This Succot, teach your child to make strudel

Cinnamon raison rogelach cut in triangles and ready to be rolled up (photo credit: DAWN LERMAN)
Cinnamon raison rogelach cut in triangles and ready to be rolled up
(photo credit: DAWN LERMAN)
Teaching a child to make strudel, a traditional Ashkenazi Succot treat, can be much more meaningful to him or her than merely a lesson in baking.
For Dawn Lerman, author of the just-published book My Fat Dad, learning to cook and bake from her grandmother and her aunt made her feel loved.
Her father was extremely overweight and obsessed with dieting. “Each week he would discover a new miracle plan,” wrote Lerman, “and my mom and I were forced to eat whatever freeze-dried, saccharine-loaded concoction he was testing, so as not to tempt him by eating ‘normal’ food.” Lerman’s mother had no interest in preparing meals or in spending much time with her daughter.
“My only glimpse into a nourishing, normal environment, my only model of healthy eating,” wrote Lerman, “was the weekends I spent with my beloved grandmother. It was in her kitchen where I learned what love and happiness were – one recipe at a time.”
Lerman’s grandmother, whom she called Beauty, lived in a religious neighborhood but did not go to temple. “Beauty would say,” wrote Lerman, “‘God is in my kitchen, not in temple.... I am a culinary Jew,’ she’d proclaim. ‘I honor tradition and those who came before me, and I want to pass the history of the food on to you. I can find my heritage in a bowl of soup. I believe in the power of sweet-and-sour meatballs. I believe that when I combine eggs, raisins, cottage cheese, yogurt, and baby shells into a kugel, I honor my own grandmother. I believe that stuffed cabbage connects me to my father, whom I miss. My bible is recipes that fill your soul and will keep you healthy and nourished for years to come.’”
Beauty believed that one of the best ways to spend an afternoon was to watch Dawn’s Aunt Jeannie, a talented baker, make strudel dough that was so thin that you could read her love letters through it.
“Whenever there was a special occasion, you could count on my Aunt Jeannie for her baked goods and lavish spreads,” wrote Lerman. “She even had an extra freezer that she called ‘Just In Case’ – just in case she was invited somewhere or someone just popped in unexpectedly. There was never a shortage of strudels, hamantaschen, cakes, and halla breads in my aunt’s freezer.”
Young Dawn payed close attention as her Aunt Jeannie made the strudel dough. “She began throwing the dough against the table – kneading it and rolling it, and kneading it and rolling it.”
When it was time to chop the nuts, Jeannie told Lerman that this would be her job, and taught her a trick that she should “never forget.” She filled two Ziploc bags – one with walnuts and the other with pecans. Once the bags were filled and sealed, she showed Lerman how to crush the nuts with a rolling pin. “Always leave a little space for air to escape,” she said; “otherwise, the bag will explode.”
Then came the special technique of stretching the dough. “Jeannie took the dough,” wrote Lerman, “and began stretching it across her worn, wooden kitchen table that was lightly covered with flour. She pulled the dough from all sides, stretching it as if she were making a bed, making sure all sides were equal.... ‘This is the most important step,’ she said, making me stretch the dough until it was hanging down the sides of the table.... ‘The more you practice, just like the more you play the piano, the better and quicker you will be at making dough.’”
Lerman carries on this cherished tradition. Her own children, Dylan and Sofia, enjoy cooking and baking with their mother.
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.
When Dawn Lerman and I discussed making strudel dough, she told me that her aunt stretched the dough until it was transparent, but that in fact “no one can do it like Jeannie.”
Lerman makes the dough a simpler way – she rolls it with a rolling pin but does not stretch it further by hand.
“My dough has a bit of a thicker and more resilient crust,” she said. “It’s much easier to work with.” But it is delicious, and “unless you tasted my aunt Jeannie’s, you would not know the difference.”
Lerman’s aunt prefers to use tart apples. Depending on the size of the apples, there should be a little extra filling for nibbling.
Makes 8 to 10 servings
For the dough:
■ 2½ cups all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting the workspace)
■ ½ Tbsp. salt
■ 1 tsp. baking powder
■ 2 large eggs, beaten
■ 1¹⁄3 cups warm water
■ 4 Tbsp. oil
For the filling:
■ ¼ cup white sugar
■ ¹⁄8 cup brown sugar
■ 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
■ Pinch of salt
■ 4 apples, chopped, peeled and cored
■ 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
■ 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon rind
■ ½ cup dried fine breadcrumbs
■ ¼ cup ground walnuts (optional)
■ ¼ cup raisins
■ 55 gr. (2 oz.) melted unsalted butter, for brushing the dough
■ Powdered sugar for dusting
Sift flour, salt, and baking powder into a bowl. Make a well in the center and drop in the beaten eggs, water, and oil. Mix until a dough forms. Transfer dough to a lightly floured workspace and knead dough until it is smooth. Place dough ball in a bowl and let sit for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare filling by combining the sugar, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Set aside 3 tablespoons of above mixture. Mix chopped apples with lemon juice and lemon rind; stir into sugar mixture and add bread crumbs, nuts (if desired), and raisins.
Preheat oven to 175°C (350°F) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper; or oil the baking sheet.
If you want to stretch the dough very thin, cover a table with a lint-free tablecloth or tea towels and lightly dust with flour.
Place dough on floured workspace and roll it out until thin. If desired, gently stretch it until it is paper thin.
Brush dough with melted butter. Spread filling across the rolled dough, leaving a 1.25-cm. (½-in.) border. Starting with a long end, roll up the dough to enclose the filling; if you are using a cloth, use it to help roll up the dough.
Gently place the strudel, seam side down, on the baking sheet. Brush top with butter and sprinkle with reserved sugar and cinnamon. Bake until golden brown and cooked through, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack 10 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before slicing.
Lerman loves these cookies, which she learned from her aunt.
When they are still warm, they are “heavenly biscuits, still somewhat moist in the middle, with puddles of melted chocolate.”
Makes 28 biscuits
■ 3 cups of flour (plus more for kneading)
■ 1½ teaspoons baking powder
■ ¼ tsp. salt
■ 3 eggs, beaten
■ 1 cup sugar
■ 225 gr. (8 oz. or 1 cup) melted unsalted butter or oil
■ 2 tsp. vanilla extract
■ 1 tsp. almond extract or orange juice
■ ½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.
In another bowl combine beaten eggs and sugar until smooth.
Whisk in the butter or oil, vanilla extract, and almond extract or orange juice. Then pour into dry ingredients and mix to a dough. Stir in chocolate chips. Make into a large ball and chill in a glass bowl covered with plastic wrap in refrigerator for 2 hours.
Grease a baking sheet with butter or oil, or cover with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 175°C (350°F).
Remove dough from refrigerator and wait five minutes so dough is more pliable. Coat your hands with flour and remove dough from bowl. Knead dough, and divide into two pieces.
Form each piece into a roll about 7.5 cm. (3 in.) wide.
Place rolls side by side onto prepared baking sheet. They should stretch the length of the sheet. Bake 20 minutes, until rolls have started to turn brown. Then reduce the heat to 120°C (250°F) and bake for another 15 minutes.
Remove rolls from the oven onto a rack. Let cool about 10 minutes, until cool enough to handle. Then slice them diagonally about every 1.25 cm. (½ inch). Return cookies to baking sheet and lay them flat. Return to oven and bake at 120°C (250°F) until lightly golden, about 30 minutes. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack before serving. The cookies will get crunchier as they cool.
Lerman notes that rogelach means little twists in Yiddish. She makes them from a sweetened cream-cheese dough. For the filling, she uses red jam but notes that you can use any kind of jam you like. This recipe is useful when you need just a small batch of cookies.
Makes 12 cookies
■ 55 gr. (2 oz.) unsalted butter, room temperature, cubed
■ 55 gr. (2 oz.) cream cheese, room temperature
■ ½ cup flour
■ ¹⁄3 cup sugar (plus a little extra for sprinkling)
■ ¼ tsp. salt
■ ½ cup chopped nuts (optional)
■ ½ cup chopped raisins
■ ½ tsp. cinnamon (plus a little extra for sprinkling)
■ Jam of your choice
■ 1 egg, beaten
■ 1 Tbsp. cold water
Beat butter and cream cheese with a hand mixer until smooth, then gently stir in the flour, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and the salt.
Mix well, until a dough is formed. Form dough into a ball. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours.
When ready to roll dough, combine the nuts (if desired), raisins, cinnamon, and the rest of the sugar in a bowl and put aside.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or spray with cooking spray.
Remove dough from refrigerator. Flour a workspace and begin to roll out the dough into a round pizza shape about 1.6 mm.
(1/16 in.) thick, giving the dough quarter turns as you roll. Try to work quickly, because when the dough loses its chill, it is hard to work with. Spread jam across dough, and then sprinkle the raisins, nuts, cinnamon and sugar mixture over the dough and press it in with your fingertips.
Slice dough into 12 wedges. Roll each wedge from wide end to narrow end. Place the cookies on prepared baking sheet and chill for 20 minutes before baking. Preheat oven to 175°C (350°F).
While cookies are chilling, whisk the egg with the cold water, and then gently brush the egg wash over the cookies before putting them in the oven to bake. Sprinkle a little cinnamon and sugar on top. Bake for 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.