My grandmother Ruth Moulton was a fabulous old New England cook. She attended the Garland School of Home Economics in Boston, a competitor of the original Fanny Farmer’s cooking school. Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding, fish chowder, Johnny cakes, and other regional fare–these were her signature dishes. When I was about five years old, it was Granny who gave me my first cookbook–Mud Pies and Other Recipes. Even though it was a pretend cookbook, it somehow persuaded me that real cooking must be fun. Bottom line, it was Granny Moulton who hooked me on what has become my lifelong vocation.
This recipe is a variation on the old New England custom of serving a slice of warm apple pie with a wedge of sharp Cheddar, a custom duly followed by Granny. The starkness and strength of the flavors–sweet apple and sharp cheese–make this combination a perennial winner. It worked very well for a crowd, and because dried apples are wonderful year-round, you can make it anytime. Of course, if you think it’s weird to mix together apples and Cheddar cheese, just leave out the cheese. The strudel is great without it.
3/4 pound dried apples*
3 cups apple cider
1 1/2 cups loosely packed grated Cheddar cheese, about 6 ounces
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
3 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs (page 347)
Six 18 x 14-inch sheets phyllo
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Serves 6 to 8
Combine the apples with the cider in a large saucepan. Simmer over medium-high heat until softened but not mushy, about 15 minutes. Drain well, discard the liquid, and let the apples cool completely. Toss the apples with the cheese, cranberries, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of the cinnamon, and the allspice. (The filling can be made up to 1 day in advance. Keep covered in the refrigerator.)
Stir the bread crumbs with 1 teaspoon of the remaining cinnamon in a small bowl and reserve. Stir the remaining tablespoon of sugar with the remaining cinnamon and reserve.
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Stack the phyllo between 2 pieces of parchment paper or plastic wrap and cover with a dampened kitchen towel. Arrange another clean kitchen towel on a work surface with the long side facing you. Put a sheet of phyllo on the towel with the long side facing you. Brush the phyllo with some of the butter and sprinkle it with about 2 teaspoons of the reserved bread crumb mixture. On this layer, brush and sprinkle 4 more sheets of phyllo in the same manner and lay the sixth sheet of phyllo on top.
Spread on the filling in a 3-inch wide strip, mounding it on the phyllo 4 inches above the near long side, leaving a 2-inch border at each end. Using the kitchen towel as a guide, lift the bottom 4 inches of the pastry over the filling, fold in the ends, and tightly roll up the strudel.
Carefully transfer the strudel, seam side down, to a lightly buttered baking sheet. Brush with the remaining butter. Arrange 1-inch-wide strips of wax or parchment paper 1 inch apart diagonally across the strudel. Transfer the reserved cinnamon sugar to a small strainer, shake it evenly over the strudel, and carefully remove the wax paper strips. Bake the strudel in the lower third of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.
Cool on the baking sheet set on a wire rack. (The strudel may be made up to 1 day in advance. Keep covered in the refrigerator. Reheat in a preheated 400°F oven for 20 minutes.) Use a serrated knife to cut into 1-inch slices. Serve warm.
* Available at natural foods stores and most supermarkets.