Are strudel dough and filo pastry the same thing? That’s a common question when it comes to baking. In this blog post, we’ll examine the relationship that exists between these two dough types, known for their thin layers, and whether they are genuinely connected.
Filo pastry and strudel dough share the same ingredients and preparation techniques. While thickness variations may occur, they are the same dough; strudel is simply one of the versatile applications of filo pastry.
Growing up in the Balkans, filo dough pastries, including strudels, were an integral part of my daily life as well as holidays. I recall watching my grandmother expertly stretch the dough for these sweet and savory treats. Later, during my time in pastry school, I encountered filo dough as a part of the curriculum.
Tracing the Origins of Filo Dough and Strudel Making
Filo pastry, also known as phyllo or fillo pastry, traces its origins back to ancient Mediterranean civilizations. The practice of stretching dough into thin sheets can be traced to early civilizations like the ancient Greeks and Romans. These cultures employed techniques involving stretching and layering dough to create thin sheets for various culinary applications, both sweet and savory.
The term “phyllo” is derived from the Greek word “phýllon,” meaning leaf, which aptly reflects the paper-thin and delicate nature of the pastry. The spread of filo-based pastries throughout Europe was significantly influenced by Ottoman cuisine during their conquests.
Consequently, filo dough also became an essential component of European cuisines, often used in the preparation of strudels. Strudel dough has developed distinct regional styles across Europe.
For instance, in Austria and Germany, strudel dough tends to be slightly thicker compared to other regions like the countries of Eastern and Southern Europe. This thicker dough provides a sturdier texture while still maintaining the characteristic flakiness associated with strudel pastries.
Preparing Filo Dough for Strudel
Creating filo (strudel) dough involves combining the right type of flour with precise mixing and stretching techniques to achieve the desired paper-thin layers.
Opt for high-quality, strong bread flour with a high protein content, as this is crucial for achieving the desired elasticity and thinness.
While some strudel dough recipes incorporate eggs and others do not, both approaches can lead to excellent results. In the following recipe, I’ve included an egg. When mixing the dough without eggs, the only difference is that you’ll need to add more water.
For a strudel measuring 1.5 meters in length, you’ll need:
- 500 g of bread flour,
- 1 egg
- 3 tablespoons of oil
- ½ teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar1 teaspoon of salt
- Approximately 200 ml of water (the amount will depend on the flour)
- Approximately 200 ml of oil or melted butter for brushing the dough on the inside, before filling and rolling, and on the outside, prior to baking.
For stretching out the dough made from these amounts of ingredients, you’ll need a kitchen table that measures 150×90 cm, which you can easily access from all sides. If you have a smaller table, you can divide the kneaded dough into two portions.
Mixing and Kneading
Start by sifting white wheat bread flour onto your work surface. Create a well in the middle of the flour and add the other ingredients: oil, salt, one egg (optional), and either lemon juice or vinegar. Gradually incorporate lukewarm water as you knead the mixture into a dough.
Keep in mind that various factors influence the dough’s quality, including the duration of kneading. The dough must not be too soft, as it will stick during stretching, but it must not be too hard either, as it will crack.
Aim for a smooth, moderately firm consistency. Filo dough can also be prepared in a stand mixer such as the Kenwood Chef, which speeds up and greatly simplifies the process.
Dividing and Resting
Shape the kneaded dough into a ball, place it onto a floured surface, and gently press it with your palm to flatten it slightly.
Remove any excess flour from the surface of the dough, and then brush a thin layer of oil or melted butter over it to prevent drying out. Let the dough rest for 20-30 minutes before stretching.
Stretching the Dough
Begin by covering the kitchen table with a clean tablecloth, allowing the edges of the cloth to drape over the sides of the table. Lightly dust the tablecloth with flour and place the dough in the center.
Roll out the rested dough with a rolling pin on the cloth. Then, use your hands to gently stretch it from the center towards the edges. This should be done slowly and carefully. Avoid pulling too hard to prevent tearing, but don’t worry if your dough tears here and there while stretching, even the best bakers experience this. Making filo pastry requires practice.
Continue stretching until you have a consistent, thin surface throughout. The dough is thin enough if you can read writing on a sheet of paper placed underneath it.
The parts of the dough hanging over the table’s edge might be thicker. You should trim these off by cutting or tearing. Knead the remaining dough again, let it rest, and then repeat the stretching process.
Filling and Rolling Strudels
Since filo dough has a neutral flavor, it can be filled with both sweet and savory fillings. In the Balkans, savory rolls are popular, which can include fillings like meat, feta or cottage cheese, spinach, pumpkin, or potatoes.
Sweet fillings include:
- Grated or sliced apple seasoned with cinnamon and sugar,
- Grated pumpkin sautéed with a touch of water, seasoned with cinnamon and sugar.
- Sour cherries mixed with sugar,
- Cottage cheese combined with sugar, optionally flavored with grated lemon zest or dill, and occasionally enhanced with raisins.
- Dry fillings mixed with sugar, like poppy seed or walnut, often enriched with grated lemon zest and raisins.
When dealing with high-moisture fillings like fruit or cottage cheese, adding breadcrumbs or semolina is key. These ingredients soak up excess moisture, ensuring your pastry remains delightfully crisp.
Lightly sprinkle the stretched dough with warm oil or melted butter to prevent it from cracking when shaped. Another reason for sprinkling the dough with fat is to make it flaky and keep the layers from sticking together.
Now, let’s explore two ways to fill strudels:
Start by piling your chosen filling in a strip along one edge of the dough, about 5 cm (2 inches) inward.
Use the tablecloth you used to stretch the dough as your helper. Gently roll up the strudel with the aid of the tablecloth, ensuring it’s even and compact. The other method involves evenly scattering your filling across the dough’s surface and then rolling it up.
Cut the rolled strudel into pieces that match the length of your baking tray. Arrange them side by side on the baking tray lined with parchment paper. Make sure the pieces don’t touch each other.
Brush the tops of the strudels with a light coat of oil or melted butter. Preheat your oven to 180°C (356°F), then bake the strudels until they achieve a rich golden-brown hue – this typically takes around half an hour.
After allowing them to cool, slice the strudels into portions. For the sweet-filled ones, a final touch before serving involves dusting them with powdered sugar.
In conclusion, exploring the relationship between filo pastry and strudel dough reveals their close connection, characterized by shared ingredients and preparation techniques.
While variations in thickness might exist, strudel dough is essentially a versatile application of filo pastry.
Filo pastry has ancient origins in Mediterranean civilizations, arrived in Europe through the Ottoman conquest, and served as the foundation for regional varieties of strudel.