Baking is a very social activity in Turkish-Cypriot culture. When my nene (grandmother) was younger, the women in her village would gather to bake batches of bread and pastries in the wood-fired oven in her garden. Each would then take home her share at the end of the day. This tradition has been passed down to my mum and her friends, who now gather together at my childhood home in north London to do the same thing – albeit with an electric oven in the kitchen, rather than Nene’s more romantic outdoor equivalent.
The night before Bayram (the Turkish name for Eid), all the women gather at my mum’s house to prepare a big batch of dessert. I love imagining them all with their families the following day, sitting in their homes. The same end to a different meal in every house.
Purple patch: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Turkish-style aubergine recipes
Sütlü börek is a firm favourite in our family. The recipe here is a variation on my mum’s version; I like to add vanilla and orange blossom to the custard for a bit of flair. (Mum would like me to add here that she disagrees and that the traditional way is the best, so I invite you to try it both ways and judge for yourself!).
If you’ve ever been to Green Lanes in Harringay, London, you may have seen women sitting in the windows of the Turkish cafes rolling out pastry with oklavas – the long, thin rolling pins that inspired the name of my new restaurant. They’re making böreks – thin pastry sheets that can be stuffed with sweet or savoury fillings.
The second recipe below is for pilavuna, traditional savoury buns made with a yeast pastry, similar to bread dough, which is rolled very thinly. At home, these are often eaten with breakfast or as a snack with tea in the afternoon. Convention says they should be filled with a combination of cheeses including hellim (halloumi) and a harder village cheese (which my mum simply calls “pilavuna cheese”), then mixed with aromatic dried mint and sweet sultanas. In this recipe I’ve only used halloumi, but if you want to, a mixture of something like pecorino or another hard ewe’s milk cheese would work well.
Turkish breakfasts are all about sharing little tastes of lots of things and generally include a variety of cheeses, preserves, olives, bread and pastries. For me, it’s the dough-based bits that form the central part of the meal, particularly alongside homemade kaymak – similar to clotted cream, but made with buffalo milk. You’re unlikely to have a ready supply of buffalo milk to do this (!), but most Turkish supermarkets sell a variety of different kaymaks, which I recommend on crusty bread with honey.
220g ready-rolled filo pastry
200g unsalted butter, melted
For the filling
1.2 litres (2 pints) whole milk
12 tbsp semolina
4 tbsp cornflour
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp caster sugar
For the syrup
450g caster sugar
½ lemon, juiced
2 tsp orange blossom water (optional)
1 To make the syrup, combine the water and sugar and bring to the boil. Simmer until it resembles a syrup. Finish with lemon juice and the orange blossom, if using. Set aside to cool.
2 Mix the semolina, cornflour and 200ml milk until smooth. Bring the remainder of the milk and caster sugar up to just under boiling point.
3 Whisk the semolina mix into the hot milk. Lower to a medium heat. Keep whisking until you get a thick custard.
4 Immediately pour on to a deep 40x30cm baking tray. Allow the mix to cool, then cut while still in the tray into 18-20 equal rectangular pieces.
5 Set the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Fold 1 sheet of filo pastry in half to form a small rectangle. Place portrait-way-up in front of you. Brush with butter. Put a heaped spoonful of custard on the side closest to you in the centre. Fold over once away from you. Then fold in each side from the left and the right. Brush the sides with butter again. Continue to fold over to the end of the pastry sealing off with a little butter. It is important to fold these quite tight around the custard and ensure there are no cracks for the custard to pour out. If any cracks are formed, wrap the whole thing in another layer of filo. Put on the baking tray.
6 Repeat with the remaining filo and custard. Leave a 2cm gap between each pastry. Brush with butter. Bake until golden. Then submerge them one at a time into the cold syrup and place on to a serving tray. Allow to cool, then serve as they are (a little warm is best) or with some ice-cream and a few pistachios for extra indulgence.
750g plain flour
1 tsp fine salt
7g (1 sachet) dried yeast
1 tsp caster sugar
150ml lukewarm water
300ml cold water
1 tsp olive oil
For the filling
750g halloumi, finely grated
4-6 large eggs
1 tbsp dried mint
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp fine semolina
100g sultanas (optional)
100g sesame seeds, wet with a little water
1-2 eggs, whisked, to glaze
1 Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the dried yeast, sugar and 150ml warm water. Once the yeast has bloomed, make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the yeast mix. Use a hand to bring it all together. Add cold water, bit by bit, incorporating the flour as you go. Transfer on to a clean work surface and knead into a smooth dough.
2 Clean the bowl of any crumbs, then add the olive oil. Transfer the dough to the bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to prove in a warm place. You want the dough to double in size.
3 Meanwhile, mix the halloumi with the mint, baking powder, semolina and sultanas, if using. Add an egg at a time, combine until it resembles a dough. You may need a little extra semolina. Divide the mix into 12 portions.
4 Set the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Line 2-3 baking trays depending on size with baking parchment.
5 Knock back the dough. Roll into a large sausage and divide into 12 pieces.
6 Roll each piece into a 4mm-thick rectangle. Dip one side of the dough into the sesame seeds, so they stick to the pastry. Return to the work surface and place a portion of filling in the centre. Fold up each edge to make a rectangular shape and leave some of the filling exposed. Put on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat for the remaining mix and dough.
7 Brush the tops with beaten egg (you may need 1 or 2 here) and sprinkle over a little extra sesame if you wish.
8 Transfer to the oven and bake for around 20-25 minutes, or until the pastries are golden brown all over. Enjoy warm or cold.