Breads and Baking, Desserts, Mediterranean Diet Recipes, Sides

Whole Wheat Cheese Filled Cretan Pita – Sfakiani Pita

January 23, 2014

sfakiani pita

I have to say these little pies or pites are delicious. They are one of the most popular dishes in Crete. Sfakia is a remote and mountainous area in Crete where this dish originates from. Basically they are pieces of dough that have cheese in them, but the cheese is not a filling, but rather integrated in the dough through kneading.

The cheese used is a fresh cheese, some recipes suggest anthotiro others fresh mitzithra (which is what I used here) and others a local Cretan cheese known as pihtogalo.  A substitute would be ricotta cheese, if you are not able to find the above cheeses. In Peloponissos we have a different type “pita” that has feta cheese instead of a soft sweet cheese.

Now this dish is usually served as dessert with honey, so you get that sweet and savory combination that I love. The other nice thing about this dish nutritionally, is the fact that vey little olive oil is used. So while Cretans are know to use plenty of olive oil (they consume the most per person in the world), this particular recipe requires cooking these pies without any olive oil in the pan (you may wish to brush a few drops of olive oil in the pan, but not necessary).

The other nice thing here is that often a dessert is just a bunch of carbohydrates in the form of flour and sugar and while tasty, nutritionally it does not offer much. Here you have the cheese which adds protein and makes it a bit more filling. In fact, I read that the original recipe requires more cheese (by weight) than flour, in this recipe it is 50/50.

I also decided to use whole wheat flour to make it even a bit more filling (more fiber) and hearty. I replaced more than ½ of the flour with whole wheat flour, which is why these pies are a darker than the typical ones.

These seem somewhat simple, and they can be once you master the technique of rolling out the pita, but it takes time.

If you use anthotiro the cheese will blend in easier as it is creamier, whereas when you use mitzithra it is a bit grainier. I have noticed these pies very thin and a bit thicker. I experimented with both and found that the thinner ones were more to my liking, it is also more difficult to roll out a thin one successfully.

These should be served warm, so you can either cook them first and refrigerate or freeze and then warm the up when you are ready to serve them. Or you can freeze the dough once you have combined it with the cheese. Just make sure you separate each pita with a piece of wax paper.

These do not need tons of honey, a drizzle is enough.

Sfakiani Pita

INGREDIENTS
(Makes 10 pieces)

  • 4 cups flour (I substituted ½ of the flour with whole wheat flour)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup water (8 ounces-240 ml)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2-3 tablespoons raki (Cretan distilled drink also known as tsikoudia-not to be confused with the Turkish raki. If you cannot find it use ouzo or grappa)
  • 18 ounces mitzithra or anthotiro (or ricotta if you cannot find the others)

DIRECTIONS
1. Take the cheese (if it is too watery you have to strain as much as possible) and divide the cheese in 10 equal pieces and mold into balls. Set aside.

2. In a bowl empty the flour and salt and mix well. Add the olive oil, raki, water.

3. Mix and knead the dough on a floured surface. If it is sticky, add more flour or more water if it is too dry . You should end up with a smooth, shiny ball of dough.

4. Separate the dough in 10 equal pieces and roll into small balls.

5. Take a dough ball and flatten, roll it out with a rolling pin (or by hand) into to a circle about 6 inches. Place the cheese in the middle and wrap, folding each corner up. Now you should have a ball of cheese wrapped in dough like a little pouch. Check out this video of this Cretan lady making them, she does not use a rolling pin, it truly is impressive, it is an art.

6. Flip the dough wrapped cheese and start rolling out spreading the cheese. Once you have a flat thin pancake about 8 inches in diameter you are ready to cook it.

7. On a non-stick pan over medium heat, place the pita and heat on both sides until it puffs up a bit, about 2 minutes each side.

8. Serve warm with a drizzle of honey. You can also sprinkle sesame seeds.

Photo by Elena Paravantes

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