Strudel and Salzburger Nockerl: Cooking in Austria
I love to travel, and I love to bake, and when those worlds collide is when my own world feels balanced. While in Salzburg, Austria over the summer, my friend Sam and I took a class in making apple strudel, a renowned Austrian treat that might clash with visions of wiener schnitzel, and isn’t the famed sachertorte, but is important to the fabric of the country’s cuisine.
The Edelweiss Cooking School is housed in a cavernous chamber, set in the Mönchsberg Mountain just outside of the Old Town. There are no markers denoting the school, so slipping into the cool room and adjusting my eyes felt like a delicious secret. Our instructor mentioned that this was once someone’s home, which we could see from the bunk bed whose frame still stood in an alcove.
Sam and I met our only other cooking companion, a middle-aged Australian woman who’d come here while her husband and their two friends commenced on a hike that she was overly uninterested in. The three of us, along with our instructor, had a blast. Sam and I set to work on our strudel, while the other woman and our instructor worked on the second. For an hour and a half we chatted, baked, and ate many traditional goodies; and we got to take the remainder of our apple strudel back with us. Silently, we were screaming, Score!
I have loved apple strudel since first coming to Salzburg two years ago, and taking the time to actually learn how to make it–and to do it with our own hands–made the trip here all the cooler. And it’s amazing to work through the process, to see for yourself the dough so seemingly breakable that can hold so much weight inside.
The strudel was way easier to make than you’d think by looking at it, and we were thrown straight into action. The instructor talked us through it in about five minutes and, with a smile and a clasp of her hands, beckoned for us to begin. She encouraged us along with patience and tips for assembling, and assured us of how possible this all was.
You know how Maria von Trapp sings of crisp apple strudels? Yup. That was made very possible.
Apple Strudel – A Quick History
The oldest known recipe of apple strudel, or the German apfelstrudel, hails from the 17th century. It’s a pastry that took shape with the rise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, its dough fashioned after Turkish and Hungarian cuisine, and is one of Austria’s national foods, an oblong filled with an apple-cinnamon-raisin mixture.
How to Make Apple Strudel
The dough was pre-made for us, because it needs to rest for about two hours. All that’s needed is to knead together flour, oil, water, and a pinch of salt, and to let it set.
STEP ONE: PREP THE FILLING
The instructor had already also cut up the apples for us, so we set to mixing the apples, the cinnamon, the sugar, the rum (MMHM!), and the raisins together until everything was evenly combined.
STEP TWO: ROLL AND STRECH THE DOUGH
So we got to sort of try our hand at being those pizza makers you see in cartoons, or in movies who sing in deep baritones and thoughtlessly toss their dough up into the air and catch it precisely. No, it didn’t leave our hands, but I was humming some sort of Italian melody to myself as Sam and I first rolled out the dough, then held it from opposite ends of our square table and used our fists to stretch and thin it out. Apple strudel dough is malleable and relatively hard to break, even thin, so we really worked it into its rectangle.
After rolling it out, we had to cut its rough edges off for that practically perfect shape and lather it in melted butter.
STEP THREE: ASSEMBLE THE STRUDEL
This was the step that worried both of us, because it’s one that you have to just do. We poured the filling mix onto one end of the dough, which was set on top of a floured tea towel spread across the table. Lifting the edge of the towel nearest the mixture, we had to nimbly toss the dough over it, and continue rolling it into tight formation.
“You can do this part,” Sam said to me, taking a step away from the dough. Eyeing the towel and the dough, making sure we were all on the same page, and with the instructor watching eagerly, I tightened my grip on the towel and sent the first roll of dough neatly over.
“That’s it!” The instructor exclaimed. Sam and I each did half of the roll, both of us giddily furling the log of raw pastry to the end. Using extra dough, our instructor made little shapes to put on each of our pastries as badges of identification. We topped it off with another dousing of melted butter.
STEP FOUR: BAKE
At 400 degrees F, bake for about 40 minutes, until it’s golden brown.
The Salzburger Nockerl
Sam and I had only booked the apple strudel making course, but we decided on a whim to upgrade to the full lunchtime class (complete with a goulash soup to start our feast with). Then, we were able to learn how to make Salzburger Nockerl, Salzburg’s answer to the French soufflé and a three-mounded delicacy whose appearance celebrates the three mountains the city is surrounded by. It took less than ten minutes to whip up, ten minutes to bake, and less than three minutes (after giving it a few minutes to cool) to vacuum up.
Using manual rotary hand beaters, we first beat eight egg whites until they were creamy, then added three tablespoons of sugar and continued to beat them for one minute. This is where it became important to be gentle: after adding the egg yolks, we had to use a whisk to fold custard powder and flour in. Following our instructor’s lead, we tilted our bowls and slowly, slowly folded everything together. (The extra emphasis is for me, who tends to over worry and takes extra time for my own assurance it will turn out well.)
We three shared a pan that was greased and based with three dollops of cranberry jam. One at a time and whipping out our trusty spatulas, we each layered our mixtures over the spots of jam, each of us now artists, tongue between teeth, holding our breath, eyes mere inches from our bowls as we said a prayer and watched as fluffy mounds formed on top.
The End Results
We were first treated to goulash soup, another favored Austrian dish. I was forced to activate my second and third stomachs in order to eat the treats we’d made, beginning with the nockerl. I have been obsessed with cranberry jam since this dessert, and was the icing on the cake of this light, vanilla-y dessert. Our mounds sort of became one–a mountain range, if you will. But they were easy to separate exactly.
We dug into the apple strudel next, and my gosh, was it glorious. Flaky, warm, a vision of cinnamon and sugar and apples, I was so proud of Sam and I. We kept turning to each other, nodding with mouths full, unable to speak but knowing exactly what the other meant. We still agree that this was our favorite activity during our travels. To create something traditional to another country, and now to be able to make it for everyone back home, was a really rewarding alternative activity.
Sam and I had apple strudel for breakfast the next couple of days, and the third guest at the school brought her entire strudel.
“Everyone’ll be so excited when they come back to this!” She said before returning into the sunlight to catch the taxi our instructor called for her.
For an alternative to-do, this is your must. And just think: your cooking repertoire will be easily enhanced.
WHERE TO BOOK
You can purchase tickets through their website or through Viator. Sam and I booked on Viator, a site I highly recommend for any sort of activities you may be looking for, and their pricing is slightly better than through the school’s direct site. You can find them here on Facebook for more photos, reviews, and recipes to remember how to make everything you learn!
ADDRESS: Ursulinenplatz 9, Salzburg, Austria