Kaseri cheese pie, ham and cheese pie, spinach and cheese pie… They are all wonderful! But today, I will not talk to you about any of these. I will talk to you about…their queen, which is not other than the classic, delicious, unique cheese pie -yes, the simple one with the feta cheese that, if we think about it, it is anything but simple- at least regarding its rich, full taste. It is a kind of pie that may started from the pan and had the classic square or triangular shape (as almost all pies do), soon though it got other forms too -some of them more elaborate, others more convenient- while, in many places in Greece, housewives did not hesitate to experiment even with…its outer part, by creating unique variations using several kinds of phyllo (or even no phyllo at all!).
As for the filling; feta cheese is the basic ingredient. Which feta cheese though? One that is not too hard, but not too soft either. Definitely not very savory…By itself or with other stuff too? The various herbs like, e.g. the dill or leek, the freshly ground pepper, but also the egg (which in no case should…make its presence felt) are some of our alternatives. Some people, also, could add a little yogurt between the filling ingredients. Everything depends on what we like. Besides, this is obvious as every home has its own, family recipe for cheese pie!
Well, since we discussed some basic elements of our favorite cheese pies, it is time to answer our initial question…Puff pastry or Kourou dough?
The truth is that the presence of fats is more intense in the case of puff pastry. This is also, the reason why its calories increase and…it loses points compared to the kourou dough. You see, butter (in the best-case scenario), is the connecting link between the delicate phyllo sheets. The kourou dough, on the other side, needs only that amount of oil used for creating and shaping our dough. This alone, creates a relatively big gap regarding the fats of the particular kinds of cheese pie. There are always exceptions, of course, since in a recipe what matters is the ingredients as a whole. Now, regarding the recipes for a puff pastry cheese pie and a kourou dough cheese pie that you will see below, I have to say the following: As you will see, the difference in calories is not that great, though the puff pastry cheese pie has more calories and more saturated fats. On the other hand, the kourou dough cheese pie has more sugars due to the sugar that has been added to the recipe. So, in that case, we could say that the kourou dough “wins on points”, something that would not be true if e.g. we created a filling with a lot more high-fat cheeses, heavy cream, etc. Therefore, everything is relative and what plays a very important role is…what each one likes! There are some people who choose the puff pastry as they love it, independently of its nutritional analysis.
And now, it is time to see some of our favorite and…most tested cheese pies that we can come across all over Greece.
The air that gets trapped between the several layers of this particular -really malleable - dough, is the secret to the perfect, airy puff pastry which seems to have been used for the first time at around 1650. It is one of the most well-known kinds of cheese pie, as the crunchy, thin layers of dough completely “go with” the creamy filling and the particular taste of feta cheese, as well as the rest of the ingredients that we could choose as accompaniments. That way, they all create the ideal snack - especially for the beginning of the day.
What does “kourou dough” cheese pie mean? It means a cheese pie that has a dry dough. It is considered to be one of the…healthiest versions of cheese pie, something that, as we already said, can be altered depending on the ingredients that we choose for its filling.
We will find it (and…enjoy it) in the North Sporades, a group of islands in the Northwest Aegean Sea, but also in Macedonia. However, they are two different cheese pies, since in the Sporades it is fried, whereas in Macedonia it is baked in the oven. The common reference point? It is their characteristic spiral shape and -of course- their wonderful taste.
The naming of bougatsa comes from the word “pogatsa”, which in turkish means “dough”. It can be filled with cream and sprinkled with cinnamon and icing sugar (regarding its sweet version) or filled with cheese in its more savory version. The secret to its tastiness is hidden in the fresh cow butter, which must be used for its preparation.
Yes, I am talking about the one with the crunchy, golden phyllo and the rich filling. The grandma’s cheese pie that is baked in a large pan and makes the whole house smell…All of its success is due to the filling, but also to the phyllo which needs…rest before rolled out (we give our dough approximately 30 minutes to rest before we shape it into phyllo) and to be baked in a well-preheated oven.
…or, else, the cheese pie of the lazy cook as I characteristically call it. Why? Because it has no phyllo, a fact that makes its preparation even easier. Its taste, though, can be equally…heavenly. The secret is hidden in the pure ingredients which we should use in order to make it- not only that one, but any kind of pie :-).
So, which one is your favorite? Knead it, bake it, and if you want, send me pictures so that… I can get a taste too!
* In collaboration with Kitchen Lab’s Nutritionist Anna Maria Volanaki, MSc, BDA, SENr.