 mins).

2. Place the apples, sugar, lemon juice and zest (and a splash of water if required) in a medium heavy-based saucepan. Cook on a low to medium heat for 5-8 minutes until starting to soften, add the cinnamon and sultanas.  Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

3. To assemble the strudel, place a rectangular sheet of filo pastry on a clean work surface, and working quickly so the pastry doesn’t dry out, brush with melted butter then continue layering and basting each sheet (reserve one unbasted).

4. Leaving a border at either short end, sprinkle a wide strip of toasted almonds down the middle, lay the reserved filo sheet on top and baste again.  Sprinkle the breadcrumbs down the middle, then spoon the apple filling over the breadcrumbs forming a long mound.

5. Tuck the pastry ends inwards and fold the sides inwards to form a long parcel, basting with extra butter. Lift the parcel onto a baking tray. Use a knife to cut 3-4 diagonal slices into the top of the pastry to allow steam to escape. Brush the top with melted butter, and sprinkle with sugar.

6. Bake for 15 minutes to allow the pastry to colour nicely, then reduce the oven to 180°C fan for 30-40, minutes until the pastry is golden.

7. Serve hot and crisp, in slices with whipped cream, custard or ice cream.

 Variation: Create fillings with many variations of fruit, nuts and spices. Apple can be combined with pear, plum and summer berries. Walnuts and pine nuts can be used instead of almonds.

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