Croatian Strudel The UItimate in Christmas desserts
Strudel served with Ice Cream and mint When it comes to desserts Authentic Croatian Strudel is quintessential in Christmas desserts. Warm Brown sugar and nutmeg covered walnuts rolled in a soft sweet dough all topped with powdered sugar; this strudel...
When it comes to desserts Authentic Croatian Strudel is quintessential in Christmas desserts. Warm Brown sugar and nutmeg covered walnuts rolled in a soft sweet dough all topped with powdered sugar; this strudel embodies the scents and tastes of the season. It is a grab and go dessert so you can indulge without missing a moment of socializing with family and friends. Best of all it is a great dessert to make with the kids. Here is what you will need;
- 4 cups flour
- 1 Cup milk
- 1 Stick Butter (Real unsalted is recommended)
- 2 Packages Yeast (not quick rise)
- 2 eggs
- 4 Tbsp. sugar (Regular white granulated sugar)
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1 rolling pin
- 1 pastry cloth
- 1 large level surface (you will want plenty of room. I use a 4’x4’ area.)
In a saucepan heat milk to a low boil (not boiling), reduce heat (low-medium) and add butter and stir until melted. Once the butter is melted add in sugar and increase heat to medium. Keep stirring until all ingredients are well mixed and the temperature is just below boiling (usually you can see this, there will be just a few small bubbles here and there). Remove from heat and allow the mixture to cool completely.
Once cool; add in yeast, eggs, salt, and vanilla; mix well. Transfer to a large mixing bowl (if not already in one). Begin adding in the flour 1 cup at a time. Start by using a hand or electric beater. Though, it will soon become too thick and that brings us to the next part.
If you have a mixer you are welcome to use it. However, traditionally Croatian woman rely on old fashioned elbow grease. We will continue the recipe just the way my friends grandmother used to. So roll up your sleeves, perhaps stretch a bit, and get ready for a workout. Or if you’re cooking with the kiddos this is the best time for them to help out. They have endless energy and enjoy all the squishing, squashing, and punching that we call kneading.
As you slowly knead in the flour the dough will become unmanageable in the bowl. Roll out a pastry cloth on a large flat surface. Drop the dough onto it and continue to add flour while kneading. Again this is perfect for the kiddos. However, if you are doing it alone this is a great chance to take out your frustrations from the inevitable holiday stress. Give the dough some punches and get all that flour mixed in until the dough is shiny but not wet. This means the dough no longer sticks to your hands. If you are having a lot of stick issues rub your hands and cloth down with flour as needed. It will not affect the dough.
Once the dough is well mixed, shiny but not wet, and could possibly become a fairly useful projectile it is ready to rest. Separate the dough into 4 equal balls and let rest in a warmed oven for 30 minutes. Warmed? Usually the lowest setting your oven will allow is acceptable, if it still feels too warm or the dough is starting to harden on top; crack your oven door slightly. Feel free to take a break yourself for about 20 minutes. You will have just been kneading for at least 5 minutes, or the kiddos will have. Take this time to talk with them about the next steps, or their Christmas wishes. If it is just you, have some eggnog and reward yourself for a job well done.
After resting it is time to prepare the filling. This is the best part; and tasting is encouraged!
- 8 cups ground nuts (should be a medium to fine grind, can be bought this way or done in a food processor.)
- 1 cup sugar (regular white granulated)
- 1 cup Light brown sugar (dark makes the sweet overpowering)
- 1 cup scalded milk (to make scalded milk; place 1 cup milk into sauce pan, stir constantly until edges are frothy and it is just under boiling, remove from heat)
- 1 tbsp. vanilla
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 pinch cinnamon
Mix all but the scalded milk together. This can be done one of two ways. If your nuts are coarser than desired or even whole place all ingredients and half the scalded milk into a blender. Light blend for a few seconds, add more scalded milk if needed. If your nuts are already pretty fine ground, or if you want to go the full traditional way, mix everything together with your hands. Adding the scalded milk slowly until you reach desired consistency. This is another great opportunity for the kids to help, it’s easy and safe if they wish to lick their fingers after. If you are cooking alone go ahead and have a lick we won’t tell. The consistency should be that of a loose paste. Feel free to try he mixture and add more nutmeg, brown sugar, vanilla or cinnamon to your taste. Just remember the cinnamon should be just a side note not overpowering. The goal is a nutty sweet goodness.
By now it has been 30 minutes and your dough should be done resting (but keep your oven warm). This next part is where the real tradition comes in. In olden days village woman would make strudel in the masses. Instead of rolling the dough they would have such a large amount that each woman took a corner and began stretching the dough evenly together until entire tables were covered. Luckily, this is a paired down recipe and we are only making 4 manageable rolls.
Start with one ball of dough. Sprinkle the pastry cloth with light flour. Pound dough into a semi flat roll able piece. Starting from center roll outward one side then another and another. The goal is to roll the dough into a square, but never fear if it comes out more obtuse. It can be fixed when we roll it all up.
Once your square (or similar creation) is about 1/8” thick spread a light coating of softened butter on both sides. Now it’s time for the kiddo’s to get involved again, or at least for you to have some messy fun. Start spreading the mixture (which is best done with your hands) all over the dough; staying 1/4” from each side. You are going for a nice even spread, not to thick, no more than 1/4” of nutty goodness.
Now to roll it all together. The goal is to have a perfectly even roll, about 12” long and 2” wide. Ha! Do not worry if on your first few attempts, or even any attempts they come out a bit off. Croatian woman learn to roll strudel from a young age and it is an acquired skill. My friends grandmother learned from her mother while they were still in Croatia. At age 90 she made perfect rolls. But my friend told me at age 50 they still occasionally came out a bit wonky. Never fear though, these rolls just get better with more and more powdered sugar on top. And powdered sugar works like sweatpants after the holidays; the bulges will never be seen.
To at least have a fighting chance at getting that perfect roll, start by folding the uncovered 1/4” of three sides onto the mixture. Then grab the folded side opposite from the unfolded side, and begin rolling toward the unfolded side. Pull gently as you go, not to hard otherwise you will end up a big broken mess. Keep rolling and seal with the buttered open edge. Place roll on a nonstick or sprayed cookie sheet seam side down. Place roll (rolls once the others are done) into your (still warm) oven for one hour of rest. Repeat the entire process with the other three rolls.
Once each roll has rested for one hour, you will notice they have risen a bit more. This means they are ready for baking. Never fear your victory is at hand. 45-60 minutes at 350 degrees until golden brown and that Christmas decadence will be yours. Simply allow to cool after baking, and cover liberally as desired with powdered sugar.
You now have Authentic Croatian Strudel. A recipe a hundred years old. The epitome of Christmas Desserts. To serve; slice 1 and 1/4 roll. Each slice should be about 1” wide. Place the partially sliced roll in center of a platter, decoratively lay the slices around the roll and lightly sprinkle more powdered sugar. Then sit back and watch as family and friends beg to know how you rolled the essence of Christmas into one dessert.
If you have any other tips and tricks for rolling the "perfect rolls" please contact us. What are your family's traditional desserts?