Flaky Holiday Dough Fun

Hot, crunchy burekas are one of the more addictive of vices. What’s the right dough to use, and how can the fat content be restricted?

Hot, melt-in-your-mouth burekas are one of the irresistible culinary vices, and happily for us we are about to celebrate Sukkot, when it is customary to serve these fragrant treats while sitting in the sukkah.

This custom came into being sometime around the time of the Jews’ expulsion from Spain, half a millennium ago, and has since been zealously preserved in Sephardic communities. For them, hosting people with a tray of crispy, crunchy burekas attests to the both the quality of cooks and to their hospitality, since food filled with good things symbolizes wealth and plenty. Some will serve little burekas dainty as jewels, and some will serve one big tray holding a large burekas rolled into the shape of a snail.

The burekas filling will generally be savory: with salty or hard yellow cheeses, roasted eggplant, spinach, Swiss chard, pumpkin, potatoes, ground beef and mushrooms. But it can be sweet: goat cheeses or ricotta seasoned with rosewater and sugar, and a filling of nuts and cinnamon.
The dough used to make burekas varies from country to country and from region to region: It can be puff pastry, flat bread, phyllo or crusty dough. It’s not important which, only that it be of good quality and contain olive oil or butter. I prefer phyllo, because its thin leaves create a crispy and delicate envelope that does not overwhelm the filling, and because working with it is easy and clean and lends itself to an endless variety of shapes. Another advantage: Phyllo dough leaves are fat-free so you can control the quality and amount of fat that goes into the pastries.

When working with phyllo, it is important to cover the unused leaves with a damp towel to keep them from drying out. If the dough is frozen, defrost it in the refrigerator for several hours before using. Phyllo dough can keep for up to a week in the ‘fridge and up to six months in the freezer.

The final secret to making good burekas lies in the baking: You have to make sure they come out thoroughly done on the inside, and brown and crispy on the outside. Burekas should always be served straight away, because they lose their crunchiness when they stand around. They go well with hard-boiled egg, olives, sliced or grated tomato, tehina or yogurt, scallions, radishes, raw hot green pepper or skhug.

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Turkish cheese burekas

Makes 30-35 miniature burekas

8-9 phyllo dough sheets
1/2 cup olive oil or melted butter
250 gm. Bulgarian or feta cheese, coarsely grated
250 gm. white cheese, 9% fat
100 gm. kashkaval cheese, coarsely grated
2 egg yolks
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
pinch of ground nutmeg

For the topping:

egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water; finely grated kashkaval
In a bowl, combine all the ingredients for the filling and mix. Taste to see if you need to add salt, since the saltiness of the cheeses varies among products. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Lay a sheet of phyllo dough on a clean work surface, with its broad side facing you.

Brush with olive oil or melted butter. With the help of a small sharp knife, cut out 4 equal strips, 10 cm. wide and 30 cm. long. Place a teaspoonful of filling 3 cm. from the edge of the strip. Fold the edge over the filling; fasten securely. Fold in the sides so they cover the filling slightly the length of the strip and roll tightly into a cigar shape up to the edge of the dough strip.

Line a baking tin with baking paper; grease it with olive oil. Brush the top part of each cigar with oil, and lay it on the tin with its open side face down. Brush each cigar with egg yolk beaten with water, sprinkle kashkaval on top and bake for 15-20 minutes.


Mini-burekas with sweet potato, kashkaval & black cumin

Makes 30 miniature burekas
4 phyllo dough sheets
5 tbsp. olive oil or melted butter
1 large sweet potato ‏(500 gm.)
100 gm. kashkeval cheese, coarsely grated
2 egg yolks
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
pinch of ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. dried oregano, crumbled by hand

For the topping:
egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon of water; black cumin
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celcius. Place the sweet potato on a baking dish lined with aluminum foil; roast for an hour. Cool, peel and mash with a fork.

Prepare the filling:

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, add the mashed sweet potato and mix.
Lay a sheet of phyllo dough on a clean work surface, with the wide side toward you. Brush with olive oil or melted butter. Use a small, sharp knife to cut eight strips lengthwise, 5-6 cm. wide and 30 cm. long. Place a teaspoonful of filling at the edge of each strip and fold diagonally into a triangle. Now fold into a triangle going the other way, like an envelope. Repeat until the end of the strip.

Brush the top part of the burekas with olive oil; arrange on a baking tin lined with baking paper that has been greased with oil. Brush the burekas with egg yolk mixed with water. Sprinkle black cumin on top and bake for 15-20 minutes.

Spinach, feta & sumac snail
You will need a 26 cm. round baking dish
8-10 phyllo sheets
1/2 cup olive oil or melted butter
400-500 gm. fresh spinach, preferably Turkish, washed and dried
5 scallions, chopped, including the green part
250 gm. Bulgarian or feta cheese, coarsely grated
250 gm. ricotta cheese, crumbled
2 egg yolks
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
pinch of ground nutmeg
1 tsp. sumac

For the topping:

Egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon water; sesame seeds

Make the filling: Roughly chop the spinach leaves. In a bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients for the filling, add the spinach and mix by hand, lightly squeezing the spinach to reduce some of its volume.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celcius. Brush a rectangle of phyllo dough with melted butter or olive oil, lay a second sheet on top of it and brush with oil. Spoon filling down the length of the rectangle’s edge. Lift up the edges, seal in the filling and roll tightly into a long cigar. Brush the top of the cigar with olive oil. Wind it around itself into a snail shape. Place in the center of a round dish, lined with greased baking paper. Now repeat the process several times, winding subsequent cigars around the central snail until you get one big snail that fills the dish.

Brush with egg yolk mixed with water. Sprinkle sesame seeds over; bake for 30-35 minutes. Serve hot.
 

Limor Laniado Tiroche