Tart & Czech: My Mom’s Sour Cherry Strudel
Sour Cherry Strudel
Stuffing my face with slice after slice of strudel is a cherished part of my Czech childhood. My mom and both grandmas routinely baked sweet pastries or fruit bars for our families on the weekends, for my father, aunts and uncles to have something with their afternoon coffee, or to tide my always-peckish cousins and me over to lunch and dinner—“Hungry? Have a slice of Bundt cake!”
Strudel—which was invented around 1700 in Vienna and quickly spread throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire—was a staple of my family’s repertoire. Depending on the season, they filled it with apples, poppy seeds, walnuts, or apricots with quark.
Purists may certainly have fun making the dough from scratch—rolling it and gradually stretching it out with their hands until it’s paper-thin, see-through, and the size of a small carpet—but my mom never bothered. She normally had her hands already full with cooking lunch (always a soup and an entrée, always from scratch), so she used store-bought puff pastry, which did the job really well.
In this summer version, I am using fresh sour cherries mixed with breadcrumbs (to stop the juices from pooling during baking), sugar and cinnamon as a filling. Sour cherries are smaller with a thinner skin, and very tart, and therefore not as addictive in their raw state as regular cherries. Their season is short (June/July), and they might be hard to find in the States—I got lucky because I’m in the Czech Republic at the moment, and my grandma has a tree heavy with ripe sour cherries that need to be harvested—but if you can’t find fresh, use thawed frozen ones. In fact, in our family, we freeze most of the harvest because we can’t eat it all while fresh, and it is nice to have it on hand when you crave sour cherry strudel in the middle of January.
- Makes two 15-inch strudels
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 cup breadcrumbs
- 5 cups fresh sour (tart) cherries (or drained thawed frozen), pitted
- ¾ cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 package (2 sheets) frozen puff pastry, defrosted
- Unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 egg, beaten
- Preheat the oven to 185 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and toast, stirring frequently, until golden brown and evenly crisp. Transfer to a plate and let cool for 15 minutes.
- In a medium bowl, mix the cherries with the breadcrumbs, sugar and cinnamon.
- Lightly flour a board or baking mat and a rolling pin, and roll out a sheet of the puff pastry into a 14x12-inch rectangle. Arrange 1/2 of the cherry mixture lengthwise down the middle of the puff pastry, leaving a 2-inch border on both sides. Fold the pastry over the cherries on top, and tuck in the sides. Carefully transfer the strudel from the board (or slide from the baking mat) onto the baking sheet.
- Seal the top edge by brushing it under with the beaten egg and pressing it down lightly. Brush the strudel all over with the egg. Bake in the oven until golden brown, about 35–40 minutes.