From America's Test Kitchen Season 7: Easy Apple Desserts
Apple strudel, lightly spiced apples in a thin, flaky pastry, is meant to be savored by the forkful, preferably with a strong cup of coffee. We wanted all the flavor and charm of this apple dessert, but we didn’t want to bother with the hours of preparation the paper-thin dough requires. So, chucking the notion of homemade strudel dough, we started with a simpler option—store-bought phyllo dough—and set out to simplify this classic dessert while keeping the rich apple filling and as much of the crisp, flaky texture as possible.
Replacing homemade strudel dough with purchased phyllo dough made for a crust with crisp, flaky layers in a fraction of the time. We brushed the phyllo sheets with melted butter to keep them crisp and flaky. A combination of Golden Delicious and McIntosh apples, sliced thin, gave us a filling with layered apple flavor and just the right texture. A small amount of bread crumbs, browned in butter, thickened the filling without weighing it down. Golden raisins, plumped on the stove with Calvados (apple brandy), added a sophisticated, fruity dimension to the apple filling; for brightness and to lighten the filling, we added in some fresh lemon juice. We found that the phyllo on most strudels, including this one, curled and shattered as it cooled; sprinkling sugar between the layers of phyllo “glued” them together in the oven and prevented this problem.
Serves 6 to 8
Note that Athens phyllo, the most commonly available brand (as well as our preferred brand), is sold in two sizes. Both are 1-pound packages, with the larger size containing 20 sheets measuring 18 by 14 inches and the smaller size containing 40 sheets measuring 14 by 9 inches—exactly half the size of the larger sheets. We prefer the larger sheets in our strudel, but if all you can find are the smaller sheets, divide the filling evenly and make two smaller strudels. The best ways to defrost the phyllo are in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for three to four hours; it doesn't defrost well in the microwave. Make sure that the phyllo sheets you use for the strudel are not badly torn. If they have small cuts or tears in the same location (sometimes an entire package sustains cuts in the same spot), when forming the strudel, flip alternating layers so that the cuts will not line up, thereby creating a weak spot that can cause the strudel to burst during baking. Serve the strudel warm with lightly sweetened crème fraíche or whipped cream; if you chose to make the crème fraíche, make it before starting the strudel because it must stand at room temperature for about 1 1/2 hours before serving.