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The perfect breakfast snack
Being brought up in a multi-cultural city by the Black Sea, I grew up loving authentic Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisines, and especially their pastries. Whenever I’d express my love for pastries towards my English friends, they would rarely understand the appeal – that is until I introduce them to the wonderful world of Middle Eastern/Turkish baked goods. Everything from the fluffy crust, to the flavourful filling and the fragrant spices draw you in and make you devour way more pastries than you should legally be allowed to consume.
One of my favourite breakfast snacks are generally pastries filled with cheese and spices or minced beef. My mum’s best friend used to bake them for us all the time, and she taught me how to make them in a traditional way. They’re ideal because they last for a few days in the fridge, and 2-3 months in the freezer. It’s so easy to simply pop one in the microwave and have a delicious breakfast snack within 30 seconds! The pastries can also be prepared in advanced and frozen until you’re ready to bake. There’s also no thawing needed before baking.
Although I am a big fan of traditional goods, I always like to add my own twist to them and also try to make them more accessible, versatile and less fattening. As a baker-at-heart, I like to substitute frying with baking whenever it’s possible. This not only reduces saturated fats, but it usually produces fluffier, more tasty treats.
Savoury or sweet?
The best thing about these pastries, apart from being quite simple to make and delicious, is their versatility. The filling is entirely up to you and can be both savoury or sweet. Here are some suggestions and recommendations:
- Cheese filling with parsley and Za’atar
- Feta cheese with sun-dried tomatoes
- Mushrooms and leek creamy filling
- Minced beef with garlic
- Balsamic caramelised onion filling
- Fig, walnut and honey
- Sour cherry
- Apple and cinnamon
- Homemade Nutella hazelnut spread
- Peanut Butter & Jelly
- Sweet White Cheese and raisins
Assembling the pastries
These Middle Eastern Cheese Pastries are super easy to make and only require a good ol’ fork to decorate. Some of the ingredients are quite specific to Middle Eastern cuisine, so I recommend a visit to your local Arab/Turkish market to pick up Za’atar, kashcaval cheese and mahleb powder.
For the pastry
350g all purpose flour
60ml rapeseed oil
60g melted butter
60ml hot water
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp mahleb powder (or cardamom)
For the filling
150g ricotta cheese
50g mozzarella cheese
100g kashcaval cheese
1/4 tsp pepper
3 medium eggs
2 tsp Za’atar
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg for washing
Sesame seeds (Optional)
- Prepare the dough: In a large bowl combine the rapeseed oil, melted butter, mahlep (or cardamom) powder, salt and hot water. Make sure the water is not boiling, but just hot.
- Gradually mix in the flour in 3 stages and stir with a wooden spoon to combine well. Once you get a relatively solid mass, use your hands to gently combine the dough until you get a smooth surface, but do not over-knead. We need the dough to just about hold shape.
- Place your dough in a greased bowl, cover with cling film and let prove for 15-20 minutes. You can start pre-heating your oven to 180 °C (or 160° with fan) while the dough is proving.
- Prepare the filling: In a bowl combine the ricotta, mozzarella and kashcaval cheese. Add the eggs, pepper, salt, Za’atar and parsley and mix thoroughly.
Assembling your pastries:
This can be done in two ways – rolling out your dough and using a 8-10cm cookie/scone cutter to cut your shapes or the traditional way by rolling out each individual piece. I will be covering the traditional individual method.
- Divide your pastry into 24 equal parts. This can be done by using a scale roughly and making 22-25g pieces. Alternatively, it’s easier to roll your dough in a roll, then cut in half, and keep sub-dividing each half in two parts until you get 24 small pieces. Roll each piece into a ball.
- Lightly flour your working surface. Using a rolling pin, roll each ball out into a circle of roughly 3-4mm thickness.
- Place 1 tsp of the cheese filling in the middle of the circle, then fold it in half to create a half-circle. We don’t want to overfill the pastries with filling, as this will cause them to crack while baking.
- Press down with your finger to ‘glue’ the top and bottom part together. Use a fork to press on the edges along the rounded border so you create a perfect seal, and also give the pastries a traditional feel.
- Place the pastries on a lined baking tray. Quickly beat your egg and using a pastry brush, gently brush your cheese pastries with the egg wash. Optionally, you can sprinkle some sesame seeds on top for extra crispiness.
- Bake at 180 °C (or 160° with fan) for 40 minutes or until golden brown in colour.
The cheese pastries will last for 2-3 days in the fridge, but I would recommend eating them fresh on the day – even better, while still hot! The melting cheese completely elevates the pastry! If you want to prepare them in advance, you can store them unbaked in the fridge for one day , then bake them the following day so you can serve them hot. Alternatively, you can store the uncooked pastries in the freezer for 1 month. They can be baked directly from frozen, which makes this method ideal. If you’re craving pastries with something sweet, fill them with a delicious mixture of dried figs, honey and walnuts – it’s absolutely delicious!