Bourekas Made Easy: A Recipe for Israel's Favorite Festive Finger Food

High-end bourekas are made from hand-stretched phyllo dough. Here's a trick that will give you something nearly as good without all the labor

Vered Guttman
Vered Guttman
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Israeli burekas.
Israeli burekas.Credit: Vered Guttman
Vered Guttman
Vered Guttman

Bourekas are the Israeli equivalent of Jewish-American bagel and cream cheese: They’re served, and are expected to be served, at each and every occasion, from a kiddush to an army-base office meeting. Bourekas show up on the table with a variety of fillings, such as cheese, potato and mushrooms. They are not always the best bourekas, but they’re still there and they’re still so comforting. No wonder no one passes them up.

But you can also aim for the higher-end bourekas. Visit one of the bourekas specialty bakeries and stalls in the outdoor markets, where dough is still stretched by hand and baked fresh. The baker is likely to cut open the steaming hot bourekas in front of you, fill it with hard-boiled egg, and serve alongside spicy pickles. There’s nothing better in this world.

Bourekas were brought to Israel from the Ottoman Empire by Sephardi Jews who lived in Turkey and the Balkan countries. The Sephardi were likely responsible for adding a final “s” to the Turkish borek to make it into a plural in Ladino, thus creating the word used today in modern Hebrew.

The original Turkish borek is made with phyllo or yufka dough - hand-made phyllo, soft and layered, and stretched until the dough is transparent and folded with oil. Comparing this homemade delicacy to the frozen, paper-tasting phyllo you’ll find in the supermarket freezer is like comparing a fresh Brooklyn bagel spread generously with cream cheese to the piece of paper that wraps it. It’s just not the same.

True, the Israeli inventive mind did come up with the idea of using puff pastry as a quick substitute to labor-intense handmade phyllo, but even a good puff pastry will not yield the flaky yet soft result you get with the real phyllo.

In the recipe below I tried to combine the easy use of ready-made puff pastry with the original thin phyllo by rolling the puff pastry until it is very thin, brushing with oil, folding, and stretching again. The results were more than pleasing for a family that misses its homeland pastries.

Bourekas

Bourekas are best served with pickles, tahini sauce, haminados (overnight hard-boiled eggs), Israeli chopped salad and a cold yogurt drink.

Buy the best butter-based puff pastry you can find; it will make a big difference in the final result.

Let the dough thaw overnight in the fridge and work only with cold dough.

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