Spices. If there’s something I’ve learned to use (and eat) since moving to England, it’s spices. Apart from cinnamon, which I’ve always used in copious quantities, a failed (read: burn-in-your-mouth) attempt at ground ginger biscuits, and a few suspicious nutmeg-sniffing sessions, everything I ate and cooked was obliviously exempt from spices. Enter cardamom. Feisty and aromatic, these inoffensive-looking pods have been lingering in our spice cupboard for months and months (moving two houses in the meantime, I believe) after a close encounter (with my teeth) via an experimental curry. Which I did not prepare, I should add.
The fact is that cardamom is not just feisty and aromatic. It’s very feisty and very, very aromatic. Opening their jar makes these little pods explode and their smell seems to linger in my brain for hours. But in times of darkness, when orange zest alone simply won’t do to brighten up the delicate sweetness of the pears, a few cardamom seeds, carefully freed from their pods, seem to do wonders. If you, like me, are a bit scared of cardamom (and of strong spices in general), then give this strudel a go. Enough seeds to make people say “But what is this other flavour that’s coming through?” but not enough to make them say “Oh, I can definitely taste some cardamom in here!”.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan. In a small pan, heat the remaining 60 gr of butter over a low heat. When it’s melted, add the breadcrumbs and the cardamom seeds. Do not take the seeds out of the pods too long before using, or they will lose part of their fragrance. Gently coat the breadcrumbs and seeds in butter and fry until lightly browned. Tip in a bowl and set aside. Peel and cube the pears and stir in a big bowl with the orange zest and 2 tbsp of juice. Add 1 heaped tsp of the sugar and the breadcrumb mixture to the fruit and set aside. Make sure you have a large, lightly floured surface to work on, possibly close to the baking tray you’re going to bake the strudel on. Have the melted butter (with a pastry brush), the remaining sugar and the fruit and breadcrumb mixture on your side, too. Take the pastry out of the fridge. Carefully unroll the pastry and cut the rectangular sheets into two sets of square sheets. Transfer the first square layer on the baking tray, brush with butter and scatter about half a tsp of sugar on top. Repeat with the second layer, placing the square on top of the first one. Repeat until you have used up half of your pastry squares (that is, one of the two pastry squares stack you got from the original rectangle of pastry), then tip some*** of the fruit mixture in the middle of the last square, quickly roll the pastry in the centre and roll the strudel seam-side down. Repeat with the rest of the pastry. Finally, bake for about 40-50 minutes. The strudel it’s best eaten warm or lukewarm.
*** How much fruit mixture is some? Good question, but one that you need to answer yourself. In my case, it was way less than half. If you put too much fruit, the seam will not hold and the strudel will open (or not even close). On the other hand, if you don’t put enough, well, what a waste!