The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.
I adore Morocco. And I adore Moroccan cuisine. It encompasses everything that I love about their country. It’s ambrosial, flavoursome, fragrant, heady, aromatic and beautifully exotic. I especially love their desserts as they usually feature orange blossom water or rose water, which are two of my favourite things in the world. I have a ritual of closing my eyes and smelling the contents of its bottles for a few minutes every time I use it! Like I said, heady and exotic.
Orange Blossom water, M’Hencha almond filling and baklava breadcrumb mix
And then there’s the May Daring Bakers’ Challenge of a strudel – a delicious pastry dessert from Austria. You just know there’s going to be a clash of cultures here! I”ve decided not to follow tradition here mainly because I’m forever scarred since I ate the most beautiful apple strudel from a patisserie in Perth, Western Australia (the name escapes me sorry!). I know I’ll never taste a strudel as good as that ever again until I get myself to Austria. Because of that I have never bothered to make one for myself…until the daring bakers came along.
Orange Blossom Water
I tried making the apple strudel strictly to the recipe and I found the apple filling to be a bit bland and the pastry to be tasteless and not as flaky it should be. And woe of woes, as soon as it cooled down slightly from the oven, the pastry went soggy! But there’s still a challenge to be posted, so away with the apples, and in with something a little more special. I’ve decided to invade my large cache of nuts and combine my two favourite Middle Eastern desserts in the strudel pastry – M’Hencha and Baklava.
M’hencha or M’Hanncha is a Morrocan ‘snake’ pastry dessert. Thin, long rolls of filo pastry are filled with a almond and orange blossom water paste and ‘coiled’ before being baked. This time however, I’ve decided to fill the strudel with the M’Hencha almond filling and instead of using just breadcrumbs over the strudel, I’m using a simple baklava-inspired mix of cinnamon, breadcrumbs, ground walnuts, hazelnut meal and pistachios. All finished off with a sticky honey glaze and crushed pistachios.
I don’t think I’ll be using this recipe again as the pastry just didn’t have the right texture for a strudel. And if you’re interested in making a more traditional M’Hencha or Baklava, then fresh filo pastry is much more preferable. But I’m glad to say that from initial disappointment at the recipe, I’ve ended this Daring Bakers’ month with a smile and a few nuts stuck in my teeth. Not that I mind of course!
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers
1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary. Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.
2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.
Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes – the longer the better. (You could prepare your filling while you wait).
The biggest tip I can give you is to let it rest overnight in the fridge. Take it out of the fridge and give it a quick knead then let it rest again until it gets to room temperature. This gives you a strong but ultra stretchy dough, which means virtually no holes.
3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can. Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.
Strudel dough brushed with butter. You’ll know it’s thin enough when you can see through it
4. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it’s about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.
Moroccan M’Hencha Strudel
400g whole almonds
1/2 C caster sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbl orange blossom water*
125g unsalted butter, softened
2 egg yolks
Baklava Breadcrumb Mix
1/4 C walnuts
1/4 C pistachios
1/2 C hazelnut meal
1/4 fresh breadcrumbs
2 Tbl caster sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 C (about 100g) of honey warmed in a pan with some finely grated zest of half an orange
crushed pistachios or pine nuts to garnish
1. For the filling, finely ground the almonds, sugar and cinnamon in a food processor. Add orange water, butter and egg yolks and process until it comes together. Chill mixture in the fridge for about an hour.
2. Combine all the Baklava ingredients in the food processor and process until until finely ground and set aside.
3. Put the rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Line a large baking sheet with baking paper (parchment paper).
4. Melt about 100g of butter and spread about 3 tablespoons of it over the dough using your hands (a bristle brush could tear the dough, you could use a special feather pastry brush instead of your hands). Sprinkle the buttered dough with the baklava breadcrumb mix.
5. Spread the M’Hencha filling in a slightly flattened log about 3 inches (8 cm) from the short edge of the dough and the sides.
6. Fold the short end of the dough onto the filling. Lift the tablecloth at the short end of the dough so that the strudel rolls onto itself. Transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet by lifting it. Curve it into a horseshoe to fit. Tuck the ends under the strudel. Make a a number of small slits with a knife over the top of the strudel. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter.
7. Bake the strudel for about 30 minutes or until it is deep golden brown. Brush immediately with the warm honey mixture and scatter with the crushed pistachios or pine nuts. Can be served warm or at room temperature.
* Orange Blossom Water (or Orange Flower Water) is available from Middle Eastern food stores and delicatessens. It can also be substituted with Rose Water if you wish.