If you love Custard Desserts then you will love Bougatsa! This sweet creamy custard nestled in layers of Phyllo and served warm with a sprinkle of cinnamon and powdered sugar just melts in your mouth. You certainly could make this delicious Bougatsa as a dessert for your family or friends, but you may never go to Greece and find this creamy sweet delight served in the in the evening!
Why? Well after spending time on the telephone with Yiorgos from Cosmos Philly, I was truly enlightened and curious to find out more about this Sweet Greek pastry. I was not familiar with Bougatsa or maybe I just don’t remember this pastry in the repertoire of amazing Greek dishes I watched my Ne’Ne, my Aunt Olga and my Mom make when I was young. On the other hand, I cannot believe I would forget this amazingly warm custard adorned with a sprinkle of cinnamon and powdered sugar!
Bougatsa was said to have originated in the Macedonia Region of Northern Greece, especially in the Port of Thessaloniki. Today if you mention Bougatsa to anyone that has been to Greece they immediately will tell you that the bakeries in Thessaloniki are the pioneers in perfecting this sweet creamy custard. As Yiorgos explained, Bougatsa is served primarily at breakfast, late morning or for a midday snack. It is a quick easy to eat, most cannot start their day without stopping by their favorite bakery in Thessaloniki to grab their Bougatsa and coffee. Yiorgos added that the Greek men also grab a cigarette to make this daily ritual complete as they sit surrounded by the beauty of Greece and contemplate the day ahead. I want to thank Yiorgos from Cosmosphilly.com, for he spent over an hour on the telephone with me, it was about 1pm here in the States, making it around 7pm in Greece. I was sitting in my office behind a computer watching the snow fall and Yiorgos casually mentions the beautiful sunset he is watching from his home in Thessaloniki. That’s right he was calling from Greece, amazing!
It is a fact that over 70% of tourists seeking out the perfect vacation spot will base their travel destination on the food. This is why Greece is so popular with travelers, the fabulous cuisine coupled with the amazing landscape of the Islands is pure Heaven! If you go to Thessaloniki you will find Bakeries at every corner and every bakery will adorn their cases with Bougatsa and a sea of tempting sweets. Many of these bakeries are sold out by lunch time and close down for the day. Yet their work is not over, for they are back before dawn to start the process all over again. The phyllo is made from scratch and has become quite an attraction for tourists and locals alike. The craft of thinning, flipping and layering that is done to create the phyllo dough cannot be achieved easily. It is usually passed down through generations of bakers, from father to son in the family business.
Now don’t worry, we will not be making our own phyllo, the ready made phyllo does a great job in creating a delicious Bougatsa! In my research I found several recipes with different methods and even ingredients, so I did some experimenting and came up with this recipe. I have been to Greece twice, but never to Thessaloniki to experience the taste of an authentic Bougatsa. My cousin Tami however has traveled there many times because this is home to her husbands family. I will have to make this for her, she and her family would surely know if my recipe is worthy. She is truly our authentic Greek connection with the food, the music and the fashions! I also think Yiorgos would be proud too, so I guess I’ll just have to make a quick trip to Greece so he can taste it… ok maybe a picture will have to do, one can dream!
Today we are making a sweet custard Bougatsa but there is also a version made of beef, pork or veal. The meat filling also referred to as Kima or Mince Meat is a savory and delicious filling for Bougatsa. Many of the bakeries in Thessaloniki make this version as well for it is popular for lunch, some even love it for breakfast. The word Kima is the Greek word for ground beef. Most Greek households call their ground meat tomato sauce Kima. It is more meat than sauce, just enough sauce to bind. I will definitely experiment and come up with the perfect recipe for Bougatsa with Kima. The sweet version we are making today is quick, easy and melts in your mouth!
Bougatsa me Krema
Prep time: 30 min
Cook time: 30-40 min
4 1/2 cups whole milk
Peel of whole fresh lemon
1 cup sugar
3/4 cups semolina
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 stick of butter
8 phyllo sheets
Pour the milk in a saucepan and heat on low. Add the peel of a whole lemon and add to the milk, stirring often. Let heat for about 20 minutes to get the flavor of the lemon rind incorporated into the milk. In a bowl add the sugar, semolina, honey, eggs and vanilla. Whisk this mixture for several minutes until it becomes a smooth mixture. Slowly add this mixture to the heated milk and whisk continuously until well blended. Be careful, this is like making avgolemono, you do not want the mixture to curdle. On medium heat, continue to stir until mixture begins to thicken. Once thick remove from heat and remove the lemon rind, add 2 tbsp. of butter cut in small pieces and stir into the custard. Cover with a lid or plastic film to prevent a skin from forming on top of custard.
Now take the 8 pieces of Phyllo and remaining butter, melted. Brush with butter each layer of the first 4 sheet on a sheet tray. Then turn the tray and butter each layer of the remaining 4 layers of phyllo. It will look like a cross. Add 3 cups of the custard to the middle of the phyllo and spread into a triangle. Carefully fold up the ends to look like an envelope. make sure to butter the ends to seal the dough. Flip over and butter the top. Now, in Thessaloniki they do not score the packets before they go into the oven. The fresh phyllo that is stretched and folded many times remains pliable, thin and has many layers. Using commercial phyllo works great, but I needed to make a few adjustments to compensate for the more brittle boxed phyllo. I made 2 batches and I found that scoring the top of package into small square pieces before they go into the oven makes cutting easy. It keeps the phyllo from flying and cracking when you cut it after it comes out of the oven. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes until golden. Sprinkle with cinnamon and powdered sugar immediately and then cut all the way through to create small square pieces.
Just the smell of this dessert will have your taste buds doing a Greek dance. Serve warm with your coffee and take the time to enjoy this pastry and enjoy the simple things that life has to offer!