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Friday, 28 September 2007

Cheese and honey pies form Sfakia (Σφακιανές πίτες)

These cheese pies are very popular in Crete. They are easy to make and use quite basic ingredients, but they do involve making a slight mess of your kitchen. Although I have made them on numerous occassions, they turned out best for me when I made them for the first time with a friend's mother's help, and just recently (9 years later) when another neighbour friend invited me to her place to make them together, so I was spared the hassle of cleaning up. They involve a little skill, in that when you roll out the dough-and-cheese mixture, you mustn't apply a heavy hand, otherwise the dough will break up, and the cheese will run out. Their name derives from a remote area of Crete (Sfakia) where they were originally made, and they are cooked in the typical style of the cuisine of the Sfakia region, using just oil and high heat.

To make about 15 pies (which can be deep-frozen stacked on top of one another with greaseproof paper between each layer), you need 1 egg, a cup of water, 1/2 cup of olive oil, some salt and approximately 1 kilo of flour for the dough. You also need approximately a kilo of mizithra for the filling. Mix well the egg, water, oil and salt together, and then add the flour, kneading it in well, until you have a soft dough that can be easily spread (not too firm and hard). You'll need almost a kilo's worth, depending on the temperature, humidity, and the size of the cup you used to measure the liquids. Put the dough aside for half an hour to let it become more elastic, so that it won't break up too easily when rolling it out. This dough is not the same as filo pastry - it is softer, thicker and more malleable.

These pies are made in a similar way to marathopites, except that they are slightly bigger. Take a knob of dough the size of a large mandarin (or a small apple). Open it up into the shape of a small saucer. Place a knob of dry mizithra (ricotta-style cheese) the size of a golf ball into the centre of the dough, and roll it up around the cheese so that it is hidden inside the dough. Take a rolling pin and LIGHTLY, not firmly, knead the cheesy dough into a bigger round on a floured workspace. Every time you roll the dough, turn the pie round, so that it turns round like a clock hand as you roll it out. This is to ensure that the cheese in the dough will spread out evenly. Stack the pies one on top of one another, separated by greaseproof paper. If you aren't going to cook them immediately, you should cover them with a cloth, and put them in the fridge. They freeze well, but you must freeze them individually on a flat surface, otherwise, they are difficult to stack, and they lose their shape.

When you are ready to cook them, heat a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan the size of the pie. Slide one in the pan, and cook on a medium to high heat till brown bubbles have formed on the side it is being cooked. Then flip it over and cook the other side. You can cook them as soft or as crispy as you like. When both sides are done, place the pie on a plate, and pour a tablespoon of honey over it. Repeat the process, starting from the point where you place oil in the pan. Stack the cooked pies on top of each other, pouring a tablspoon of honey over each one.

These pies can be served hot or cold. They make a spectacular desert at the end of a traditional Cretan meal.

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