Heinrich Wittmann is strudelmaker extraordinaire. Three and a half minutes -- count 'em - it takes him to make a pastry it would take the normal Washingtonian all afternoon and the better part of patience to make. And he is talking the whole time he works.
You wouldn't expect a Viennese pastry chef working in the kitchen of a chain hotel to command any special claim to fame. Vienna is full of pastry chefs, after all, and you'd probably think they'd show up at Demel's or the Sacher or that small konditorei around the corner.
But Wittman became renowned, explains the interpreter, when he became the champion strudelmaker at an international competition in Frankfurt in 1967. While the interpreter explains, Wittman tosses and flips the strudel dough as if he were an Italian pizzamaker, not the world's fastest strudel chef.
Seven or eight times he flips the dough in the air, then he stretches it quickly on a cloth that hangs across a counter. He uses his knuckles to stretch the dough into a tissue-thin sheet which you can read a beer coaster through. If the dough tears, he quickly folds a piece over and patches it. Nothing daunts him and he only slows to answer questions.
He tosses and stretches 150 rounds of tough, resilient strudel dough every day. Most become apple strudel, of course, with a filling that looks almost like ground veal but tastes like heaven. He sprinkles the strudel dough -- one sheet one-meter square, rather than stacks of small ones -- with crumbs he's made from crusts of bread sauteed in butter. Along one side he places a long strip of apples with sugar, raisins, a little lemon, some rum and a touch of cinnamon. He forms the strudel by using the end of the cloth to flip the dough over and roll the apples into the pastry.As the filling is rolled, layers of pastry are formed around it.
Zip, zap and like that he's all through. Three and a half minutes and he's begun another strudel.
Guests sip thick, strong Viennese coffee and take their warm strudel mit schlag (with whipped cream -- mounds of smooth, cool cream). Rather untraditional, the Viennese explain, to take the strudel mit schlag, but it turns out that the tourists love everything mit schlag.
While Wittmann is known for his apple strudel, he makes a rather interesting vegetable strudel to serve as an appetizer. It's the same dough but the apples and cinnamon are replaced with julienned zucchini and carrots, bits of mushroom (chanterelles) and leeks which he binds with cream and egg yolks. Not along the most strict dietetic guidelines but then, what is, in Vienna.
Vegetable strudels are no less flexible than quiche or omelets or cream sauce, and so elegant as to glorify even the most pedestrian filling. Strudels provide new surroundings for leftovers.
Below are suggestions for vegetable strudels which can be expected to both delight and bewilder the diner/recipient. Let tofu intimidate you if you will, but the most definitive tofu haters have unwittingly swallowed every bite of this dish without ever inquiring about its contents.
Apple strudel is included below, and there are a few secrets. Long, thin, very firm, french bread (as much crust as bread) should be used for the crumbs to be sauteed in very fresh butter. Firm, tart apples (the locally available supply of jonathons suits well) can be chopped or sliced. Several sheets of phyllo (or strudel) dough, available in many supermarket freezer cases, replace the large sheet of pastry that Wittman makes. MOLLIE KATZEN'S VEGETABLE STRUDEL (6 servings) 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons melted butter 1 cup minced onion 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 large carrot, diced 1 cup chopped broccoli 1/2 pound chopped mushrooms 1/2 teaspoon dill weed Lots of freshly ground pepper 2 tablespoons flour 2 tablespoons dry sherry 6 tablespoons yogurt 1 large egg 1/4 cup minced parsley 1 cup wheat germ 1/2 pound (approximately) phyllo dough
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large, heavy skillet. Add onions and cook until soft. Add salt, carrot, broccoli, mushrooms and dill and cook 5 to 10 minutes, until vegetables are brightly colored. Combine flour and sherry and stir to remove lumps from flour. Add to vegetables and stir well over medium heat. Cook another 5 minutes, then remove from heat. Beat egg and yogurt. Add to cooled vegetables along with wheat germ and parsley. Layer sheets of phyllo dough in a 9-by-13-inch baking pan (the sheets are a little too big but the excess dough will bake nice and crisp). Brush each sheet with melted butter before topping with another piece of phyllo. Use about half of the sheets, top with vegetable mixture, then top with remaining sheets of phyllo, brushing each with butter as before. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. MUSHROOM STRUDEL (4 to 6 servings) 1 pound mushrooms, sliced 1 teaspoon salt Freshly grated black pepper 5 ounces tofu, chopped in tiny pieces 1/2 teaspoon caraway or dill seed 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan 1 1/2 cups yogurt 1/2 cups fine bread crumbs 1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley 2 scallions, minced, greens included 10 phyllo leaves 1/2 pound unsalted butter 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
Steam or saute the mushrooms until soft (about 5 minutes). Drain and squeeze off liquid through paper towels. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Put hot mushrooms in large bowl and stir in tofu. Add caraway, parmesan, yogurt, bread crumbs, parsley and scallions. Set aside.
Melt the butter. Lay a sheet of phyllo on a flat surface. Brush one side with melted butter. Lay a second sheet of phyllo on top of the first and butter completely. Repeat until 5 sheets have been used. Spoon half of the filling mixture on one short end. Roll up. Make second strudel and roll up. Brush the top of each pastry with butter and sprinkle each with a tablespoon of poppy seeds. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes. Serve hot. APPLE STRUDEL (9 or 10 servings) 2 cups bread crumbs, made from good-quality bread (preferably french) 3/4 cup butter, melted 6 cups thinly sliced apples (about 8 to 10 small apples) Juice and grated peel of 1/2 lemon 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1 tablespoon brandy 1/2 cup raisins 1/2 cup sugar 9 sheets phyllo dough
Melt half the butter in a large skillet over fairly high heat. Stir in the bread crumbs and toast, stirring occasionally, until nicely browned. Set aside. Peel and quarter apples. Slice them thinly and combine them with lemon juice and rind, cinnamon, brandy, raisins and sugar. Take 2 sheets of phyllo dough; brush the top lightly with butter and turn it over. Place the third sheet on top and brush it lightly with butter. Turn it over. Sprinkle the phyllo with 1/3 of the buttered crumbs. Along one of the short sides, mound a row of apples (using about 1/3 of the fruit). Roll up the sheets of phyllo, enclosing the apples inside (you can tuck in the ends or not, as you choose). Place on a lightly buttered baking sheet. Repeat with remaining phyllo and filling. Brush the tops of the rolls with butter and place the strudels in a 350-degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes, or until they are nicely browned.