You are looking at a photo of what just might be my all time favorite food. I hate to make extreme statements and my tastes often change. But, right now, if I had to choose one last thing to eat in life, there is a good chance it would be the Bougatsa from a small, hole-in-the-wall place in Corfu, Greece.
This steaming hot, custard pastry is cut in squares straight out of the oven by a guy who looks more like a member of The Sopranos gang than a bakery employee. He slings your piece across the counter to the gum-chewing check-out lady who sprinkles it heavily with powdered sugar and cinnamon, wraps it up, takes your money and sends you on your way. On the scooter ride back to the house, my mouth salivates with anticipation as the warm custard pie warms my lap.
In this bakery, there is a door open to the back where you can see the lady making the phyllo pies. Watching someone stretch and toss homemade phyllo is unbelievable. I had hoped to make a video of it this year but did not have the time. Think pizza dough tossing times one-hundred. The expert tosses it back and forth, swings the dough around her head in the air a few times with a lasso-like motion, expanding and thinning its size considerably. The custard filling is plopped and spread into the middle and the dough is folded and refolded around it. The whole process is quick, as I am sure she has done it thousands of times, and is both graceful and rough at the same time.
I have never made Bougatsa myself because I don’t like to mess with perfection. I am lucky enough to go to Corfu once a year and will eat this perfect pie annually. Below is a recipe I found on About.com, which looks good and uses commercial phyllo for those of you who want to experience something similar.
Bougatsa – Greek Custard Pie
4 1/4 cups of whole milk
sliced peel of 1 lemon
1 1/4 cups of granulated sugar
3/4 cup of semolina
1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract
12 sheets of commercial phyllo dough
6 ounces of butter, melted
For the topping:
Warm the milk and lemon peel in a saucepan. Stir in semolina with a wooden spoon until the mixture is thoroughly blended and thickened. In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla until light and add to the pan, stirring over medium-low heat until it reaches a creamy custard consistency. Remove from heat, take out and discard lemon peel, and allow to cool completely. Stir occasionally to keep the custard from forming a skin on top.
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Lightly brush a baking pan (13 X 9 X 2 or equivalent) with butter. Line the bottom of the pan with 8 sheets of phyllo, brushing each sheet well with the melted butter. Add the custard filling. Fold the excess phyllo that overlaps the pan in over the custard. Top with the remaining phyllo, brushing each with butter. Use a scissors to trim the top sheets to the size of the pan. Spray the top lightly with water and bake at 350°F (180°C) for 30-40 minutes, until the top is golden brown.
Remove from oven, sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon while hot, and serve warm.PRINT RECIPE