Blending Cultures With Pastry

Someone challenged me recently to come up with a recipe for a delicious but easy bite-sized pastry recipe. Actually, it was my beautiful sister Antonia. She's a fabulous cook, but she was stumped. She wanted something that felt like a traditional Greek pastry, but she also wanted it to be much easier and not take up an entire day to make. Done! I blended two traditional recipes, the Greek Baklava and the German Apple Strudel.

The recipe that I created is for phyllo (a.k.a. fillo and filo) dough cups that you fill with a German strudel-like filling. See what you think. Taste testers like them warm (not long after they're out of the oven) and just as much when properly cooled.

Strudel Phyllo Cups

Yield: 45 bite-sized cups (60, if not mounded)
This is a very easy pastry to prepare. There are many steps, but they’re all easy, and the baking only takes 30-40 minutes. Will keep for up to 2 days. The phyllo will soften after 2 days; for maximum crunch, serve within one day of baking.

45 mini phyllo cups (60, if you will not mound the filling) These are sold in packs of 15.
2 cups shelled pistachios, ground coarsely
2 cups slivered almonds, ground coarsely
powdered sugar, for dusting

For the breadcrumbs:
2-2 ½ cups fresh breadcrumbs (Cut crust off bread, cut into cubes and run through food processor until you have small to medium crumbs. Don’t over-process or the bread will become a paste. You can also cut into smaller cubes, using a very sharp knife.)
4 T. salted butter

For the apple filling:
5 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into small cubes
juice of half a lemon
zest of one lemon (use a zester that gives you thin threads)
1/8 t. cinnamon
I cup sugar
1 cup water

For the syrup:
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
zest of 2 lemons

All of this can be prepared up to one day ahead. The filling must be cooled before filling, so it’s fine to prepare everything ahead of assembly and baking.

Melt butter in medium-hot pan. Stir in breadcrumbs and toss at first, to coat bread evenly with the butter. Continue to cook for about 15 minutes, until crumbs have a golden-brown color. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Put all ingredients in a pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. This will allow lemon zest to impart flavor to the syrup. The zest will also take on enough sugar so that it can be used as a candied topping for each cup.

Apple filling:
Stir everything into a pot over high heat until it’s bubbling, then reduce to medium-high heat for a slow bubbling. Stir occasionally and continue to cook until the sugar and water have been absorbed by the apples, leaving about 2 tablespoons of liquid.

Assembly, Baking and Presentation:
Remove the phyllo cups from the freezer 10 minutes before you are ready to use them. Pre-heat oven to 375F and place rack in the middle.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and place the cups evenly on the paper.
Combine the apple mixture with the nuts and breadcrumbs. You can do this right in the pot that the apples were cooked in, once the mixture has cooled. Stir to make sure the nuts are mixed throughout.

Fill each cup with about 1 tablespoon of the mix, depending on how many you are making and if you’ll be mounding the filling or stretching it by filling only to the top of each cup. Press down lightly.

Bake for 30-45 minutes, depending on your over. You should have a golden-brown look on the filling, ensuring that the nuts have developed a strong roasted flavor.

Set the pan on a cooling rack and spoon some of the syrup directly on each cup, placing a lemon zest thread on top of each cup. If you find that you don’t have enough threads, adjust your recipe and zest in one more lemon next time. Lemons vary in size and will yield more or less zest.

Dust heavily with powdered sugar and allow to cool.

If serving on the following day, cover well with plastic wrap and dust again with powdered sugar prior to serving. 

To serve, place a white cloth napkin on a large silver tray or platter and place the cups directly on the napkin.