This is an apple that I know a lot about but until now have never managed to find it. I was extremely surprised when I spied them at my favourite apple stall at the market - apparently these apples are from two remaining trees from the original orchard plantings. It's sad to know that most of these original trees were replaced through the years with modern varieties, apparently falling victim to vanity - they just aren't pretty enough.
In Italy especially around Trentino-Aldo Adige/South Tyrol region, the "Mela Renetta" is a much loved variety and one of their classic dishes is Apple Strudel.
Now you might be thinking, apple strudel isn't Italian. Well, when you consider the position of this region and it's history having been part of the Austrio-Hungarian empire, it's not surprising to find these influences in the food. That aside, the reason why these apples are so prized for strudel is that they are fairly dry and won't leech out liquid when they cook, so your strudel will never suffer from the unforgivable, soggy bottom syndrome. I think we've all either made strudels or eaten strudels where the apples gone to mush turning the pastry into something resembling soggy cardboard.
The pastry I've used is also a little bit different - I've decided to recreate one of my mother's doughs. I've replaced caster sugar for icing sugar as it dissolves into the flour giving you a much softer and smooth dough. The dough also has a little oil - the oil helps the dough stay pliable and seems to make it a lot easier to roll it wafer thin. It also bakes to have a lovely short and crisp texture.
I have taken a liberty or two with the filling itself and replaced the typical pine nut/sultana combination for almonds and those wonderfully addictive amarena cherries.
Makes 2 strudels
400 grams plain flour
50 grams icing sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon neutral oil
1 kg renette apples, peeled, cored, quartered, thinly sliced
100 grams slivered almonds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
melted butter, cooled
Make the pastry:
Sift the flour and icing sugar together into a bowl - make a well in the center and add in the lightly beaten egg and oil. Start stirring and pour in enough water to form a firm dough. Tip out the dough onto a floured board and knead for a few minutes to form a smooth, pliable dough - roll into a ball and place to one side to rest while you make the filling.
Make the filling:
Place the prepared apples, almonds, cinnamon, sugar and lemon zest into a bowl - stir until evenly distributed.
Make the strudel:
Divide the dough into two.
Press into a rectangle and then roll out as thinly as possible - I ended up with a rough rectangle about 40x50cm (15x20 inches) in size. Don't worry too much if it isn't a perfect rectangle, it won't matter once you roll the dough.
Carefully place the dough on a large sheet of baking paper or tea towel. Lightly brush the pastry with the melted butter and sprinkle over with a little almond meal. Spread half the filling over the dough, leaving a one inch border at the top and a half inch border on the sides. Try to arrange the apples so they are roughly one layer deep. Scatter the amarena cherries randomly over the apples.
To roll, start by folding in the short sides and then, starting at the long edge closest to you, carefully fold it over to form an even line, then start rolling it - you can use the paper or cloth to help form the roll.
As my roll turned out longer than the baking tray, I formed it into a horseshoe shape - you could also make it into a circle. Brush the surface again with the melted butter and sprinkle over with raw sugar.
Repeat the process with the rest of the dough.
Place in a preheated 160°C oven and cook for about 30 minutes - then raise the temperature to 180°C and continue baking until golden.
When done, allow to cool on a wire rack and finish off with a dusting of icing sugar.
I think this is the first strudel I've made where the pastry is as it should be - the underside is wonderfully crisp and the apples have performed beyond my expectations.