What is a Strudel?

G. Wiesen

A strudel is a type of pastry, typically sweet though savory versions are also quite popular, that consists of several layers of thin dough topped with filling and rolled into a log shape. Apple strudel is perhaps the most common type, especially in some regions such as the United States (US), though a number of different strudels are common and popular in European countries such as Germany, Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. A strudel is often made using filo dough or puff pastry dough, but traditional Austrian strudels are often made using a slightly different type of dough.

Strudels are popular in Germany, Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.
Strudels are popular in Germany, Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.

The name “strudel” is a German word meaning “whirlpool,” referring to the appearance of the dish from the front, where the rolled layers of dough and filling create a somewhat spiral shape. Both sweet and savory versions are quite common, with the specific German names of many strudels indicating the filling used in the preparation. Apfelstrudel is made with apples, topfenstrudel uses a soft cheese known as quark cheese or topfen in German, weichselstrudel is made with sour cherries, nussstrudel uses a nut filling, and fleischstrudel typically refers to a strudel with a meat filling. The pastry was quite popular throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire and especially prevalent in the court of the Hapsburg Dynasty.

A filling is typically made by simply mixing the preferred ingredients together. Apples are commonly combined with ingredients such as cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg, while ground meat might be combined with salt, pepper, garlic, and savory spices. The dough is then prepared by being laid out in a thin flat sheet. If filo dough is used, then several of the thin sheets are layered on top of each other with some melted butter brushed between each layer. Traditional Austrian recipes often call for slightly different dough made with high-gluten flour and worked laboriously until very thin.

Austrian tradition dictates the dough should be thin enough to read a love letter through before using. The filling is placed on top of the dough, and the dough is then carefully rolled up with the filling inside of it. This is then baked until the strudel dough is golden brown and crispy, while the filling is hot and soft. Various strudels have been made for hundreds of years, and are likely an Austrian interpretation of Middle Eastern dishes such as baklava. Strudel has become quite popular in other regions as well and is the official pastry, along with sopaipilla, of the US state of Texas.

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