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Cherry strudel is a variation of a popular, traditional baked good from Austria and its neighboring countries. In general, strudel consists of a flaky pastry shell containing sweet or savory fillings. This particular type of strudel is filled with either sweet or sour cherries. Baking traditional cherry strudel can be a time consuming process, but the home cook can minimize the amount of time and effort needed by taking a few simple shortcuts.
Strudel first became popular sometime in the 1700s, during the reign of the Habsburg Monarchy in a region later known as Austria-Hungary. The flaky, layered "phyllo" pastry used for strudel came about as a result of Moorish or Turkish influence to the region, however. Traditional strudel fillings include but are not limited to apple, plum, cottage cheese, sauerkraut, cabbage, nut, and cherry. Sour cherry strudel is traditionally called "Weichselstrudel."
Phyllo dough, also spelled as "filo" or "fillo," is a thin, partially translucent pastry sheet made of flour, water, egg, and butter or oil. The baker combines these ingredients and rolls the dough out until it reaches the same approximate thickness as a piece of paper. He or she then cuts the dough into individual sheets. For strudel and many other baked goods, the baker layers these sheets of dough on top of each other, spreading butter or oil in between the sheets to create a flaky pastry with distinct layers.
Most cherry strudel is made with sour cherries, but some bakers may prefer sweet cherries or use them once sour cherries are no longer in season. Sour cherries — also called tart cherries — are too tart to eat raw but sweeten when cooked, especially when baked in a sugary syrup. Sweet cherries are usually eaten fresh instead of baked, but some bakers may still prefer the additional, natural sweetness of the sweet cherry for baking. Regardless of the type, the baker removes the pits and cooks the cherries with sugar and juice until a syrupy preserve forms. He or she spoons this filling into the center of the innermost layer of dough before wrapping all the sheets around the filling and sealing them together.
Bakers at home can simplify this process by using pre-made dough and filling. Many grocery stores and specialty food stores sell frozen phyllo dough sheets. Alternatively, some home bakers use frozen puff pastry, which creates a similarly flaky pastry. Canned cherry pie filling, found in the baking aisle of a standard grocery store, works in place of homemade filling. Some brands of pre-made cherry filling are sweeter than others, and the consumer should choose the brand that appeals to his or her sense of taste the most.
After filling the pastry, the baker brushes the outside of the cherry strudel with egg or butter and cooks it in a preheated oven until the pastry turns golden brown. Brushing the pastry with warm milk after it comes out of the oven softens the crust. Finished cherry strudel is often dusted with powdered sugar or served with cream.
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