Acting Like a Strudel- Gene Wilder's 'Mock Strudel' from the Celebrity Kosher Cookbook

Jewish immigrants and their descendants have been a big part of American entertainment, from the Lower East Side’s Yiddish theaters that begat vaudeville comedians, to the birth of Hollywood which included Jewish Americans from studio owners to writersMarilyn Hall, editor and compiler of the Celebrity Kosher Cookbook: A Sentimental Journey with Food, Mothers, and Memoriespaired the food memories of Jewish celebrities with their family recipes. “All gave us a slice of their lives and with it a moment of very personal history,” she wrote about her 1975 cookbook.

“Their mothers and grandmothers come through in vivid glimpses – the newcomers to this land ,” Hall said of the stories shared by celebrities like comedian Red Buttons and Rat Pack member Sammy David Jr., who shared a recipe for collard greens cooked with “flanken,” fatty beef, instead of pork. For the book, the test kitchen standardized measurements and ingredients, but admitted that no one recipe can be perfect when matched with memory. “We have no nostalgic memory of that kitchen, that mother using deft fingers and equipment peculiar to her.”

Two members of the original Star Trek cast submitted recipes to the book. William Shatner shared his recipe for Matzo Kneidlach and recounted the first time he ate horseradish at Passover when he was five or six. Leonard Nimoy recalled his family’s Pickled Herring recipes, while reminiscing about his childhood growing up in Boston. He remembered his mother and grandmother preparing meals as a way to show love, but his phrasing “When one meal was finished, the next was in preparation” can also remind us of the unrelenting labor of caring for a home and family. The first time he made his family’s herring – with onion, vinegar, sour cream, and a few tablespoons of sugar – he thought it wasn’t as good as his mother’s. What was missing, he decided, was his mother's touch. “However, everybody loved my herring – especially my mother. She felt that hers had always been good but what it needed was my touch.”

Director Carl Reiner remembered the delicacy of leftover latkes kept warm on a steam heat radiator, the potatoes green by the time dinner rolled around. Comedian Joan Rivers admitted to not being much of a cook, saying the joke in her household when her daughter was growing up was: “Eat some more, kid. It’s good. Mommy didn’t make it.” But Rivers shared her decidedly un-kashrut recipe for Pears and Caviar, poached pear halves with a generous mound of caviar scooped on top.

But my favorite story came from actor Gene Wilder:

“When I was seven years old I had a passion for strudel that exceeded my interest in most other things in life. It wasn’t all strudel I loved – only my Bubby’s and her cousin’s (both ladies came over from Russia in 1911) … One particular day I went to visit my grandmother … to my surprise my grandmother was in the process of making a fresh batch.

I pulled up a stool and watched her as she finished rolling the dough. … An hour later, I came bursting into my own mother’s kitchen, crying ‘Mama! Mama! I know how to make strudel.’

‘What are you talking about?’ she said.

‘I can make strudel,’ I answered very confidently.

‘How do you do it?’ she asked.

‘Simple,’ I said. ‘First throw in all those things in to the dough, then you roll it around just like this’ – and I made circles with my extended arms – ‘then you take a seven-inch butcher’s knife and cut the dough at this angle’ – I showed her exactly which angle I meant – ‘and then you put it in the oven at 350.’"

 

Rather than the delicate and complicated task of making real strudel, Wilder (or the cookbook’s editor, it’s unclear) offered this recipe for Mock Strudel. Although it lacks the flaky layers of the real thing, it is a satisfying sweet that take hardly any work, and barely any skill.

 

Mock Strudel

From the Celebrity Kosher Cookbook: A Sentimental Journey with Food, Mothers, and Memories, 1975.

This recipe takes two days to make; the sticky dough needs to be chilled overnight. I experimented with three different filling combinations: apple butter, dates, and almonds; my mother’s homemade black raspberry jam and almonds; and homemade pineapple jam, dates, and shredded coconut. The coconut gets a little toasted and really is a tasty touch.

 

Dough:

½ pound (two sticks) unsalted butter

2 tablespoons sugar

2 eggs

½ pint (1 cup) sour cream

2 ¼ cups flour

 

Filling:

Jam

Dates, chopped

Nuts, chopped

Raisins

Turkish Delight, chopped (optional)

Shredded sweetened coconut (optional)

 

Directions:

  1. In a stand mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and sour cream; mix well. With mixer on low, gradually add flour until just mixed. Chill dough in refrigerator 8-12 hours.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Divide dough into three parts. Roll out each part ¼ inch thick on a lightly floured board into a rough rectangle. You may want to flip the dough several times to prevent it from sticking to the surface.  

  1. Spread with jam, dates, nuts, raisins, or any filling you like. Roll like jelly rolls.

  1.  Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet 45 minutes to 1 hour, until top is evenly browned and you can hear the filling bubbling.

  1. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for 20 minutes. Cut in 1-inch slices while warm.

 

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