From the Pastry Dungeon: Pear and Chestnut Strudel


[Photograph: Anna Markow]

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One of the most common reactions I get to my choice in profession, especially among those on the savory side of the kitchen, is "I don't have the patience for that!" Pastry does involve a fair amount of patience, but anyone who knows me in person knows that I am far from the most patient person in the world.

The perception that pastry requires a lot of patience probably has a lot to do with things like baking times and other time-sensitive actions like chilling and setting, not to mention all that bread stuff. Everyone knows a savory cook can adjust and rescue things that could otherwise be disastrous, whereas with pastry, if it fails, you have to start over.

I find that, for me, it's not so much patience that helps but attention to detail. I can tell if a batter is right before it goes in the oven, if a caramel will taste too sweet or too bitter from its color, if a dough wants a low and slow bake or a high fast heat to promote flaky tendencies or a soufflé action. Even longer-term projects like laminated doughs rely more on knowing what you're looking for than waiting around between turns.

One of the most delicate doughs in the world of pastry is strudel dough. It starts with a simple, oil-based lump of dough which is then carefully stretched over a tabletop until it's so thin you can read through it, then trimmed before having filling lined up along an edge and rolled up tight. The super thin, rolled pastry creates a shattery, flaky outer casing. It's a very simple technique to learn but requires a lot of attention to make sure the dough doesn't rip while stretching, not to mention crafting a filling that won't leak excessively when baked.

To help make the process easier, I created a strudel that doesn't get a traditional strudel dough wrapping, instead getting rolled in a very thin brown butter pie crust. It's considerably less intimidating than an actual strudel dough, and tastes great. Since the pear filling is fairly sweet, the strudel is best served with unsweetened whipped cream (you can add a few whole fresh sage leaves before whipping then remove them after; the "bruising" action will release essential oils and flavor the cream) or even whipped creme fraiche. Ice cream doesn't hurt, either.

About the Author: Anna Markow is a pastry chef obsessed with doing things that no one else does and giving unusual ingredients their time to shine. You can follow her sometimes-pastry-related thoughts on Twitter @VerySmallAnna.