I had bought a bunch of different berries lately, and so to make the best use of them it came to me: it’s time to make Strudel! And upon researching recipes, I decided that the best thing to do was make them with a puff pastry base (more on that late). Further research led me to this wonderful recipe for the “crossover” effect (more on that later), found on the White on Rice Couple site (they in turn got their inspiration from a recipe in the seminal Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friberg).
OK, so the puff pastry thing. I think most of us who want to save time when baking fall into two camps: the puff pastry or the Filo (or if you prefer, Phyllo) camp. I am of the former persuasion, but just in case you have heard of neither, let me spend just a moment on the latter. Filo is single thin sheets of pastry, and to use them, you lay out an individual sheet, brush the first with butter, add another sheet, brush that one, etc. Filo is very crumbly, and you have to be careful when handling the sheets, because they will break.
Puff pastry is made just like croissant dough, by putting a block of butter between sheets of dough, flatting it down, folding it over, flattening it down, and so on, until you have many incredibly thin layers of dough with fat between them. If you’ve ever eaten an apple turnover or croissant, you probably know what this tastes like. It is a very time-consuming process, so to save time, I usually use Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets which, ok, contain some preservatives that some folks might not prefer, but they (luckily) don’t contain the butter that some fancier brands do.
I had three different kinds of berries to be exact: blueberries, cherries and blackberries. Therese really loves cherries, so if I made cherry strudel, I wanted to make sure it would be the best it could be. I decided to start out by making a batch of blueberry strudel, almost as practice for the cherry.
I made the pastry cream (and by the way, if you want to make this strudel vegan, here is a vegan pastry cream recipe) as described in the recipe. I sprinkled some confectioner’s sugar over my pint of blueberries and stirred to incorporate it. Then I spread pastry cream over a section of puff pastry, and arranged blueberries over the top of the cream, and made the slits in the pastry cream to create the crossover effect.
When you use puff pastry in pies and the like, you have to at least cut some slits into the pastry, to allow for escaping steam as the pie bakes. I loved the idea of doing the crossover because it does this very well while also being very attractive. I did my best to wrap the strands over the strudel and meet in the middle, alternating one side and then the other until all the strands were done.
As one final step before baking, I brushed the strudel with egg wash, to help the pastry develop a nice golden brown sheen. I baked the strudel for about 45 minutes – the recipe calls for 25-30 minutes, but my oven temperature must be off (I just bought an oven thermometer to do some calibrating for future baking). Anyway, here’s how the blueberry strudel came out.
As you can see, it came out very nice, but the crossover strands of pastry separated for the most part as the strudel baked. That didn’t affect the taste of course, and I was very happy with the results.
Several days later, it was time to make the cherry strudel. I had used one sheet of puff pastry to make six blueberry strudel pastries, so I took the other sheet out of the freezer (each package contains two), and left it on a cutting board to defrost.
While the pastry defrosted, I made the pastry cream, and took about a pound of cherries and hand-pitted them, tossing the cherries into a bowl and then adding maybe two tablespoons of confectioner’s sugar and mixing it all together.
I put two cutting boards next to each other, one which held the puff pastry sheet. I applied some flour to each cutting board, took my rolling pin, and rolled out the pastry sheet, trying to keep its rectangular shape as much as possible. Then I cut it in half lengthwise and in three width-wise. I took one section and put that on the second cutting board and rolled it out some more, until it was about 1/8 inch thick. Then one by one, I began preparing my cherry strudel pastries. I began by adding a generous tablespoon of pastry cream and spreading it up the middle third of the strudel.
Next I added about three spoonfuls of cherries to the pastry.
Next, I arranged the cherries atop the cream. The cream is helpful for holding the fruit in place, as long as each piece is stuck in the cream. I also slice the sides of the pastry to prepare for the crossover assembly.
To make sure that the pastry would hold together this time, I put a dab of egg wash on each section to glue the pastry together. Then I painted the whole top of the pastry with egg wash when I was done.
It worked. The strudel was browned, the pastry held together, and it was lovely.