Ťahaný závin: how to make pulled strudel

Pulled strudel made the Slovak way

Pulled strudel is generally thought of as an Austrian dessert, but it became popular all over the Hapsburg Empire, which included Slovakia. Paper thin flaky layers of dough are rolled around various fillings, from poppy seed to apple. Called both štrúdľa or závin in Slovak, závin can also refer to a similar rolled log made with a yeast dough.

I wanted to make pulled strudel some time ago so I looked up some videos and, upon being shown how easy it was, said, “Nope, someone has to show me.” It looked hard, or at least required skills I had never used.

I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that it is really hard to make a perfectly pulled strudel. The good news is that it doesn’t really matter. Honestly. 

Sprinkling cinnamon and vanilla over strudel fillings

While learning about opantance (the millet and gnocchi dish), Teta also showed me how to make ťahaná štrúdľa. The first time we made it, her daughter didn’t have the right kind of flour but we went ahead anyway. It didn’t really work. It didn’t stretch much and there were big holes, but we added some filling and baked it up anyway, and it was delicious.

Tata kneading the strudel dough

After a successful pulled strudel with Teta and family, I made one at home to experiment with half the amount of flour, as Teta told me it was also possible because the full amount does make a lot of strudel. It stretched, but not excellently. It had dough ‘veins’ (more about that later) and certainly wasn’t thin enough to read a newspaper underneath, one of the marks of a well pulled dough. But that strudel tasted amazing, if I do say so myself, and didn’t look bad either (it’s the cheese strudel below).

So, making perfectly pulled strudels take practice – but even imperfect strudels taste and look delicious.

Tvaroh, or farmers' cheese, strudel

“Everything depends on the flour,” said Teta. An old Slovak cookbook advises using only well dried flour. Sharing baked recipes is kind of tricky because Slovakia has so many types of flour grinds. In Slovakia they use a fine grind for pulled strudel. More notes on flour are below.

Pulled strudel is one recipe that can’t be made gluten-free (although I’ve seen recipes for gluten-free rolled strudel) because it is precisely due to the gluten that it can stretch so thin. It’s also why this recipe needs to be kneaded or mixed for quite some time, to develop those gluten strands until they streeeeeetch out thin.

Pulling strudel dough

As we stretched the dough, Adela (Teta’s daughter) recalled childhood memories of her grandmother making pulled strudel. All the grandkids were called to the table to come help stretch out the dough, their small hands learning the art of pulling dough next to their grandmother’s weathered ones.

Cutting of the edge of the pulled strudel

How to make pulled strudel, with pictures

Skipping the bowl and mixing the dough on the baking board

The classic way of mixing many types of dough in Slovakia is to skip the bowl and put all the ingredients straight on an extra large cutting board. The dough will feel wet and sticky, but don’t add more flour or it will be too stiff to stretch. Teta kneaded the dough by scooping up from the bottom, pulling up and a little bit out, and then bringing the dough back underneath, in a circle around the perimeter of the dough. Don’t use your thumb, she told me when I tried it, which feels awkward at first. The top shouldn’t be folded over top of but maintain a smooth surface by folding underneath it.

Kneading strudel dough

Knead the dough until it is no longer sticky on your hands and bowl or surface. Small air bubbles will form on the surface, which should be smooth and a little shiny. Kneading by hand, this will take about 30 minutes. If kneading for half an hour seems like a lot of work (it is), you can also quicken the process by using a mixer. With the dough attachment, let the dough mix for about 20 minutes, then turn the dough out on a surface and give it a quick knead as above for a few minutes to give it a nice smooth top.

Kneading doughA rare photo of me, less expertly attempting to knead the dough.

This video is first in slow motion to give you an idea of the kneading movement, starting in the middle of the kneading process. The second regular speed section is towards the end, and you can see that less dough is sticking to the bottom. The slow motion makes it sound like a horse snorts, but no horses were involved in the making of this pulled strudel.

The dough then needs to rest. Teta told me it should rest for 30 minutes, I’ve seen recipes that swear you shouldn’t touch it before 2 hrs. So, somewhere in that time frame. The dough needs to rest in a warm place and a trick they showed me is to heat up an empty dry pot until it is warm, not super hot, and place it upside down over the dough.

Heat a pot to keep the strudel dough warm

I found it easiest to rest the dough on the cloth that the strudel will be later stretched out over. Flour the centre of the cloth liberally, a little bigger than the size of the dough as the dough will spread out somewhat, or let the dough rest on another surface.

Sprinkling flour over a cloth to make pulled strudel, tahana strudla in Slovak

When you are ready to pull the dough, cover a table with a cotton or linen cloth, like a clean sheet, if you haven’t done so already. Sprinkle flour over the cloth. Place the dough on the cloth and grease the back of your hands. Use a rolling pin to start the dough, rolling into a rectangle the same shape as the table.

Rolling the dough with a rolling pin

Using the back of your hands, start stretching the dough out. If you use your fingers with palms facing out, it is easier to rip a hole. If you can stretch the sides over the edge of the table, that helps keep the dough from springing back. If possible, get more people involved in stretching the dough out, but only one person can do it too. Walk around the table, stretching out the dough from the middle. I didn’t get a lot of pictures of this because I was recruited to pull dough too.

Pull strudel dough with the back of your hands

Stretch the dough out with the back of the hands

In a perfect world, the dough can get thin enough to read a letter underneath. If the dough rips and makes a hole, it’s ok, just keep going. The hole will be lost in all the layers when you roll it up. As well, ideally there should be no ‘veins’ of thicker dough or flour running through the dough but again, don’t worry if it does have veins.

Stretching tahany zavin dough

Stretching strudel dough with the back of the hands

With scissors or a knife, walk around the table cutting off the thicker outer edge. My mother-in-law remembered that very experienced strudel makers were able to make another roll with those trimmings.

Big butter droplets

Sprinkle the dough with melted butter – don’t brush it on – and get ready to add on the filling of your choice. Starting at one narrow end of the table, place some filling on the dough, leaving space on all sides. Fold the end piece of dough over top the filling, and add more filling on top of the dough. Spread the filling over the rest of the dough, and fold the dough from the sides over.

Folding over the end of the strudel dough

Lift up the end of the cloth to start the dough rolling. To create extra crispy and rich layers, you can brush each roll with melted butter. I noticed this made the most difference on the dough layers without filling right next to it and didn’t notice much of a difference in the middle, other than making it richer. The dough with filling next to it gets a bit soggy with or without the butter.

If you look closely below, the side dough has been folded and more filling placed over top.

Strudel dough spread with filling, cherry poppy seed on one side and apple on the other

For a smaller strudel, you can roll only halfway and make two flavours, or you can make a fatter strudel and roll all the way.

Take the roll and either form it into the shape of an S or U to fit it on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. To prevent cracking, poke a few small slits with the end of a knife so that the steam can escape. You can also cut it into three pieces and freeze some for future baking. Brush with butter and bake at 400F (200C) for about 20 minutes. After the strudel has cooled, cut into thick chunks and optionally dust with icing sugar.

Brushing strudel (zavin) with melted butter

Filling flavours

When I made the strudel with Teta, we made sour cherry with poppy seed for one half and apple cinnamon on the other half. At home, I made tvaroh (quark/curds, similar to farmers cheese or ricotta) with raisins. Those are some of the most common flavours, along with plain poppy seed or walnut.

Cutting the strudel dough

An old cookbook I have also lists a sweet cabbage filling made with icing sugar, raisins, and cinnamon; a potato filling with icing sugar and lemon peel; a filling made with cream of wheat and egg whites; a rhubarb filling; and a grape filling. I haven’t tried those fillings though, so I haven’t included the recipes here, but if you leave a blog comment I can add the recipes.

Sprinkling grated apple on pulled strudel dough

Notes

Flour: Many European countries have multiple grinds of flour – all the same type of wheat but in a range of fineness-coarseness. For strudel, they use the fine grind, hladka muka. Many recipes for North America recommend using bread flour as it has a higher gluten content and thus makes the stretching easier, but some say that this makes a more bready and tough dough once baked. Whether you use bread flour or all-purpose flour is up to you – I would maybe use half and half for a first try.

Amount: The recipe for 300 grams (2 1/2 cups) of flour does make a lot of strudel. Teta told me that strudel can also be made with only 150 grams. I tried it, using only an egg white, and while it was successful and easier to stretch by myself, it was about the same amount of work as the larger amount. Personally, if I go to the effort of making pulled strudel, I’d rather make more for the same effort. Eating massive amounts of food is not a problem around this house, but it is too much for you, you can wrap a unbaked log in plastic wrap, freeze it, and bake it later.

Fillings: The filling recipes below are to cover the dough of one 300 gram (2 1/2 cup) recipe. If you would like to make smaller rolls of different flavours, cut the recipe in half.

You are free to make the fillings more or less sweet according to your preferences – I don’t like super sweet desserts and never used all the sugar called for. I have also used honey, which tastes good but results in more juices leaking. Unrefined sugar would also work well.

These are common fillings but there are many variations – apple with walnut, cherry with poppy seed and apple, cheese with almonds. Have fun with the tastes.

How to make pulled strudel, tahany zavin in Slovak

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Ťahaný závin: pulled strudel dough recipe

Making pulled strudel is intimidating but even imperfect results are well worth the effort. Layers of flaky dough are wrapped around your choice of filling, such as apple, poppy seed, nut, or farmers cheese, for a treat that is sure to wow. 

Ingredients

  • 1 egg
  • pinch salt
  • 175 ml (3/4 cup) water
  • 2 teaspoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar any kind
  • 300 grams (2 1/2 cups) flour see note above
  • 125 grams (1/2 cup) butter, melted for drizzling/brushing

Instructions

  1. In a bowl, whisk together all the ingredients except flour and half cup of butter. When mixed, add the flour. Turn the flour onto a flat surface and knead the dough from underneath, pull up, and fold back underneath (see video) for about 30 minutes, or until the dough no longer sticks to your hands. Alternatively, knead the dough in a mixer for 20 minutes and finish off the dough by hand for a minute or so. 

  2. Flour the kneading surface and let the dough rest for 30 minutes to two hours. Warm an empty dry pot and place upside down over the dough to provide a warm environment. 

  3. Place a large cotton or linen cloth (like a clean sheet) over a table and liberally sprinkle with flour. Place an extra amount of flour where you will place your dough, and transfer the dough carefully over to the table. You can either use a rolling pin to start stretching the dough or use your hands and start stretching.  

  4. Grease the back of your hands and start stretching the dough from underneath with the back of your hands. See photos above. Walk around the table, stretching the dough from the centre, ideally until the dough is see-thru thin. Ignore any holes that develop. The dough will stay stretched out better if you can pull the dough over the sides of the table.  Cut the thick outer edges of the dough.

  5. Preheat the oven to 200C (400F).

    With a pastry brush, liberally sprinkle the pulled strudel dough with butter. Add fillings on top (specific instructions in each recipe), folding the dough hanging off the edge over top the filling and adding some more filling on top. If you are using two fillings, cut the dough down the middle.

  6. Pick up the narrow end of the cloth and lift - the strudel will roll. You may brush on additional melted butter of each layer for a flakier richer crust. If you want to freeze some to bake later, cut off part of the log, wrap in plastic wrap, and freeze. (To bake later, let it thaw out and proceed as normal.) 

  7. On a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, place the strudel roll. You may shape it into an S, a U, or cut it to make it fit. Make a few small slits with the end of a sharp knife to allow steam to escape and prevent cracking. Brush with melted butter again, and bake for about 40 minutes.

  8. Allow the strudel to cool before cutting into thick chunks. Optionally dust the top with icing sugar (powdered sugar) and serve. Enjoy the fruit of your work!

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Apple Filling

While some people use sliced apples that are first cooked, which may give a less soggy strudel, in these parts most people make strudel with grated apples.

Ingredients

  • 1 kg (2 lbs) apples
  • 200 grams (1 cup) sugar
  • 100 grams (1/2 cup) raisins
  • 100 greams (1 cup) dry breadcrumbs
  • cinnamon

Instructions

  1. Grate apples and gently squeeze out excess juice. Spread over the pulled dough, fold over any hanging sides and cover with apples as well. Sprinkle over top sugar, raisins, breadcrumbs, and cinnamon. Sprinkle again with melted butter. Continue as stated above.

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Farmers cheese filling

Tvaroh, which is curds (you know, curds and whey like the nursery rhyme), is often used in sweets in Slovakia. Quark is the German name, also called farmers cheese. You could probably use ricotta cheese in a pinch. Make sure to use the full fat versions!

Ingredients

  • 750 grams (27 oz) tvaroh/quark/farmers cheese
  • 5 teaspoons heavy cream
  • 3 egg yolks
  • pinch salt
  • 200 grams (1 cup) sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract OR peel of one lemon optional
  • 100 grams (1/2 cup) raisins

Instructions

  1. Mix all the ingredients together except raisins, making sure to mash the cheese well. Some recipes call for vanilla sugar, some call for lemon peel, some call for neither. Choose according to taste. 

  2. Drop in clumps along half of the dough and spread with your fingers. Sprinkle with raisins and melted butter. When you roll the strudel, after rolling the cheese part brush each round of dough with melted butter for extra flakiness. Continue recipe as above. 

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Cherry or sour cherry filling

You can use either sweet or sour cherries for this filling. Add a bit more sugar if using sour cherries as they are (obviously) not as sweet.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups canned cherries, sweet or sour, pitted and drained
  • 1 1/3 cup powered sugar
  • 1 cup poppy seeds

Instructions

  1. Put poppy seeds through a coffee grinder or food processor to grind them. 

  2. Sprinkle ground poppy seeds over the dough, then powered sugar. Place canned cherries over half of the dough. Dribble with melted butter, roll, and proceed with recipe above. 

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Poppy seed or walnut filling

The same method can be used for ground walnuts or ground poppy seeds, both popular fillings. This filling needs to be made ahead, so it has time to cool before using it.

Ingredients

  • 300 ml (1 1/4 cup) milk
  • 300 grams (2 cups) powered sugar
  • 500 grams (1 lb) poppy seeds, ground OR 400 grams walnuts, ground
  • 100 grams (1/2 cup) raisins (only for poppy seeds)
  • lemon peel from 1/2 lemon

Instructions

  1. Warm the milk and sugar together, stir in poppy seeds and raisins and lemon peel or ground walnuts. Leave it to cool.

  2. Cover about one third of the dough with poppy seed or walnut mixture, drizzle with butter and roll, brushing the layers without the filling with butter for an extra flaky crust. Proceed with recipe as above.

pulled strudel blog-18

cherry poppy seed strudel

How to make tahana strudla, pulled strudel