Recipe: Savory Cheese Pastry (Banitsa)

Serves 6

My husband is officially in love with Bulgaria. To be fair, he didn’t stand a chance. Second only to pure sugar, Keith loves anything that includes butter, pastry, or cheese. This recipe boasts all three, and in eye-popping quantities.

Not to say it was love at first sight. It wasn’t.

After all, my pastry skills are minimal. But, hey, we can all use a little forgiveness in the kitchen, from time to time. Especially when it comes to pastries. Thankfully, phyllo dough spreads, puffs and crackles haphazardly, hiding flaws brilliantly.

Bulgarians serve this vegetarian cheese pastry room temperature or cold with plain yogurt on the side. Add spinach for a healthy variation.

Note: Bulgarian yogurt, a little runny and decidedly tangy, is available for purchase at health food stores.

Ingredients:

6 eggs
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 lb sirene cheese (or feta)
1/2-1 stick butter

1/2 package of thawed phyllo dough (about 21 individual sheets)

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Melt some butter.

NOTE: You’ll need half a ton of butter, or roughly triple the amount pictured. Banitsa just soaks it up. Trust me. I mistakenly thought that 1/3 stick was enough, but had to do three sprints to the fridge to get more.

None of this bothered me, however, because I got to use the world’s cutest, smallest copper-bottomed pan. This cherished hand-me-down from my mom has been in use for about thirty years.  She (yes, it’s a she) holds about 1 cup of liquid (usually butter for popcorn). Mmm. Yes, please.

Back to the Banitsa… focus, Sasha, focus!

2. Meanwhile, whisk eggs together with baking soda and cheese.

Mmm cheese. Lots of salty feta (unless you can get Bulgarian Sirene). I’ve been told the more cheese, the better. You can’t tell in this picture, but I’m drooling.

3. On a clean worksurface, lay out one sheet of phyllo. Brush with melted butter. Add a second sheet of phyllo. Brush with melted butter again. Repeat a third time.

Be gentle. Phyllo is like fragile, like my ego.

I’m kidding. Sort of.

Phyllo literally looks like paper until blasted by the hot oven. Then it puffs up, tall and proud. Pure magic.

Sprinkle cheese mixture over phyllo and roll into a tube. The egg mixture will want to soak through. Stay calm. Work quickly and smoothly. All will be well.

See? Beautiful.

4. Shape phyllo log into a circle in a large round baking dish. I used oval because it is what I had handy.

5. Repeat step 3 until all the phyllo dough is used up. Wrap each tube around previous tubes, making a snail shell pattern. You’ll end up with 6-7 tubes.

When I was done my Banitsa snail coil looked a little rough. There were leaks. They made me fret.

Brush with butter. Try to ignore the leaks.

6. Bake 40-50 minutes, until golden brown.

The finished pastry looks like a mess thanks to those pesky leaks.

But, upon closer inspection, every slice is beautiful, golden, crispy.

Just be sure to let cool at least 15 minutes before slicing, so that the layers don’t fall apart!

I mean, seriously. Come closer.

Divine.

Turns out a few leaks here and there are no big deal.

Thank goodness for forgiving phyllo dough, my new best friend.

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Comments

  1. PS It was delicious…
    Do undercook, however, as it will be nice and moist and continue to cook as it cools.

  2. If you would have left out the part about the “leaks” I would have never known! I thought it looked delish and am with you on the more cheese the better!

  3. Oh this looks wonderful! Banitsa shops should be as common as pizzerias!

    Banitsa shop: http://d2910542.j57.insightwebs.com/assets/SiteEngineManager/b2.jpg

    • globaltable says:

      They are so easy to make, I’m surprised there aren’t any…

      • Sasha,

        Banitza shops are more common in Bulgaria than pizzerias. However, similarly to Pizza Hut, a lot of places use cheap ingredients.

        You have to know that Bulgarian Feta cheese is different (better in my opinion) than Greek Feta. I have found Bulgarian Feta in Publix and Whole Foods (in GA).
        Good luck with your mission,
        Teodora

        • globaltable says:

          Hi Teodora,

          I looked in our Whole Foods, but it is smaller than many (although rumor has it that they are expanding next year). If Bulgarian feta pops up here I’ll be the first to try it! I’m terribly curious what it tastes like :)

          That’s so interesting about the Banitza shops vs pizzerias.

          Thanks :)
          Sasha

  4. Pizza Hut says they have $4 in an extra-large pizza, including materials, labor, advertising, etc. This recipe looks to cost probably $20 to make. Maybe that’s what accounts for there not being any Banitsa shops, just pure economics.

  5. a ton of butter….and fragile ego( sounds like something I would say..well sort of)…LOL
    this is simply delicious…delicious…I have always been “frightened of phyllo dough…I just might try this out..a ton of butter though..fer real! <3

    • globaltable says:

      I’ve read that you don’t actually have to put butter between each sheet, but the thought of leaving it out gives me anxiety, so I went ahead and put it all in :)

  6. Yum! I’ll have to try it.

  7. Oh my yum! This sounds so good–savory pastry things are always the way to go, eh? It looks so pretty and flaky and delicious ;] You know, I haven’t thought about Bulgaria in the longest time…

  8. Wow…this looks wonderful in every way! Flaky pastry and cheese sounds heavenly, and it is beautiful as well!

  9. Since I’m from Bulgaria, I have the many variances of banitza. The one your making is the simplified one, meaning with the crust already made aka phyllo dough. My grandma who got trained how to make everything from scratch even the dough. Imagine it tasting like 10-20 times better. Also the yogurt your describing is not real bulgarian yogurt. It’s more like yogurt drink runnish. Our yogurt is thick and extremely delicious, especially if you get made from a lamb or goat.

Trackbacks

  1. […] The recipe written below is my variation of the two.  These are the two recipes. Here and here. I really enjoyed this banitsa. The filling was really beautiful and salty while the outside was […]

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