Food & Memory: Making My Grandmother’s Hungarian Strudel

No other time of the year carries more significance for me in terms of food memory than the Christmas holiday. At home my mother would make date-nut bread (which came from her in-laws) or the kolacky of her mother’s, my Hungarian grandmother. But the one dish she did not make, the sole province of my grandmother, was her Hungarian-style strudel. It would come to us in an ancient lidded Marshall Field’s box, back when department stores provided such things, lined with foil, sliced and dusted with powdered sugar. It was absolutely magical and a special treat.

My finished strudel – I forgot to dust with powdered sugar! Note the many layers of dough and apples. Almost noodle-like in consistency, moist, with tart apples. This is how it should look.

My grandmother was a remarkable woman in many ways. She grew up on the grounds of Betliar Castle in what is today Slovakia but was the Hungarian part of the Austro-Hungarian empire when she was born at the turn of the twentieth century. She was the only one of her siblings to emigrate to America in the early 1920s, although a great aunt had come to the Minnesota Iron Range in the late 19th century where she worked as a famous midwife. Her father was the gamekeeper for the estate, a representative of the establishment. Interestingly our Slovak cousins today remember the Hungarians as oppressors, and I’m afraid that my grandmother’s family were certainly in league with the Count Andrassy, the lord of the manor.

Making the strudel seemed like the thing to do since for a change, with the pandemic, we were not doing any traveling or hosting for the holidays. I’d been meaning to try this for years on my own (my brother and I made it together in 2009 and it was superb!) but hadn’t found the time. Until now.

The strudel turned out ok – the dough was perfect, but I should have cut up my apples much smaller and done so first so they had time to soften. That was the only actual problem. Everything else worked well enough except for my bad planning on getting the rolled up strudel off the tablecloth.

You can find the full recipe and how to make it in the video. But the dough ingredients are as follows:

  • 1 pound of all-purpose flour
  • 1 4oz. stick of butter
  • 8oz (1 cup) of sour cream
  • 2 eggs
  • “some warm water” if needed and some flour for dusting when kneading.

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