Ever since last year when I fell in love with cabbage, I’ve been collecting recipes that showcase the vegetable as a main course. To that end, I’m so pleased to present Luisa Weiss — you may know her as the Wednesday Chef blogger, author of Classic German Baking or remember her wonderful guide to Berlin — who will be sharing her recipe for Krautstrudel, or cabbage strudel…
Choosing favorite recipes from a cookbook you wrote yourself is a little like choosing a favorite child. But if you twist my arm, I’ll admit that this cabbage strudel is at least in the top five. Imagine a crackling, flaky, gossamer-thin crust encasing silky strands of sautéed cabbage, chewy bits of bacon, and the occasional savory crunch of a caraway seed, considered in Central Europe to be cabbage’s soul mate. See what I mean?
You might not think of it by looking at the list of ingredients, but Krautstrudel, as it’s called in German, is a surprisingly delicate dish. In Austria, a slice of this would be considered a light meal, best eaten outdoors with a glass of white wine alongside (though I can’t help but think of it as a winter meal). Most people think of apples, plums or cherries when it comes to strudel fillings, but savory strudels filled with mashed potatoes or sautéed mushrooms are also traditional and one of the best discoveries I made while writing Classic German Baking.
Now, you can absolutely shortcut your way to a delicious strudel, no matter the filling, with packaged phyllo dough (also known as yufka dough, depending on the provenance of your grocers). The instructions for that are below. But let me make my case to you: part of the joy of homemade strudel is making the dough yourself, a surprisingly calming and, yes, simple task.
When I first started writing my cookbook, I was completely intimidated by strudel. A towering classic of Austrian cuisine, I thought only old ladies in dirndls, living in mountaintop villages, with decades of baking experience, could claim mastery over those shatteringly thin, crisp layers. How would I ever learn?
But the truth is that making perfect strudel dough is really not hard at all. (The glaze on a Sacher Torte, well, that’s a different story.) It’s way less work than sourdough, for one thing, or any dough with yeast, for another. In fact, I’d call strudel the perfect easy yet impressive baking project for this phase of our pandemic ennui.
The dough is as simple as it gets: just flour, oil, salt and water kneaded together for 10 minutes until soft and silky. I like to think of it as an upper body workout and meditative practice in one! (Told you it was pandemic perfect.) The long kneading produces a wonderfully elastic dough, which is important, because once the dough rests a little bit, it needs to be rolled, pulled and stretched until it’s so thin that you can famously read a newspaper through it.
This is the hardest part, because it requires a little mix of gentle patience and moxie to pull and stretch the dough until it’s the right size and thickness. But once you’ve mastered it, and that happens quickly, I promise, you’ll be off to the strudel races.
Krautstrudel (Cabbage Strudel)
See note at the bottom of the recipe if you plan to make this with store bought phyllo.
Makes one 16-inch/40-cm long strudel
Serves 4 to 6
1 ¼ cups minus 1 tbsp/150 grams all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons sunflower oil or other neutral vegetable oil
1/3 cup/80 ml of cold water
2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
5 1/4 ounces/150 grams slab bacon, diced
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 small head green cabbage, shredded
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon caraway seed
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ¾ ounces/50 grams unsalted butter
First, make the dough: In a small bowl, combine the flour and salt. Pour the oil into the flour mixture, and then slowly add the water, using your index finger to stir. Stir until the dough has come together, then dump it out onto a work surface (you may need a light dusting of flour, but once you start kneading, you shouldn’t need to add more.) Knead for 10 minutes (set an alarm clock; the time will pass faster than you think). At the end, the dough should be soft, supple and silky to the touch. Form it into a ball and place it on the work surface. Invert the bowl over the dough and let it rest for 30 minutes.
While the dough rests, prepare the filling. Put the oil in a large skillet. Place over medium heat and add the bacon and then the onion. Sauté for several minutes, until the onion is translucent. Add the shredded cabbage and stir well. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring often. Towards the end of the cooking time, season with the salt, caraway and black pepper to taste. Turn off the heat and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C. Melt the butter in a small pan and set aside.
On your work surface, spread out a clean cotton or linen kitchen towel that measures at least 24 x 32 in/60 x 80 cm. Sprinkle flour lightly over the towel. Place the strudel dough in the middle of the towel and roll it out several times in both directions with a tapered rolling pin. Then ball your hands into loose fists, put them under the rolled-out dough and gently start stretching the dough using the backs of your hands. Alternate with pulling on the dough gently with your fingers to continue stretching the dough evenly. This takes patience and some confidence; you don’t want to the dough to rip, but you do need to stretch out the dough with some assertiveness. Ultimately, the dough should measure about 16×24 inches/40×60 cm. Make sure you pull the edges of the dough as thin as you can. The dough should be uniformly thin.
Brush the strudel dough all over with some of the melted butter. Scrape the cabbage over a quarter of the strudel dough along the longer side, leaving a 1-inch/3 cm border at the edges. Gently fold the sides of the strudel dough over the filling, stretching slightly if necessary, and then pull the bottom edge of the strudel dough over the filling. Working carefully, use the towel to roll the strudel over the remaining dough tightly. Pull the end of the dough over, thinning out the dough as you go, and press it gently against the strudel. Using the towel as a sling, gently roll the strudel onto the baking sheet. You may need a second set of hands for this. Brush the strudel liberally with more of the melted butter.
Bake the strudel for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and brush liberally with the melted butter. Bake for another 15 minutes, the remove and brush with the remaining butter. Bake for additional 10 minutes. The strudel should be flaky and browned.
Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Slice into 2-inch/5-cm pieces and serve. Strudel is best the day it is made, but will keep at room temperature for an additional day or two and can be crisped up in a 325°F/165°C oven.
To Make With Phyllo Dough
I always make strudel dough from scratch, but if you want to try this recipe with phyllo dough, this is what I would do: First, find some phyllo dough. In the United States, it’s usually sold frozen. (If you can find fresh phyllo, yay!) In Germany, fresh phyllo dough can usually be found at Turkish grocers, where it’s labeled yufka dough. (I always delight in seeing this little culinary intersection of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires!) Defrost the package, remove three sheets, then reroll the remaining sheets and refreeze or use in a separate recipe. Melt 3 additional tablespoons of butter. Place a sheet of phyllo dough on a kitchen towel. Brush thinly with a tablespoon of melted butter, then place the second sheet on top. Brush that sheet with the second tablespoon of butter, then place the final sheet on top and brush that one with the remaining butter. Then proceed with the rest of Step 4. To make sure that the pastry sheets don’t dry out, prepare the cabbage filling before you start working with the phyllo dough.
Thank you, Luisa!