Layers of thin, buttered phyllo sandwich a unique custard made with fine semolina and dotted with bright, orange rind. Then, it is all soaked and rests in a sweet, citrus syrup.
Each summer when I travel to Greece to visit my in-laws, I enjoy my favorite traditional desserts that do not resemble anything from the American kitchen. Usually, I savor the sweet treats during the annual visit, convinced that I could not reproduce them at home.
This year is different. Our cousin Sophia spoiled us with all of our favorites and then took the time to handwrite her recipes for me. She promised that the sweet pies were very easy to make. My husband translated the precious code and for the past few weeks, I have tested the recipes, adjusting slightly for American ingredients or measurements.
The key to both Galaktoboureko and Bougatsa (recipe coming soon!) is the fine semolina in the custard. It may be hard to find for many of you. Luckily, we have a grocery store just blocks away that sells Greek food and ingredients needed for common dishes. The fine semolina (available online here) is also called farina and reminded me of Cream of Wheat breakfast cereal I ate as a child.
Do NOT be afraid of working with phyllo. Often people complain that it is difficult and perhaps if you are making small pies and let it get dry, it will get finicky. But, if you are making large pies like this with full sheets, it is no trouble at all. Don’t skimp on the butter between the sheets. I use a large basting brush. Or, I should say, Mini Whipped uses the large pastry brush. (Brushing the butter between layers is a fun and easy job for kids.)
Though I usually find that traditional foods taste best in the location of their birth, our brood was quite pleased with our first, stateside Galaktoboureko. The enormous pan of sweet, caloric custard called to me hourly, like a Siren to the rocks. Sliver by sliver, I repeatedly convinced myself that I was just “evening out” the slices. So, I brought the rest of the pan to work and shared it with my office mates and clients. The reviews were positive.
Greek desserts, welcome to the Whipped kitchen!
Cousin Sophia’s Galaktoboureko
6 cups milk
1 cup fine semolina
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
orange rind from 1 orange, finely grated
1 package phyllo (about 10-14 sheets)
2 sticks (1 cup) + 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
orange juice from ½ an orange, about ¼ cup
Put milk, ½ cup sugar, vanilla, semolina and 1 Tablespoon butter in a sauce pan on medium heat. When it starts heating, keep stirring until it becomes thick like pudding. Take it off the fire and let it cool for 5-10 minutes. Beat eggs with the rest (1/4 cup) of the sugar and stir it in to milk mixture. Stir the orange peel in.
To make the pie, the phyllo should be room temperature or slightly cooler. Open the package right before using it so the sheets do not get too dry. Melt two sticks of butter and start by brushing the butter on the bottom of your pan. In Greece, they use a large round pan about 16 inches in diameter. I used a lasagna dish, which works well (about 10 x 13 x 2). If you only have a traditional 9 x 13, you may not fit all the custard in the dish.
Lay down about 5-6 sheets phyllo or half of your package. Lightly press the sheets into the sides and corner and let the edges overlap on top. You will fold them over later. Do not skimp on the butter! You should use half on the bottom layers and half on the top.
Pour the slightly cooled custard on the bottom sheets and spread to the sides. Then layer another sheet on top. Mini Whipped has decided to name this process “putting the custard to bed.” We even told our custard a nice story, which I am quite sure added to its deliciousness in the end.
Continue brushing butter between layers until you have used all the phyllo, approximately 6 sheets on bottom and 6 on top. Then, brush butter on the overlapping sides and roll the edges down creating a “rim” around the edge of the pan. Liberally brush the top and the edge with the rest of your butter.
Bake for 1 hour at 375 degrees or until the top is light brown all over.
While the pie is baking make the syrup by boiling the sugar, water and juice together for about 5 minutes. When you remove the pie from the oven, let it cool for about 15 minutes. Then, pour the syrup over the entire pie. Over time, it will seep in to the pie. Wait at least an hour before serving. Store the pie in the refrigerator for up to 3 days and continue to enjoy!