I never gave apple strudels much thought. My experience with them, before I traveled to central Europe, was that they were essentially watered down versions of apple pies in different outfits.
Naked, the filling is just diced pieces of fruit baked with sugar and flour or cornstarch to a gelatinous consistency, thick and overly sweet. Because it lacked substance and because our famous East End pies were always available, I always gravitated toward good old-fashioned American apple pie.With the pie’s thick, firm slices of apple, plenty of cinnamon, a variety of crusts, and consistent delivery, it’s unsurprising that I found the variations in apple strudel confusing and unpredictable.
For instance, Costco’s Kirkland bakery enrobes the filling in thick braids of leavened, medium-weight pastry. Some supermarkets and bakeries pockets it in pie or puff pastry and call them turnovers or strudels interchangeably. Yet others roll it up with a phyllo pastry or Napoleon-type. All of these versions led me to believe that ordering an apple strudel meant the only constant was too much fruit goo and very little substance.
That was turned on its head when I went to Austria, home of Viennoiserie tradition, the mother of all layered pastry arts. This style of baking has given us treasures like the buttery, flaky, and crisp yet soft joy that are croissants. This type of dough makes the Danish the delight it is. And this old-fashioned way of going about making this special dough, pulling it by hand and using nothing but natural, pure ingredients makes the apfelstrudel at Junda’s Pastry, Crust & Crumbs in Jamesport the one that changed my mind about this dessert dish forever.
A bit sweeter than its European counterpart, but not so much that it’s in American style, Christopher Junda’s apfelstrudel is not just an authentic rendition of the original, but an improvement. German clients flock to this homey little bakery on the Main Road for a taste of home, and rave about its superiority over even what they experienced in childhoods. After experiencing it in Vienna and then at this little bakery in Jamesport, I was soon singing the same tune.
No wonder this rendition is the lauded triumph it is. Many years ago, when Junda burst out of his fine dining career to embrace the science of baking, an elderly German man named Halfred knocked on his door and said, “I just want to work.” This gentleman’s recipe is still in use today. Junda’s policy of watching and learning from the older generation — first his grandmother and her authentic Polish recipes — paid off in spades when he gave Halfred free rein and some guidance. Soon after, customers started coming in with special requests for this improved yet true-to-tradition rendition of an imperial classic.
Hand-rolled and hand-pulled the old-fashioned way, the process of creating a true apfelstrudel is much less forgiving than creating the layers for croissants or Danishes. It requires a flogging knead process that must be done meticulously or the dough would become useless. A wide space for manual roll-out is necessary as is an intensive stretching process that requires a delicate touch lest it tear. Junda continues to meet this challenge as people flock to his humble bakery to order whole feet of his delicious strudels — also available with a proprietary blend of cheeses or raspberry — tied up with a bow for the most welcome of gifts.
A long, bulging tubular pastry, it’s a thing of beauty at first glance; its lack of uniformity a testament to its old-fashioned, artisan nature and Junda’s commitment to real ingredients like local apples, pure butter, and high-quality flour. Unlike the cheap versions I’d had in the past, there are no shortcuts here. Puff pastry it was not; instead, buttery layers folded over one another for that Viennese bite I so adore to create that lovely flaky irresistible crust. With thick-cut, generous bites of ripe apple, this is a beautifully embellished version of the blander version I’d had in its birthplace in Vienna at the famous Café Central, where the minced apples lacked the lovely heartiness of its Jamesport counterpart. Covered in powdered sugar and sampled on a paper napkin, it is divine.
For the full list of Su-Jit’s authentic eats, click here.