My favorite real German dessert is apple walnut strudel. My Aunt Johanna used to make it for me when I was a boy. First, she selected the apples. She was fussy about that. She would point out to me at the produce store which apples were good for strudel and which were no good. Some types of apples turn to mush when you bake them. Then she made the puff pastry by rolling out dough until it was as thin as a sheet of paper. The dough covered a sheet of plywood that she kept in her kitchen. Then she folded the dough over and over with butter between the layers. It was a big job. A few minutes after Aunt Johanna put her strudel in the oven, the odor of the apples, cinnamon, sugar, and butter all caramelizing together filled her apartment. It could make a dead man salivate. I have never had strudel anywhere as good as Aunt Johanna’s. Most commercial bakeries in the U.S. make apple strudel with canned apple pie filling, which is just awful. Aunt Johanna was one of my elderly relatives who staunchly denied being German, even though she spoke with a German accent that was thicker than molasses in January. She also spoke in the imperative. They say that Italian is the language of love, but German is the language for giving commands. Aunt Johanna would say things like: “Mark, come into the kitchen. You eat a piece of strudel, and you will like the strudel.”
Today, it is easy to make great apple strudel at home! The time-consuming part of the job is making the puff pastry, but now, really good frozen puff pastry dough is available nationally. It wasn’t available in my Aunt Johanna’s time. I recommend Trader Joe’s all butter puff pastry or Dufour puff pastry. I don’t recommend Pepperidge Farms puff pastry, which unfortunately is the only brand that most supermarkets carry. It contains no butter and is made with palm oil and corn syrup. Yuck. Pepperidge Farms puff pastry looks buttery, but that is because there’s yellow food coloring in it. Selecting the right kind of apples is still very important. My first choice is Granny Smith. They retain some firmness when baked, and they are tart, which offsets the sugar in the strudel. If you want a somewhat sweeter apple that bakes well, try Golden Delicious. Strudel doesn’t have to be made with apples. It can be made with other kinds of fruit as well, including pears, cherries, and blueberries. Whatever kind of fruit you use, always make sure that the fruit is fresh and top quality.