Pascale’s Kitchen: Filo dough treats

At the beginning of each week, I spend time planning my Shabbat menu, thinking about which type of dough would work for each dish.

 Mini yeast cakes (photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
Mini yeast cakes
(photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)

People ask me constantly which I enjoy more – cooking or baking. I never know how to answer, since I love each just as much as the other. If I really think about it, it depends on which particular dish I’m cooking or baking. For example, on Friday mornings, I love baking savory and sweet treats for my family to enjoy on Shabbat

At the beginning of each week, I spend time planning my Shabbat menu, thinking about which type of dough would work for each dish. For example, the last time I prepared spanakopita, a Greek spinach and cheese pie, which we eat on Shabbat mornings, I realized that I could prepare it as individual mini pies using a Turkish technique. Below are both the Greek and Turkish versions. Note that it’s important to work quickly when you’re using filo dough, so that it doesn’t dry out and crack. 

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The Turkish version is made using a special method of pinching the filo dough, which makes the mini pies much more uniquely shaped than the traditional triangle- and rectangle-shaped burekas. The cheese and spinach filling is similar to the one used for the spanakopita. Brush each layer of filo dough with melted butter or use oil spray. If you’d like to cut down on calories, brush with milk. 

The last recipe I chose to include this week is for mini yeast cakes. Every Friday, the incredible aroma of bread or yeast cakes as they bake wafts throughout my house. The dough for these cakes can be filled with a variety of fillings, which I have detailed in the recipe. I could have split this into three separate recipes, but I chose to provide them all together. This way, you can choose from a variety of flavors, using the same dough for each one. 

Shabbat shalom. 

 Turkish spinach and cheese mini filo dough pies (credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN) Turkish spinach and cheese mini filo dough pies (credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)

TURKISH SPINACH AND CHEESE MINI FILO DOUGH PIES

Makes 8-10 servings. 

Filling:

  • 1 package frozen spinach
  • 250 gr. cottage cheese, 5% fat
  • 250 gr. white spread cheese, 5% fat
  • ¾ cup Kashkaval cheese, yellow cheese or mozzarella, grated
  • 1 large egg
  • Leaves from 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. pepper
  • 8-10 sheets of filo dough, defrosted the night before
  • Oil spray, butter spray or milk

Defrost a package of spinach and add to a bowl. Pour hot water on top of the spinach and let it sit for a few minutes until the spinach has completely thawed.  

In a separate medium-size bowl, add the cottage, white and kashkaval cheeses, the egg, thyme, salt and pepper. Mix well. 

Drain and squeeze the water from the spinach, then add it to the cheese mixture. 

Spread a filo dough sheet out on your work surface, and brush with melted butter (or oil or milk). Keep all of the dough sheets not currently being used covered with a damp towel so that they don’t dry out. 

Pinch the filo dough sheet in the middle of the side closest to you, as well as in the middle of the side farthest from you, bringing these two points together so that the dough forms a butterfly shape. Do the same from the right and left sides, so that all four sides are pinched together in the middle. 

Take a spoonful of mixture and place it in the middle of the dough. Then, lift up the tip farthest from you, as well as the one closest to you, and fold them over the filling and secure them on the other side. Then, do the same with the tips on your left and right, so that all the dough tips are lifted over the filling and pressed down on the other side. Carry out the same process with the rest of the dough sheets. 

Line a pan with baking paper. Place the filled dough pieces on the paper, with space between each one. Spray with oil spray or melted butter. Bake in an oven that has been preheated to 180° for 25-30 minutes or until they turn golden brown. 

Level of difficulty: MediumTime: 1 hourStatus: Dairy

 Spanakopita (Greek spinach and cheese pie) (credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN) Spanakopita (Greek spinach and cheese pie) (credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)

SPANAKOPITA (GREEK SPINACH AND CHEESE PIE)

Makes 8-10 servings. Use a 27 cm. x 30 cm. pan.

  • 1 kg. fresh spinach leaves, rinsed, dried and chopped finely (or a package of frozen spinach)
  • 250 gr. Bulgarian cheese, crumbled
  • 250 gr. Kashkaval cheese, crumbled
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1½ sticks (150 gr.) butter, melted
  • 10 square sheets of filo dough

Boil the spinach in water for 1 minute, then drain well by squeezing all the water out. Add the spinach to a bowl. Next, add the cheeses, olive oil, eggs, salt and pepper. Mix well. 

Brush the pan with melted butter. Place one filo dough sheet in the pan and brush with butter. Continue to add more filo dough sheets, each time brushing with butter, until you have 4 sheets in the pan on top of each other, letting the edges fall over the side of the pan. Take one more sheet of dough and fold it over and place it on top of the other filo dough sheets. 

Add the spinach mixture on top of the dough sheets and spread it out evenly. Fold the edges of the filo dough over on top of the spinach, then brush butter on top. Add one more sheet of filo dough and brush with butter. Push the rest of the dough between the quiche and the pan, and brush with more butter. 

Bake in an oven that has been preheated to 180° for 40 minutes until it turns golden brown. Serve hot. 

Level of difficulty: EasyTime: 1 hourStatus: Dairy

MINI YEAST CAKES

The amounts listed for each of the three fillings below are enough to be used with the dough, so if you’d like to prepare one dough and a number of fillings, you can adjust the filling amounts accordingly. 

Use 2 or 3 baking pans.

  • 1 kg. flour, sifted
  • 50 gr. fresh yeast or 2 Tbsp. dry yeast
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla or vanilla sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon zest
  • 2 eggs
  • 200 gr. butter or margarine, melted
  • 1¾ cups milk, at room temperature, or water
  • 1 tsp. salt

Chocolate-cinnamon filling:

  • 1 cup cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1½ cups brown sugar
  • 1 packet vanilla sugar
  • 200 gr. butter or margarine, melted
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon

Egg wash: 

  • 2 eggs, beaten with 1 tsp. oil and 1 Tbsp. water

Cinnamon-hazelnut filling:

  • ½ cup brown or demerara sugar
  • ¼ cup cinnamon
  • 2 Tbsp. hazelnuts, finely chopped
  • 3 Tbsp. light raisins
  • Butter spray or 70 gr. butter or margarine, melted

Cheese-raisin filling:

  • 2 containers of white spread cheese, 5% fat (let it sit on cheesecloth strainer for an hour to drain)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 tsp. lemon or orange zest
  • ½ cup raisins

Syrup:

  • 1½ cups sugar
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1 packet vanilla sugar
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice

Topping:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar

To prepare the dough: Place the flour, yeast, sugar and vanilla sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix for 1-2 minutes, then while mixing on low add the lemon zest, eggs, butter, milk and salt. Mix well, then cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place for 30 minutes or overnight in the fridge. 

To prepare the chocolate-cinnamon cakes: Add all the filling ingredients to a bowl and mix well. Place the filling in the fridge. 

On a greased surface, separate the dough into 10-12 equal sections. Roll out each piece into a circle, then spread a spoonful of filling evenly on each circle. Cut the circle into three triangles, then roll up each triangle into a crescent shape, starting from the outer edge and ending with the point in the middle. 

Arrange the dough crescents on a baking tray with space between each one. Brush them with the egg wash. Bake them in an oven that has been preheated to 180° for 20 minutes until they turn golden brown. 

To prepare the syrup: Add all the ingredients to a small pot and heat over low heat until the sugar has melted. Drizzle the syrup on top of the crescent cakes while they’re still hot out of the oven. 

To prepare the cinnamon-hazelnut cakes: Add all the filling to a bowl and mix. 

Separate the dough into 4 even sections, then roll them out on a greased surface until they are ½ cm. thick. Spray the dough with oil spray, and spread a layer of cinnamon-hazelnut filling on each circle. Roll up the circles into tube shapes, and secure the seam. Slice the tubes into equal-sized pieces. 

Arrange the pieces on a baking tray with space between each one. Secure the end of the dough underneath the swirl. Brush with egg wash and place the tray in a warm place to let the dough rise for 20 minutes. Bake in an oven that has been preheated to 180° for 20 minutes or until the cakes have turned golden brown. Drizzle the syrup on top of the crescent cakes while they’re still hot out of the oven.

To prepare the cheese-raisin cakes: Mix all the filling ingredients together in a bowl. Separate the dough into 2 or 3 sections, then roll them out on a floured or greased surface, and cut each section into 4 squares that are about 10 cm. x 10 cm. 

Place a spoonful of filling in the center of each square, then lift up two corners that are diagonal to each other and pinch them together. Then, do the same with the other two corners, and make sure that all the corners are secured together above the filing. 

Arrange the cakes on a tray covered with baking paper with space between each one. Let the cakes rise for 20 minutes in a warm spot. Brush them with egg wash, then bake in an oven that has been preheated to 190° until they turn golden brown. Let them cool, then sprinkle powdered sugar on top. 

Level of difficulty: MediumTime: 1 hour, not counting time for letting the dough riseStatus: Dairy or parve

Translated by Hannah Hochner.