Considering it is autumn fruit week at The Kitchn, it seemed like a fine time to recreate my childhood favorite, toaster strudels! Apple cinnamon toaster strudels to be exact. Those super-sweet frozen pastries were definitely a guilty pleasure growing up, a dangerous treat to sneak at friends' houses. I have to admit, it's been years since I last enjoyed one... Until last week, that is.
In the name of research, I purchased a box to use as "taste inspiration." It didn't take long to remember why I hadn't indulged in the past decade. I mean, they aren't exactly considered health food (even by my standards) but one glance at the ingredient list revealed some pretty panic-inducing words. Just another reason to make them from scratch! Despite all the preservatives, though, it still tasted pretty good going down.
Using the zombie strudels as a guide, I came up with a pretty specific formula for how I wanted mine to look and taste. I wanted a thick apple puree, as opposed to a chunky pie filling, and a crazy flaky crust, which meant using puff pastry instead of Pâte Brisée. Lastly I wanted a creamy, tangy glaze that rivaled the flavor of the packaged stuff.
It did take a few tries to nail this recipe. The biggest obstacle was the filling. I finely diced the apples on the first attempt and cooked them low-and-slow. They didn't reduce down as much as I wanted, so I threw them in the blender which just resulted in apple sauce. Next I tried making an apple syrup using fresh apple juice. It was pretty tasty, if only I'd been making pancakes. I finally had an aha! moment while sitting in rush hour traffic: how about grating the apples? I immediately went home and tested the idea; the apples reduced to a sticky, syrup-y glaze that exceeded my expectations.
With the filling perfected, it was on to the crust. I initially used the puff pastry sheet straight from the box. I didn't roll it out, just cut it into 6 rectangles. The result was super-sized pastries — much more like McDonald's apple pies than toaster strudels. The next round I rolled out the dough very thin, and then trimmed it to my own dimensions. Before popping them in the oven, I pricked the strudels all over to help release steam. Perfect!
The easiest part was the glaze. A little web research proved useless; all the recipes online were for a powdered sugar-milk glaze, which I didn't think would taste like the toaster strudel frosting at all. I had a hunch that cream cheese would add the tang I was looking for. Although it would be virtually impossible to replicate that deliciously processed frosting, my version is pretty darn close.
These homemade toaster strudels may not be a quick-fix meal, but they are definitely a special treat. I've got quite a stock pile from all this recipe testing; I look forward to pulling them out when I need to impress. And don't just think you can only serve these for breakfast. They make a perfect snack morning, noon, and night.
Apple Cinnamon Toaster Strudels
For the crust
1 box (2 sheets) puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, lightly beaten
For the filling
2 baking apples, peeled and cored (I've used both Honeycrisp and Gala)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of kosher salt
For the icing
4 ounces cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the filling, grate the apples on the large holes of a box grater. In a heavy saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add the grated apples and toss until coated. Add the brown sugar, flour, lemon juice, cinnamon, and salt. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the mixture is thick and syrupy, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in remaining tablespoon of (chilled) butter. Cool the filling to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 375°
Unfold one sheet of puff pastry onto a well-floured work surface, continuing to flour the work surface as necessary throughout the rolling/trimming process. Roll out the pastry to form a very large, thin rectangle. Trim the edges of the dough to make a 10 x 14 inch rectangle. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut out 8 (3-1/2 x 5 inch) rectangles.
Transfer 4 of the rectangles to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spoon a scant 2 tablespoons of the apple filling into the center of these. Spread the filling evenly across the pastry, leaving a 1/2-inch space clean around the perimeter. Brush the other 4 rectangles with the egg wash. Place an egg washed rectangle directly over a filled rectangle (egg wash touching the filling). Using your fingertips, firmly seal the edges on all sides (dip your fingers in a little flour if the dough is sticky). Continue with the rest of the rectangles. Prick each strudel all over with a fork, including the sealed edges. Repeat this step with the second sheet of puff pastry.
Bake the strudels until puffed and golden brown, about 35 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes on a wire rack before eating. Frost and serve warm.
For the icing, beat the cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract together. Spoon the glaze into a small Ziploc bag and seal. Snip a small hole in one corner of the bag and pipe desired amount onto each pastry.
Related: Joanne Chang's Homemade Pop-Tarts
(Images: Nealey Dozier)