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Delicious Middle Eastern cheese pastries filled with 3 different cheeses, traditional spices and Za’atar. These pastries are really easy to make and perfect for breakfast!
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 Middle Eastern cheese pastries 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 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.
- Divide the dough into 24 small balls. Use a rolling pin to flatten the dough balls into discs.
- Place the cheese filling on one half of the circle. Do not overfill, about 1 tbsp of filling will be enough.
- Fold the dough over the filling and press with your finger to seal it.
- Use a fork to crimp the edges to seal the filling inside and decorate.
- Place all the filled cheese pastries on a baking tray, then brush them with some egg wash.
- Bake until golden brown.
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Middle Eastern Cheese Pastries
- 350 g all purpose flour (2 ¾ cups)
- 60 g vegetable oil (¼ cup)
- 60 g butter, melted (¼ cup)
- 60 g water, hot (¼ cup)
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp mahlep or cardamom powder* (optional)
- 150 g ricotta cheese (⅔ cup)
- 50 g mozzarella cheese, grated (¼ cup)
- 100 g cheddar or kashkaval cheese, grated* (½ cup)
- 3 eggs, large
- 2 tsp Za'atar*
- ¼ tsp ground pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 5 g parsley, chopped (2-3 strands)
- 1 egg (for washing)
- 2 tbsp sesame seeds (optional)
The pastry 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 (360°F) fan-assisted while the dough is proving.
- Grate the cheeses or chop in small pieces. Combine the cheeses, spices, egg and all the other ingredients. Mix well until a sticky cheesy mixture forms.
Assembling the pastries
- 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 for 40 minutes or until golden brown. Let the pastries cool on the tray for 15-20 minutes. Serve with a side of yoghurt.
- I recommend using a kitchen scale in grams for more accuracy. The cups used for the conversion are standard US customary cups (1 cup flour = 136g). There are many different types of cups across the globe, which is why I strongly recommend using grams instead.
- Mahlep powder is a fruity and aromatic spice made from cherry seeds. It can be found in most Middle Eastern shops. If you cannot find it, you can replace it with cardamom powder.
- Kashkaval cheese is a yellow cheese that melts easily and becomes quite stretchy. It’s similar to a mild cheddar, and can be found in most Middle Eastern or Eastern European shops. If you cannot find it, it can be replaced with any type of cheddar cheese.