Some of you might remember my Zeljanica, the traditional Bosnian spinach pie I made last year as part of my challenge to post a recipe for each country taking part in the football World Cup. Incidentally, it’s been the most popular recipe on my blog last year, followed closely by my cheesecake strudel recipe. How closely connected the two recipes were never occurred to me until my friend J invited me to come along when her mum was visiting her the next time and watch her making filo pastry, just as women all over the mountainous regions of Bosnia would have been doing for centuries, to fill it with meat, potatoes or cheese for a satisfying dish or even snack. I have to admit, the idea of making my own filo pastry had never occurred to me, and it was only after watching J’s mum that I realised what I had been missing out on. Filo pastry takes a bit of time to make but it is incredibly exciting and fun – if in doubt, invite a couple of friends round to share the fun (and, ultimately, the responsibility). You’ll need a large table, though, and a cotton cloth of a similar size, in order to achieve the beautiful shape of the finished pie. A table cloth or bed sheet will do the trick. We made two batches of the dough, to make two different pies, one of them the vegetarian Sirnica, which I will describe below. We also made a poplasena pita, or ‘scaredy pie’, named to point out that some of the meat filling had been scared away (or replaced with) the cheaper potatoes. Don’t despair, my carnivore friends, I’ll be posting the recipe for this at a later stage! First, however, I’ll have to convince you that making your own filo is fun! One of my reasons to start blogging was to share the traditional food of my region, which I had been taught to prepare by my grandmother and mum. So many time-consuming processes are being lost because pressures on time make us choose convenience foods! To watch a mum teaching her daughter how to make something as time-consuming and complicated (in relative terms) as filo was simply amazing: their conversations in the incredibly exotic-sounding Serbo Croat, mum carefully demonstrating and continually giving a hand, slowly coaxing her daughter into getting it just right – just as mothers having been passing on skills to their daughters for centuries. I just hope my pictures manage to convey something of that special moment to you, reminding you to pass on your skills to those around you. As for the Viennese Strudel, the Austrian probably came into contact with the much older Ottoman filo, phyllo or yufka pastry in form of baclava and borek when they conquered Constantinople (the modern Istanbul) in the 15th century. The ingredients and the process are very similar, so you can use this recipe as well as the method to make Austrian strudels or, indeed, to make your own boreks or even baclava. Go for it – I haven’t had that much fun in the kitchen in a long time!
Filo Pastry (makes one pie)
- 600g 00-flour
- 2 tbs vegetable oil
- 2 tbs salt
- ca. 400ml water
- vegetable oil for brushing
Making the dough: Mix the ingredients in a bowl, adding water as necessary. Once the dough comes together, place it on your work surface and knead it vigorously, beating it occasionally, until smooth. This will take at least ten minutes. If you make filo regularly, you’ll get the most amazing muscles on your upper arms; to be able to show them off you’d better not eat any of the pies, though 😉 Keep kneading it between your two hands, using one to shape the ball against the other hand, which keeps it in place, Rotate and repeat until the surface of the ball is completely smooth. Place the dough ball into the bowl, cover it with cling film and leave it to rest for about an hour. Use the time to prepare your fillings – more of that later. After the resting period, cut the ball into two – ideally little bubbles should have formed: Roll out one half to a circle the size of a small plate; place it on a sheet of oiled cling film and brush it with some more oil. Roll out the second half and place it on top of the first, oiling it and covering it with cling film and a kitchen towel, to keep it warm. Leave to rest for a further 30 minutes.
Preparing the filling for a Sirnica (Bosnian Cheese Pie) (serves 6)
- one portion of filo dough, as above
- 200g sour cream, drained
- 300g cottage cheese, drained
- 200g curd cheese or cream cheese
- 3 eggs
- salt and pepper, to taste
Mix the ingredients in a bowl while the filo is resting – once the pastry is pulled out it will dry very quickly and break, so you need to have the fillings ready before your start pulling! Pulling the Pastry: Once you have your fillings ready, preheat the oven to 180C/360F (no fan). Oil a large round baking tin (for the perfect spiral you’ll need one of around 40cm/16 in diameter) or an oven tray, using vegetable oil. Now place your cloth on the table and sprinkle plain flour over it to make sure the pastry is not going to stick to it. Place the dough onto the cloth and roll it out, using a rolling pin. Once it has the size of a baking sheet you can lift it up and allow it to be pulled down by its own weight, rotating it carefully to ensure it is spread evenly across the whole surface – you want to avoid a thin patch that will tear. When you’re ready, place the pastry on the cloth and begin pulling it carefully, walking around the table as you do so. Keep pulling it and walking, holding the thick rim between your fingers and pulling it out from there. As you keep going, the sheet will become thinner and cover more and more of the table. Keep going, always trying to reduce the thick rim. Should the sheet tear avoid aggravating that area but keep pulling the remaining dough. You can glue it back together afterwards with a little water. In an ideal world, you’ll end up with a sheet so thin that you’ll be able to read a newspaper placed underneath it. Cut off the remaining thick rim with a pair of scissors and get ready to fill your pie. Filling the Pie: Lightly sprinkle oil over the surface of the pastry (you can see the lines on the photograph below – it doesn’t need to cover the whole sheet!). To achieve the beautiful shape of the Bosnian pies, spread the filling in two lines along the length of the pastry sheet.
Holding the seam of the cloth, lift it up in a quick movement to fold the edge of the pastry over the filling. Repeat on all sides. Brush the surface of the pastry with oil (this is to keep the sheets of pastry apart, resulting in the separate layers)
By gently lifting the seam of cloth you can now roll up the two sides until they form two parallel rolls along the centre of the table. Trim the ends if necessary. Place your prepared tin beside one end and carefully lift the rolls into the tin, rotating the tin to achieve the spiral pattern. Brush with a little oil and bake for 40-45 minutes. Leave it to cool a little before you cut it into slices – just look at those amazing patterns of the filo sheets! Doesn’t it look so much fun? I can assure you, it is not half as difficult as it seems to be – with good company (and a few glasses of prosecco) anybody can do it. The perfect dish for Fiesta Friday, over at Angie’s at The Novice Gardener – a traditional Bosnian snack will make the perfect finger food for the gathering there! This week she is being supported by Selma @Selma’s Table and Sue @birgerbird – I winder what those two lovely ladies have in store for us!
Have a look at Angie’s blog to see who else has come along, and at their delicious dishes! Perhaps you feel like partying, in that case simply add the badge to your post with the dish you are planning to bring along, link it up to The Novice Gardener following the instructions on the post, and hey presto, the party can begin! Well, we’ll better get started on a few more sirnica, to feed the crowds!