Do you remember Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence? I was so impressed by Tom's cleverness. He pretended that painting the fence was a special treat and managed to talk other boys into doing it for him. Not only did they take on his horrible chore, but they paid him with boyish trinkets for the opportunity!
I may recall the scene a little bit too well, because whitewashing the fence was a regular summer chore when I was growing up. I always wished someone would come by so I could lure them into painting the fence for me. But along with that unpleasant job, there was one thing that usually only happened once every summer -- my mother made cherry strudel. Apple strudel was a regular event at our house, but cherry strudel was a special treat.
Unfortunately, making cherry strudel involves a chore that ranks up there with painting the fence -- pitting cherries. It's a messy job at best, it stains your fingers and the juice spurts everywhere. I used a handy dandy cherry pitter that cut way down on the time involved, but if you happen to have someone hanging around whom you could lure into pitting the cherries for you, I say go for it!
Now, I have to admit, this is a lazy version of cherry strudel because I used boxed phyllo dough. It makes a delicate strudel and cuts prep time considerably. Be sure to thaw the phyllo dough according to the instructions on the box. Have all the other ingredients ready so the dough won't dry out while you work. You can cover it with a damp cloth to keep it fresh, but if you work at a normal speed (don't take a call from your long-winded friend) this doesn't take too long to do.
Cherries and apples create juices when they cook, so there has to be something to bind the juices. Instead of cornstarch or tapioca, most strudel recipes call for bread crumbs. It sounds odd, but it works. This time, on my mother's suggestion, I tried something new and used graham cracker crumbs. They worked very well.
Summertime Cherry Strudel
10 sheets 12x17 phyllo dough
2 cups pitted and halved fresh cherries
1/4 cup sugar (I used sweet black cherries, you may need more if you use sour cherries)
1/3 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 teaspoon vanilla or brandy (optional)
6 tablespoons butter
Mix the cherries, sugar, lemon and vanilla or brandy in a bowl. (If you're very lazy, you can skip this step. Watch for the ** later.)
Melt the butter and brush a little bit on a baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 350.
On an ungreased baking sheet, spread the first sheet of filo dough. Brush with butter. Lay another sheet of the filo dough on top of it and brush with butter. Repeat until you have ten sheets of filo dough.
Spoon the cherries onto the filo about an inch from the edge in a line along the long side of the filo. Sprinkle with the graham cracker crumbs. (** If you're not using vanilla or brandy, you can just lay the cherries in a line, sprinkle with sugar, sprinkle with graham cracker crumbs and squeeze the lemon over top of it all.)
Roll the cherry end slowly, brushing the top of the filo as you go. Lay it seam side down on the buttered baking sheet and add one more buttery swipe to the top. Cut small diagonal vents along the top. Bake 25 minutes, brush with butter and return to oven for another 20 minutes. Sift powdered sugar over the top to dress it up -- and serve. It's good warm and cold!