Just whisper the word strudel, and homey, fragrant images come to mind. You probably think of buttery, light pastry, apples and cinnamon, or apricots and walnuts, or lemon-scented poppy-seed filling.

But then, on further reflection, you vaguely remember that the pastry of these reveries depends on a special strudel dough, both time-consuming to make and hard to master. If the thought of strudel is delightful, but the specter of strudel dough has you running instead to find your favorite banana-nut-bread recipe, read on. What follows is, in short, strudels made simple, five recipes for strudel dough, from traditional to anything but. Together they prove that there is more than one route to great pastry. Classic Strudel (Stretch Strudel) Dough

The strudel we are most acquainted with, and intimidated by, the one that inspires the Strudel Legend, is a good many years old. Based on the Turkish baklava recipe (which uses phyllo dough) and dating back at least to the 16th century, it was subsequently "borrowed" and ultimately perfected by several generations of talented Hungarian and Viennese cooks. This ultra-thin, stretched dough is one of the national pastries of Europe and is prepared, albeit somewhat differently in each country, with loving dedication and a strict adherence to timeless methods.

Classic strudel isn't really that hard, but it does get better as one gets more practice. To make it properly, you must start with a bread- or hard-flour-based dough and develop the gluten content within the dough by kneading or otherwise manipulating it. That done, the dough is allowed to rest and then is gently stretched until it is supple, elastic and as thin as possible. Perfectionists say the dough should be onion-skin-thin or, at the very least, transparent enough to read a newspaper through. Once this is achieved the dough can be brushed with the melted butter and filled with a substantial choice of fillings.

During baking, the moisture in the butter turns to steam and thus causes the thinly coiled dough to puff up into flaky strata of pastry. This stretched dough results, once baked, into what is termed a "long flake" dough structure.

To make life easier, opt for stretch strudel dough made in your food processor or bread machine. The first makes great strudel dough in about 90 seconds. Your bread machine's dough cycle provides perfectly fashioned dough in about 15 minutes -- and you don't even touch the dough. Either method works well, is quick and easy and trouble-free. Either method or machine will give you superb dough.

Now, the stretching part. Ready? Okay, you don't have to stretch your very first batch of dough to kingdom come. A dough stretched to about 18 by 12 inches is sufficient for starters. You will still get phenomenal strudel. Each time you stretch a batch of this dough, you will improve your technique. And along the way, you will be eating outstanding strudel.

The point is, your first, worst effort will still make great strudel. You simply cannot go wrong. Plus, you will have a wonderful time. You can do this alone or call over friends for a strudel bee -- the best way to get strudel stretched out evenly all over the place.

If you are not making your own stretch strudel dough but like that style of dough to roll around your apples, try out the Quick and Easy Strudel that uses reliable store-bought phyllo (filo) sheets. Another strudel shortcut is to use purchased French puff dough (pate feuilletee) -- bought from the freezer case or from an indulgent neighborhood pastry shop. Short-Crust (Alternative) Strudel Doughs

These alternative strudel doughs take remarkably little effort (simple to mix, and no stretching required) and still result in wonderfully flaky, unique and consummately satisfying strudel.

Based on simple short-crust-pastry technique, these doughs are much the same as those used for pie dough or short-crust pastry. Enriched with butter, sour cream or farmer cheese, they render superb pastry. Take this same technique and add a bit of yeast to it and you get another style completely -- a coffeecake-like roll (often referred to as Hungarian Strudel) that takes well to traditional walnut or poppy-seed filling.

NOTE: Before baking, all strudels must be glazed in order to achieve that appealing golden brown color. You may brush the pastry with additional melted butter and then sprinkle on decorative sugar and cinnamon or poppy seeds. Alternatively, you may make a light glaze of egg wash (see following recipes) and gently "paint" the strudel with this before baking. Be sure to glaze all pastries evenly -- leaving no puddles of egg wash or crevices filled with melted butter. These little glaze excesses will burn or brown unevenly during baking or could dribble and stick on the baking sheet.

Strudel is best served warm or at room temperature. Strudels made with wet fillings such as apple are not as suitable for freezing since they lose much of their original flaky texture. TRADITIONAL STRETCH STRUDEL WITH APPLE FILLING (Enough for three 18-inch strudels)

Believe it or not, you can make stretch strudel dough in seconds in the food processor or in about 15 minutes with the dough cycle on your bread machine. If you prefer, you can also use your electric mixer, using both the paddle (to mix) and the dough hook (to knead). As far as stretching goes, start small. FOR THE DOUGH:

1 teaspoon lemon juice

2 eggs

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

1/3 cup oil

3 1/2 cups bread flour, plus extra if needed FOR THE FILLING:

1/2 cup butter, melted

Bread crumbs or plain cookie crumbs for sprinkling

1 recipe Apple Cinnamon Filling (recipe follows)

Confectioners' sugar for dusting

Food Processor Method: Place 3/4 cup warm water with the lemon juice, eggs, salt, sugar and oil in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process to combine. Add the flour and process until a smooth mass forms. If needed, add more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Dough should be smooth and elastic and slack.

Bread Machine Method: Place 3/4 cup warm water with the lemon juice, eggs, salt, sugar, oil and flour in the bread machine. Turn on the dough cycle. After the first knead, remove dough (you do not have to let it sit there for the complete cycle).

Standing Mixer Method: Mix 3/4 cup water with the lemon juice, eggs, salt, sugar and oil to blend. Add flour and mix until the mixture forms a mass. Attach the dough hook and knead for 8 minutes, until smooth and elastic. If needed, add more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time.

All Methods: Remove from the work bowl, bread machine or mixing bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and let rest 1 hour before using. Alternatively, place in a Ziploc bag and refrigerate until required (up to 2 days). Allow to warm up before stretching.

When ready to prepare the strudel: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Stack two baking sheets together and line the top one with parchment paper.

Divide the dough into three portions. Gently roll one section of the dough with a rolling pin to flatten it out. Let the dough rest 5 minutes, then begin stretching it. Using your fists (and making sure you are not wearing watches or rings that would tear the dough or make holes), stretch the dough from the center out, much like someone making a pizza. Stretch, moving your hands around edges or dough, lifting and stretching each new section. Every once in awhile, rest (you and the dough). Cover dough with a damp tea towel or a clean, damp tablecloth. As the dough sheet gets bigger, work it over a surface covered with a large cloth and use your fingertips to stretch it. Always allow the dough a chance to rest between stretching sessions so that it will not resist your efforts. Aim initially for a rectangle of 18 by 12 inches.

Brush the surface of the dough generously with half the melted butter. Sprinkle on bread crumbs or cookie crumbs.

Turn the dough so that the longer sides are facing you. On the long edge closer to you, spread about 6 cups of the apple filling. Lifting the near edge of the cloth that's underneath to lever the dough up, start rolling the strudel dough away from you into a log. Roll until the strudel is about 3 inches in diameter. Trim the ends. Gently lift the strudel onto the prepared baking sheet. Brush the top of the pastry with melted butter. Make small slits for steam to escape. Repeat with the two remaining portions of dough and filling.

Bake in the preheated oven until golden and juices begin to ooze out. Dust with confectioners' sugar. Cut on the diagonal into single portions.

Per serving: 281 calories, 5 gm protein, 48 gm carbohydrates, 8 gm fat, 42 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 182 mg sodium APPLE CINNAMON STRUDEL FILLING (Enough for three 18-inch strudels)

Use Stretch Strudel Dough with this filling.

8 to 9 medium apples, peeled, cored and sliced thin

4 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

3/4 cup white sugar

3 teaspoons cinnamon

1/3 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (optional)

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3/4 cup plumped, well-drained raisins

1/2 cup pitted red cherries, drained very well (optional)

Prepare the apples and toss with lemon juice. Combine the sugar, cinnamon, pie spice, if using, and flour. Toss the mixture with the apple slices, raisins and cherries, if using.

Per serving: 89 calories, trace protein, 23 gm carbohydrates, trace fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 saturated fat, 1 mg sodium FARMER CHEESE STRUDEL DOUGH (Enough for three 18-inch strudels)

This dough, which is great for Apple Strudelettes, is extremely easy to work with. Just be sure to use fresh, soft farmer cheese (see note below).

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons sugar

1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into chunks

1 cup (8 ounces) farmer cheese*

Food Processor Method: Place the flour, salt and sugar in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the butter chunks through the feed tube and process until the mixture resembles small crumbs. Add the cheese and process until soft dough forms and gathers in a rough mass. If dough does not do this, allow the ingredients to combine briefly and then turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead 2 or 3 times until a smooth dough forms.

Hand Method: Cut the butter and into the flour, salt and sugar until the mixture resembles fine crumbs and looks grainy. Knead or mix in the cheese until a soft dough forms.

Both methods: Divide the dough into 3 pieces, flatten each piece into a disk and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 4 hours, up to 24 hours.

* NOTE: This fresh cheese is a form of cottage cheese from which most of the liquid has been pressed.

Per serving: 94 calories, 3 gm protein, 6 gm carbohydrates, 7 gm fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 3 gm saturated fat, 59 mg sodium APPLE STRUDELETTES (Makes about 14 pastries)

You could use any dough for these, but the Farmer Cheese Strudel Dough works especially well. Because the apples are not peeled, and are shredded instead of pared, these little apple pastries take only minutes to prepare.

About 4 cups unpeeled, cored and shredded apples, such as McIntosh, Cortland -- a variety that is not too crisp and will soften in baking

1 teaspoon cinnamon

3 tablespoons flour

3/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/3 recipe Farmer Cheese Strudel Dough (see preceding recipe)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Confectioners' sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Prepare the apples and toss with cinnamon, flour, sugar and lemon juice.

Roll the dough out as thin as possible (about 18 by 20 inches). Brush the dough generously with the melted butter. Spread the shredded apples all over the dough. Roll up, starting from the long edge closer to you, until you have a roll about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Cut the roll into mini strudels, each about 1 1/2 inches long. Place them on the prepared baking sheets. Brush tops with more melted butter. Bake in the preheated oven until golden brown and the apple juices start to leak out of the sides, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool well and dust generously with confectioners' sugar.

Per serving: 179 calories, 2 gm protein, 24 gm carbohydrates, 9 gm fat, 24 mg cholesterol, 5 gm saturated fat, 76 mg sodium ALMOND STRUDEL PASTRY CROISSANTS (Makes about 10 pastries)

Use the Farmer Cheese Strudel Dough for these melt-in-your-mouth gems. The almond paste melts during baking, and the result is crisp and sweet pastry croissants that look and taste professional.

1/3 recipe for Farmer Cheese Strudel Dough (see recipe)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/3 cup apricot jam

1/3 cup almond paste, cut in small chunks

1 egg white, lightly beaten

Sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roll the Farmer Cheese Strudel Dough out into a large circle, about 1/8 inch thick and about 10 to 12 inches in diameter. Brush with melted butter. Spread on apricot jam as evenly as possible and disperse chunks of almond paste. Cut the circle into 10 wedges and roll up each into a log, from the wider end to the tip of the wedge. Curve the ends of the log to make a crescent shape and place on the prepared baking sheet. Brush with the beaten egg white and sprinkle on sugar.

Bake in the preheated oven until golden brown, about 20 to 22 minutes.

Per serving: 217 calories, 4 gm protein, 20 gm carbohydrates, 14 gm fat, 32 mg cholesterol, 6 gm saturated fat, 113 mg sodium QUICK AND EASY SOUR CHERRY-APPLE PHYLLO STRUDEL (Makes two 12-inch strudel rolls)

An old-fashioned-tasting apple strudel made fast and easy using prepared phyllo leaves.

6 to 8 cups apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced (use a tart variety, such as Granny Smith)

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 cup dried sour cherries, plumped and drained

8 phyllo sheets

1/4 pound (1 stick, 4 ounces) butter or unsalted margarine, melted

About 1/4 cup bread crumbs

Confectioners' sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Prepare the apples and toss with lemon juice. Add the sugar, cinnamon, pie spice, flour and dried cherries and toss to mix. Set aside.

Using 4 phyllo leaves per strudel, place one sheet down and brush with butter. Sprinkle on a scant teaspoon of the bread crumbs. Layer on three more phyllo leaves, brushing each with butter and sprinkling each with a scant teaspoon of bread crumbs. Place half the apple mixture across the lower third of the phyllo sheets. Cover by rolling the bottom edge of the dough over the apples, just to cover. Turn the right and left edges in about 1 inch. Then roll up jelly-roll fashion to make the strudel roll. Brush the top with butter. Repeat with remaining phyllo leaves and apple filling.

Bake the rolls in the preheated oven for 40 minutes or until golden brown. When cool, dust with confectioners' sugar if desired. Cut, using a serrated knife, into diagonal slices.

Per serving: 294 calories, 2 gm protein, 47 gm carbohydrates, 13 gm fat, 31 mg cholesterol, 7 gm saturated fat, 167 mg sodium Marcy Goldman is a professional baker and food writer based in Montreal.