Friday, 23 August 2013

Sfakian Pie - Σφακιανή Πίτα

The Sfakian pie is a traditional dish of the region that it is named after. It is important to remember that the quantity of cheese required to produce Sfakian pies should always be more than that of flour, and not equal, as suggested by some recipes.It is not easy to share the exact quantities as traditional housewives prepare them by experience.

The first and most important ingredient of a Sfakian pie is its cheese. It is called anthotyros. It is a fresh soft white goat or sheep cheese. It is bought in large quantities that can reach up to 2 kilos per package.

If you bought fresh anthotyros you will have to drain it from any excess liquids. Wrap a kitchen towel around it and put it in the fridge overnight. In the morning replace the kitchen towel and leave it again in the fridge for a couple of hours. You will notice that while the towels absorb the moisture, anthotyros remains fresh and soft. However, if you bought anthotyros in a package, it is still fresh, but has been processed, so it does not have so many liquids. You just need to open the package and drain any liquid left in it. In any case, you are ready to start making Sfakian pies. Put the cheese into a large bowl and cut it in quarters.

Mix all the cheese together using your hands to create a cheese dough. 

Make cheese balls, roughly 80gr each. 

Place the cheese balls in a plate next to each other. Better put them in the fridge while making the flour dough.  

Now it is time to prepare the flour dough. Start by adding all-purpose flour in your bowl, then salt, water, olive oil and a little bit of raki. Your target is to make a soft pliable dough.

You might need to add more flour. It has to be soft but not too sticky. You know you are ready when there are no small remnants of dough in your bowl.

This is how it should look when you are ready. Soft and pliable, not too much flour, not too much water.

Add a little bit flour in your working surface and smoosh your dough a few times with the heel of your palm. This way it will remain soft and pliable for longer and also result in a flaky crust afterwards. When your dough is ready add a little bit more flour on your working surface, place the dough on top of it and cover it with a kitchen towel. That way you will only work with the necessary quantity, leaving the rest of the dough on the side and protecting it from drying.

Your dough does not need to stay on the fridge or on the side, it is ready to be used. Now you should start making the pastry for the pies. Hag the dough, like in the picture below, and cut a small ball.

Add a little bit of flour in your working surface and start flattening the dough with your hands to make it a round disc, the size of a small plate. Traditionally, Sfakian pies are shaped only by hand and not with the help of a rolling pin.

Fill the round pastry with one cheese ball. Lift one side and continue lifting the other sides by turning it to create a small pouch.

Once the pouch is done, pinch the top if there is excess pastry and turn it a few more times shaping its top to be firmly closed.

Start pressing the pastry with your hands from the top to flatten.

Turn the disc upside down, add if necessary a little bit more flour to your working surface but be careful not to overdo it as it will dry your pastry and will create cracks in your pie. Continue pressing and turning with your hands to create the Sfakian pie. Remember, no rolling pin!

Watch the following video to see in detail how to form the pastry-cheese pouches and shape the Sfakian pies.

When a pie is ready you should prepare its storing. Use a dinner shallow plate as a base. It has to be shallow so it will not alter the shape of the pies when you pile them on top of each other. On top of the plate put a thick plastic membrane and then put the first pie. Cover it with another plastic piece and continue likewise till the end. Do not use plastic wrap as it is too thin. Some people use baking tray as a separator, not a good idea, as it absorbs moisture from the pies and instead of keeping them separated, it molds them together. One easy solution is to buy transparent plastic bags, to cut them in half and use them as separators, they should be thick enough though.

My aunt Chrysoula Ledakis in the foreground preparing the pies and my mother in law Eleni Georgilidakis packaging them.

When you finish the packaging of the pies put them in the freezer with the plate. Leave them overnight so they have time to harden. Left like this, they will still be difficult to separate. So, the next day take them out of the freezer and separate them with the aid of a knife, remove the plate, put them in a plastic container, if you like, but remember to keep the plastic separator between them and refreeze them. This way they will stay separated and ready to be used whenever you like. However, be quick, as these pies are really thin and they defrost pretty fast. 

Cooking time. If you choose to eat them fresh, straight from production, no olive oil is necessary. Place a frying pan in medium heat, after a while add the pie and leave it there to cook. It should be ready for turning when you stir the frying pan and the pie no longer sticks to its surface. Flip the pie, wait to get cooked and it is ready. If you were frying one of the pies from the freezer, a small drop of olive oil on the frying pan would have been necessary.

Place it in a plate, add honey on top and enjoy!

Special thanks to my aunt Chrysoula Ledakis for showing us how to prepare, package and cook Sfakian pies, traditionally. You can enjoy the Sfakian pies in Monachus Monachus Apartments coffee house. However, my aunt is usually found cooking in her own taverna:

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