The All-Occasion Pastry

Dear Reader,

My beautiful living room faces full west and now that the weather has become warm and sunny again, spending the afternoon hours there has become a torture. Intense sun-light and heat make me aggressive, I am a coolness-loving type, so I am getting an air conditioner next week 😉 I have shades but I am still working on getting drapes 🙂 

Right now, however, the sun is about to set and I am basking in its mellow golden light, glistening in the cooling air. In the company of this:

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I plan to share with you the recipe for banitsa, Bulgaria’s most loved and versatile savory pastry. We have not talked about food for a loong time, have we? 🙂 

There are as many versions of banitsa, accent on the first A, as there are cooks in Bulgaria. In addition, the result depends on the quality and quantity of the unleavened leaf pastry used, so even with the same cook, the banitsas will vary with each change of leaf pastry brand the cook uses. 

Sunset over Oborishte Street.
Sunset over Oborishte Street in Sofia. This is the view from my living room actually. Apart from the dilapidated roof, it is only trees, which is great. The trees and bushes are so dense, that I often find ladybirds and night butterflies at home 😉

Therefore, my banitsa does not hold any claim of representativeness. Plus, I intend to show you pictures of two banitsas, one linear and one circular, in addition to what I did with the leftover banitsa filling. I usually estimate the filling quantity correctly but occasionally I do not, which is fine, as you may end up with leftover filling too, so it is good to have an idea of what to do with it.

If you cannot buy unleavened leaf pastry where you live, you might make your own, it is not hard really, although I have never done it. I have just watched others do it and may try my hand at that one day, when I become even more hardcore in terms of healthy eating. 

I may also tell you that I generally make banitsa for the weekday breakfast of my family, as I steer clear from dough as much as possible. Meaning I eat it only with a pistol against my temple. Female vanity.

When I finish the wine, which is delicious, I might just as well move on to this - grape brandy Vrachanska Temenuga, meaning Vratsa Violet. It is produced of grape variety Vrachanski Misket, which reportedly has a faint odour of violets. I don't know about that but the taste of this brandy is very light and mellow, it does not hit you in the nose as many others do. That explains the almost empty container ;)
When I finish the wine, which is delicious, I might just as well move on to this – grape brandy Vrachanska Temenuga, meaning Vratsa Violet. Vratsa is a town is north-western Bulgaria. The brandy is produced of grape variety Vrachanski Misket, which reportedly has a faint odour of violets. I don’t know about that, but the taste of this brandy is very light and mellow, it does not hit you in the nose as many others do. That explains the almost empty decanter;)

So the ingredients you’ll need are: 

  • One packet of leaf pastry
  • 3 eggs
  • Bulgarian white cheese, say 300 g, maybe a bit more
  • 400 g Bulgarian/Balkan /Greek or whatever yogurt. Regardless of the name, it is all Bulgarian, you know? The Lactobacillus Bulgaricus is what makes the yogurt. 
  • 1/2 teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda
  • sunflower oil to sprinkle the leaf pastry

Preparation:

  • Break the eggs into a large bowl and mix with the cheese.
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After you add the cheese to the eggs, start breaking it down to crumbs with a fork. Your goal is to achieve this:

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  • Add the yogurt and stir until homogeneous:

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  • Add the half teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and your banitsa filling is ready.
    • Take out the leaf pastry out of the packet and place on the kitchen counter. Put 2-3 soup spoonfuls of the filling over one pastry leaf, smear it so that it is spread more or less evenly across the pastry leaf, then fold TWO leaves as shown in the picture. Sprinkle the folded side with sunflower oil and roll, loosely, not tightly. Place straight or curled in an oiled dish. Repeat for all the pastry leaves. Determine whether to fold one or two pastry leaves at a time depending on the number of leaves and their thickness.

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  • When all the pastry sheets have been used up, you should end up with the following:
The banitsa already in the oven.
The banitsa is already in the oven.
  • When you have rolled all your pastry sheets and placed them in the baking dish, use one spoonful of filling to fill in each pastry roll end, as otherwise they will become dry when baked. Also, smear some of the filling on top of the already rolled pastry sheets after they have been arranged in the baking dish. Lightly sprinkle with sunflower oil.
  • Ideally, at this point you should have used up all your filling. If you have not, hold on. For now, preheat the oven, top and bottom, to 180 C and when ready, insert your banitsa at the middle or the lower rack. Watch closely and remove from the oven when it starts smelling like ready and looks ready – pink-yellow-brown, risen and fragrant. 
  • Regarding the leftover filling, mix it with flour, as much as it can take so that it can be kneaded into a medium-soft dough, without it sticking to your fingers. 

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  • Shape small balls with your fingers and bake over baking paper on the oven rack after you have taken the banitsa our of the oven. Optionally, you can smear with an egg before baking. I did not. The result was this – baked balls of egg-and-cheese dough, that were crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and perfect as an accompaniment to wine 🙂

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  • Otherwise, the ready banitsa looked like this: 

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  • When it cools down completely, you can use a sharp knife or the kitchen scissors (not those rusty ones! :)) to cut it and arrange it on a plate, cover with clingfilm and have it ready for breakfast.
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It IS the same banitsa. I know both this picture and the one below it look unnaturally yellow but it is because of the light somehow.

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  • Now if you happen to buy a leaf pastry packet that contains only three huge and round pastry leaves (my favourite type), you will use the same number of eggs and the same amount of cheese, but you might decrease the amount of yoghurt. You smear each pastry leaf individually, you fold it it half, sprinkle with sunflower oil, make into a loose roll and arrange curled in the centre of an oiled baking dish. You fill up with filling the ends of the rolled sheets and smear some of the filling on top of all pastry sheets after they have been arranged in the dish. The idea is for the three pastry sheets to fill up the entire baking dish, so curl loosely. In this way, they will have space to rise while baking and will taste and look better afterwards. You sprinkle with sunflower oil as a final touch. You bake in the oven and should end up with something similar to this:

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  • When it cools down, you cut it and arrange it on a platter, like this:

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  • Serve at breakfast or anytime, with Bulgarian yogurt thinned with water and known as ayran, or with a herbal tisane.

That’s it! Now you know how to make Bulgarian banitsa! Don’t be tempted to buy ready-made from a bakery, usually they are no match to the home-made thing. Plus the cheese they use is very likely to be fake. 🙂

Now, let me treat you to the song I have been listening to, while writing the recipe. I am a bit drunk already, because of the wine…

Banitsa with white wine is a great combination, you may opt for that instead of the traditional crackers. Just cut the banitsa into bites and place each on a toothpick, so that people can eat it without getting their fingers oily. Add grapes with blue-veined cheese, berries or melon, some nuts and green olives with an almond inside, each on its own toothpick, and  you’ll have a great party treat for impromptu guests.

Enjoy!

Flowers as a centrepiece are also a great choice. :)
When you are entertaining, flowers as a centerpiece are a great choice too. Or just for yourself, as a matter of fact; I oppose putting an effort for the others and not putting it for yourself :).