The first time I had elderflower syrup, I was in Slovakia. My cousin offered my up some yellowish syrup and I absentmindedly agreed to a glass. My family there had always made raspberry and apple juice from the garden, but elderflower? That was new. With my first sip, I thought the heavens had opened up and filled my mouth with this delicate taste of flowers and spring. It was like gulping down perfectly sweetened bouquets. Not too floral or perfumy. I became obsessed.
When I returned back to Los Angeles, I bought a Samdal and a Samyl pair. Finally, it’s producing enough to do a proper harvest. I’ve also discovered that the plants grow wild everywhere in Los Angeles. So keep your eyes out for them. They flower in spring, so make sure you get your foraging on early.
- 2.25 cups (532 milliliters) water
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 lemons, thinly sliced
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 1-2 ounces (40-50 grams) elderflower heads
- Cut elderflowers from a bush, but don't wash because you'll wash off the pollen, which is what makes the syrup yummy. Try to take off as much of the stems as possible. Combine the sugar and water in a pot and cook until the sugar is dissolved. Cool to room temperature and then add the flowers, sliced lemons and the lemon juice. Let the mixture sit 24-48 hours in the refrigerator. Strain through a cheesecloth into a clean glass container. Keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks or seal in a hot bath, if you want to store for longer.
- Pour a small amount of the cordial into a glass and mix with water, preferably bubbly water. Enjoy!
I never actually had my grandmother’s strudel, but for years I was obsessed with it.
She died when I was 4, so I only know about it from my mom. But she tells me that my babina, or grandmother, would pull and coax a ball of dough on the back of her hands, until it stretched so thin that she could pull it over an entire ping-pong table covered with a floured tablecloth.
She made the strudel for my parents’ wedding, and two years later, my mom tried making it for their anniversary. But despite being an accomplished baker, mom’s dough turned out so badly that she threw it at the walls and on the floor in frustration.
For me, this strudel is less about the pastry and more about connecting to a time before politics forced my grandmother from her family and her country. It was a link to the past. As I started asking around and searching the Internet, I found it’s also a skill that’s slipping away.
While on a trip to Slovakia last summer to take a Slovak language course (another of the other things my mom didn’t teach me), I met 28-year-old Julia Vrablova. She was one of my instructors and, on a whim, I asked if she knew anyone who knew how to make tahana strudla, as the natives say.
“This recipe is kind of forgotten, because it’s not so easy to prepare a dough, so people buy it or they make something that reminds them of this kind of strudel, but it’s not pull strudel anymore,” she says.
But Julia casually said she could make it.
What? Everyone told me I’d have to track down an old babka[grandma] in a small village! I thought Julia was far too young! But she explained that although her family never made pulled strudel, she was obsessed with baking. She researched, found women who could make it, and then learned to do it herself.
The ingredients are simple: high-gluten flour, so the dough can get superstretchy; water, oil, salt and a little vinegar.
Julia kneads the dough, explaining that it has to be worked for at least 30 minutes (she sits on the floor to make it a little easier). It’s probably part of the reason why many buy frozen packets of phyllo dough instead.
Other pastry doughs, like for croissants or puff pastries, will get tough if the dough is overworked. But pulled strudel dough is just the opposite: It’s about activating the gluten, kneading it and often hitting it so the dough can be pulled into a thin layer without tearing.
Strudel means whirlpool or eddy in German. The pastries probably got that name because the dough sheets are rolled around poppy seeds or sour cherries and apples. It is a staple dish of the former countries of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which at its height spanned well into Slovakia.
Julia carefully grabs a piece of dough and stretches a piece.
“I’m trying to find out if the dough is elastic enough, because it should be transparent as a paper, like paper for rolling cigarettes,” she says.
And some say you should be able to read a love letter or newspaper through it. The thinner the dough, the more delicate the taste.
But the idea of stretching glutenous dough wasn’t invented in this part of the world. It probably arrived when the Ottoman Empire stretched into this area. The Greeks have phyllo; the Balkans, borek; and here, that layered dough became strudel.
On a floured tablecloth, Julia rolls out the dough, then picks it up and starts stretching it on the backs of her hands, sort of like pizza dough.
“You can really play with the dough because it’s not sticky at all,” she says.
Then she places it back on the table and gently coaxes it until it’s thinner than a wafer. Never mind the tears; they’ll be rolled up in apples and poppy seeds and brushed with melted butter.
After about 45 minutes in the oven, the tops are golden brown and we cut up the rolled pastries. As we bite into the flaky layers, I finally know enough to start practicing the strudel my grandmother made — and hopefully I won’t end up throwing it at the walls.
- 3 2/3 cups (500 grams) bread flour
- 1 cup (250 ml) warm water
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 6 to 8 peeled and grated apples (I like Granny Smiths)
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup (90 grams) plain breadcrumbs
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- Zest of one lemon
- 1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter (for brushing) OR coconut oil
- Powdered sugar to taste
- In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine flour, water, oil, vinegar and salt. Mix for about 20 minutes on medium-low speed. Dough will change from a shaggy mass into a soft and pliable mass. Remove dough from mixer.
- Knead the dough for 30 to 40 minutes. When you start, the dough will be craggy, but keep kneading and working the dough until it's soft, smooth and pliable.
- Shape dough into a ball and place in a metal bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for about an hour. (You can also refrigerate it at this point and use it the next day.)
- While the dough is resting, peel and grate the apples on the coarse side of the grater. Place the apples in a sieve over a bowl and squeeze out as much juice as possible. Put the apples back in a bowl and add lemon juice and cinnamon and set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Take a square card table (I use one that is 33.5 inches square), cover with a cotton tablecloth and lightly coat with flour.
- Melt the stick of butter or coconut oil. Place the dough in the middle of the table, roll it out into a circle and then brush with butter or coconut oil. Then gently pick up the dough and start gently stretching it on the backs of closed fists, moving around the edge of the dough and letting gravity stretch it down.
- Then gently place the stretched dough back on the table, drip with more butter and slowly stretch the dough until it hangs over the edges of the table. Don't get discouraged by tears — they will be wrapped up in the apples.
- Once the dough is stretched, cut off the edges hanging over the edge. Then cover about a third of the area with bread crumbs, then the grated apples, and sprinkle the sugar on top.
- To roll, lift up one edge of the tablecloth to help the dough roll around the ingredients. I like to brush each roll with butter. Once it's all rolled up, fold under the edges and place it into a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- You'll have to make the roll into an "S" shape so it will fit into the pan. Brush the top with butter and bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until it's golden brown on top. Serve warm, sprinkled with powdered sugar.
- 6 chicken breasts, 8 chicken thighs, 8 drumsticks (all skinless) or any other combination you like
- 1 large onion
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 tablespoons sweet paprika
- ½ cup boiling water
- 2 tablespoons Wondra
- 1-1 ½ cup sour cream
- ¾-1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 ⅓ cups (300 grams) Wondra flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 1 cup (220 ml) water
- Pat of butter
- Heat electric skillet or large, but shallow saucepan to medium-high heat. Dice the onion and coat the hot skillet with oil. Add the diced onion and saute until transparent. Add skinned chicken pieces to onions and sear on both sides until light brown. Remove skillet from heat and add paprika and mix thoroughly. Return to heat and add ½ cup of boiling water to chicken mixture; add salt and pepper. Simmer for about 30-40 minutes until the chicken is thoroughly cooked. Remove chicken and set aside. Mix flour into the sour cream and then add to the onion-paprika sauce. Mix with wire whisk until smooth and add salt, pepper and sour cream to taste. Slowly heat until it boils and maintain boil for five minutes. Add chicken piece back into the sauce. Heat and serve with halušky.
- Mix ingredients together until it’s a paste-like consistency. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, similar to one you’d prepare for boiling pasta. Prepare a colander in the sink to drain the halušky and place a glass bowl with a pat of butter in an oven at about 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Dsp a wooden cutting board into the boiling water and Spread the dough mixture onto the board until it’s about a half-inch thick. Take the side of a soup spoon and flick little pieces of dough into the boiling water.
- When all the dumplings are made, bring pot to boil for a few seconds and then pour the halušky into the colander. Rinse with cold water and drain thoroughly. Put them into the heated buttered bowl and return to oven for about five minutes.
- Serve halušky topped with chicken paprikaš.