Cheese and Cherry Strudel

Though strudel is a Viennese tradition, the fillings are usually used one at a time. But, when I'm in the bakery trying to choose between[ cherry strudel and cheese strudel, I always end up buying one of each because I can't choose between them! So here, I've combined the two and it works perfectly, like cherries on top of delicious cheesecake. Strudel dough is something Austro-Hungarians inherited from the Turks (who occupied Hungary for 100 years) but they bake their phyllo dough in layers with stripes of filling where as strudel is always wrapped around its filling. Strudel means "vortex" or "whirlpool". Albert Kumin, the legendary Swiss pastry chef who ruled the White House kitchen in the 1970s, fathered an entire generation of American pastry chefs through his cooking classes. Twenty years later, I still remember the sight of his huge hands gently spinning sugar into near-invisible threads, and stretching a single lump of strudel dough to cover an entire table. Strudel-making used to be a family affair, with all the women standing around the dining-room table, gradually pulling and smoothing the dough until it hung all the way to the floor! I was the granddaughter who inherited my Hungarian Grandmother Elsie's linen table cloths. I suspect they were used less for formal fancy dinner parties (they were to poor to afford to throw them) than they were for pulling strudel dough. And her large family with many sisters was the perfect tool to complete the job. These days, we have smaller families, working moms ? and frozen phyllo dough to take the place of strudel dough. I sprinkle nuts and sugar between the layers to let air in and to make a nice crisp dough but you'll also see recipes calling for toasted breadcrumbs in between the layers to surround the juicy fillings. Roll it up tightly and neatly, as if you are rolling your hair up in curlers!]

Total Time:
1 hr
Prep:
30 min
Cook:
30 min

Yield:
6 to 8 servings
Level:
Advanced

Ingredients
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 4 ounces farmer's cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup sugar, plus more for the top
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 (16-ounce) can cherry pie filling
  • 3 sheets phyllo pastry, thawed overnight in the refrigerator if frozen, kept moist
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup walnuts, lightly toasted and finely chopped
Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or using a hand mixer), blend the cream cheese until soft and smooth. Add the farmer's cheese and continue to blend. Add the egg and mix. Add 1/2 cup of the sugar and the vanilla. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip (or just set aside in a bowl).

Transfer 1 sheet of phyllo to the prepared pan. Using a pastry brush, brush the phyllo with butter. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/3 of the ground walnuts. Repeat with the 2 remaining sheets of phyllo--reserving the some melted butter and nuts for the top, once rolled.

Turn the sheet pan so that the phyllo is horizontal to your body. Two inches in from the left-hand edge of the phyllo, working from top to bottom and leaving 2 inches bare at the top and bottom, pipe or spoon a 3/4 inch thick line of cream cheese mixture.

Alongside the cream cheese, pour the cherry pie filling. Turn the sheet pan a quarter turn and, starting at the edge the fillings are near, roll up the pastry to encase the filling. Keep rolling to form a log. Move the log to the center of the sheet pan and tuck the ends under to keep the filling from oozing out. Brush the surface with melted butter and sprinkle with remaining sugar and nuts.

Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let cool 10 to 15 minutes on the pan. Using a serrated knife, cut carefully into sections and serve warm.


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