Pastries of this type can be found all over Central and Eastern Europe, very similar to treats that are popular in Balkan and Middle Eastern countries, where it is often known by the Greek name, filo - used to make rich, buttery baklava among other delicacies.
The Germans who settled Colonial America brought this tasty confection with them, where it joined the host of other delectable pastries that make up America's melting pot of goodies. These settlers incorporated the New World's bounty to make their strudels, utilizing fruits such as cranberries, cherries and pears, as well as citrus and spices that made their way to America's port cities of Philadelphia, New York and Wilmington.
The Germans had other pastries of course, such as tortes and Murbeteig (a rich tart pastry), but the difference with strudel is the fact that it is paper-thin. This makes for a delicious, delicate pastry crust, but it also means that it can be difficult to make and work with. Luckily filo (or phyllo) dough is a fine alternative and easily found in the freezer section of most supermarkets. It also makes the assembly of this strudel-like pie extremely quick and easy, nice for a weeknight supper, or a potluck party like I made it for this weekend - our neighborhood Oktoberfest.
The genesis of this recipe comes from my husband. He had taken a trip to Austria right around the time we started dating and raved about the apple strudel he had there. So I began a search for an apple strudel recipe I could whip up to impress him and came across this delightful spin on the traditional dish. Instead of wrapping the filling inside the pastry, thin sheets of filo dough are used to line a pie plate, creating a thin crust to house juicy apples mixed with brown sugar, spices and a touch of brandy. While not as rich as a typical strudel, it is very tasty - a great way to use autumn's apple harvest!
Apple Strudel Pie
- 6 sheets filo dough, defrosted
- 1 1/2 tsp butter, melted
- 3 apples (Golden Delicious is preferred type)
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 2 tbsp flour
- 1 tsp grated lemon peel
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 tbsp brandy or cognac
- 2 tbsp apricot jam
- Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly spray a 9-in. pie plate with cooking spray. Working quickly (since filo dries out very quickly), center one sheet of filo over the plate, and then working clockwise, place the others inside so that the sheets create a circle much larger than the plate. Brush with melted butter and then roll the dough up, forming a crown around the rim of the pie plate. Brush with more butter and set aside.
- Peel core and thinly slice apples. Toss immediately with the lemon juice to prevent browning and then add the sugar, flour, lemon peel, cinnamon, nutmeg and brandy. Toss to coat evenly, then pack into the pie plate and bake in the center of the oven for 50 min, brushing the pastry with butter a few times during cooking.
- While the pie is still hot, heat the jam in a small saucepan and paint it over the top of the pie with a pastry brush. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Sources: The Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson; City Tavern Baking & Dessert Cookbook by Walter Staib; Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax.