I think the Universe is telling me something…

Hi! Welcome to the kitchen! Today’s theme, apparently, is symbolism!

Since the beginning of the year I’ve developed a slight obsession with filo/phyllo pastry. This, I believe, is the lovechild of my wanting to get acquainted with various types of pastry and my having Hellenic friends. That and look at how cool this is!

A few months ago I was back at my mother’s place and decided that her kitchen counter, despite the clutter, was ideal for me to attempt making filo. The reason? Marble. I had somehow internalised that marble was the ideal surface for the feat. The whole thing would fail for other reasons.

I decided to try to make galaktoboureko (here’s a video recipe), but with a twist: instead of semolina custard, I would use filling from pastéis de nata (aka Portuguese egg tarts). Symbolism part 1: luso-hellenic relationships (aka Dav inadvertently surrounds himself with Greeks and Cypriots).

The switch from semolina custard to pastel de nata* filling was a fairly calculated one (for my standards, at least). Both were custard filling for pastry that needed to be baked with the pastry; both required an insane amount of eggs and dairy, as well as pectin; I didn’t want to have to buy a whole pack of semolina and leave it at my mum’s to waste away. Instead of using semolina to thicken the custard, the pastel de nata filling would employ cream (instead of milk), some flour, and no egg whites.

Pastel de Nata filling

  • 8 egg yolks
  • 500 ml cream
  • 2 tsp plain flour
  • 200 g white sugar
  • 1 lemon peel

Making the filling is pretty straight forward. You whisk all your ingredients together, then transfer them to a pan. Bring the mixture to a boil, then remove from the heat and let it cool completely. I zested the lemon, instead of peeling it, because I got confused by the directions in the recipe I found, but it doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference.

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If, unlike me, you’re smart about things, you can mix everything together directly in a pot and save yourselves the extra washing up.

I can’t find the filo recipe I used (too many already-clicked links when I search), but it is basically a flour and water dough which has been stretched to its extremes. I was overly conscious of the need to stretch the dough, so I ended up using type 65 (which is like plain flour, but with more gluten). I mixed the dough and kneaded it until it formed a firm ball, then let it rest for about an hour.

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I cut the dough in approximately fist-sized balls. Each would end up being a layer. You should have a lot of flour at hand. As you stretch the dough—firstly by rolling it with a rolling pin and later by slowly puling on the edges—you will need to dry out the sheet. This needs to be beyond paper thin. Marble is actually quite good to check the stretch because being able to see the marbling (can I say that?) is a pretty good sign.

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Ideally, you’ll have layers of cotton fabric on which to roll and stretch the dough: it absorbs moisture. This was mistake #1 for me: I didn’t use enough flour (to my mother’s disbelief), nor did I use a cotton sheet (you try asking your mum if you can roll out pastry on one of her table cloths). When you’ve used up half/three quarters of your dough, pour in the filling.

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The second mistake I made when preparing this chimera of a dish, was time-related. I rolled each sheet one by one (instead of doing one giant sheet, which would be cut). I would put the sheet in my baking dish, butter it, and then begin rolling out the next sheet. This, combined with the fact that they weren’t dry enough, meant that all the layers began sticking together and forming one giant dough. This became pretty obvious when I had to fold the filo over the filling.

After folding the bottom layers over the filling, brushing more butter in between layers, add a few more (use the rest of your doguh, or not even all of it) layers. Always butter the layers. Butter them like you’re Paula Deen. Once all the layers are done, cut the whole thing into squares, but only cut the top layers—don’t reach the filling—and then brush more butter on top! I baked mine in a high heat (>200ºC) for about 30 minutes.

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Despite the golden brown, I got undercooked dough with a tasty filling. The middle portions were all right because the bottom fold-overs didn’t reach there, so there was only uncooked dough underneath the filling, rather than surrounding the whole thing. All this leads me to symbolism part 2: two southern European countries, valiant efforts, complete shambles. Look mummy! I’m being topical. Overall  this experiment did not end well, but I did learn what to avoid when attempting filo next time and I know I can make some pretty good pastel de nata filling, so not a complete waste.

All of this begs the question: why am I posting about a failed experiment? Because. Just because.

As a parting gift, I leave you with symbolism part 3: the relationship between me and a Hellenic friend of mine is a complete joke. He shares a name with my sourdough culture, George. Here are some snippets from Facebook.

George 1

george2

*I feel I should clarify that I’m not calling the pastel de nata filling just nata because nata is simply the Portuguese word for cream.

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