Bougatsa – Greek-Style Custard Pastry
This tops the list when it comes to hubby’s favourite Greek foods. I don’t blame him as nothing is more welcoming than the aroma of it baking in the oven. It’s most delicious warm out of the oven too. Crispy layers of buttery phyllo make up the top and bottom layers of this delicious Greek delight and between those layers lies a creamy custard made of milk and semolina and slightly sweetened with a dash of sugar and flavoured with vanilla and then a little lemon juice and zest. Sounds like I’m making a big deal out of phyllo and cream and I definitely am because it’s just that good.
Bougatsa is often eaten or served for breakfast but can easily work it’s way into being a snack and of course a mildly sweet dessert. Serves up perfectly on a brunch or brekkie table dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar and served with some Greek coffee. My husband prefers it any time and all the time. Him and my father favour custardy things so this and it’s honey soaked counterpart galaktoboureko, are their favourites and are what they request the most.
I on the other hand generally stay away from dairy unless it’s goat feta and cheese in my sandwich and the odd gorging on a charcuterie platter so custards and creamy things are usually a little too heavy for me. Not that I don’t like them but 1-2 bites is all that I need and then I’m done. That being said this one was not overly sweet and it beckoned me to have more than one piece.
There are quite a few versions of this recipe and to tell you the truth I’m sure they are all delicious. Why I make mine this way is because it’s a very simple recipe. It doesn’t taste eggy at all. The custard is super easy to make and the whole thing is also easy to put together. It also doesn’t have a ton of sugar in it which I love. I also love the size of this one too. It makes just enough for a small brownie tin. Some recipes call for a huge amount which could feed an army. You most definitely can double and triple the amounts if you are feeding an army but if not than this recipe is perfect for you as it is for me.
I want to experiment with different sweeteners and also try and see if I can make it completely vegan. That is in the works and if I do succeed you better believe I will be sharing it with all of you! In the meantime enjoy this delicious treat!! I view it as the Greek equivalent to a custard filled croissant - buttery, crispy, delicious, cream filled and perfect with your morning beverage. Enjoy!!!
- 1 egg, room temperature
- 1 egg yolk, room temperature
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1½ cups whole milk
- ¼ cup semolina (farina)
- ½ cup butter, cut into cubes
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- Zest of one lemon
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 10 phyllo pastry sheets, thawed, covered with damp towel
- ½ cup butter, melted
- icing sugar (for dusting)
- cinnamon (for dusting)
- Beat eggs until frothy; beat in sugar until thick and foamy, about 4 minutes and then set aside.
- Heat milk in medium pot until hot but not boiling.
- Remove from heat and whisk into egg mixture in a thin stream until all the milk mixture is used up – whisking the whole time.
- Pour custard mixture back into the pot and set on medium-low heat; cook, stirring constantly, about 3-4 minutes.
- Gradually sprinkle in semolina while whisking and then add a pinch of salt.
- Reduce heat to very low, cook, stirring constantly, until thick and smooth, about 5-6 minutes. Whisk in pieces of cubed butter, incorporating completely into the semolina custard.
- Remove from heat and cover with a place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard and cool completely. Can be refrigerated once cool and reserved overnight if you want to make ahead)
- When cool and ready to use, stir in lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla.
- Preheat oven to 350°F and grease a 8x8 square brownie tin with butter and set aside.
- Unroll one sheet of phyllo, keeping remainder covered with dampened kitchen towel.
- Place your melted butter close to your prepared pan along with a pastry brush or spoon for sprinkling butter on phyllo.
- Take one sheet of phyllo and very gently and gingerly place it into the pan allowing it to fold naturally into place with all the edges in the pan. Then sprinkle butter generously over the whole layer.
- Repeat phyllo and butter sprinkling with 4 more layers (5 in total). Do not brush on the butter but instead sprinkle it on between layers to keep the phyllo pastry light and crisp. You can layer the phyllo straight or create a bit of an edge around the bottom of the pan and a crater in centre for the filling - either way is fine.
- Spoon in the custard filling and smooth evenly over the phyllo layers. No butter needed over the custard.
- Place 4 more layers of phyllo over the custard sprinkling butter in between layers and then brush on the remaining butter over the top layer then transfer to oven and bake for approx 45 minutes until golden and crispy and fragrant.
- Remove and allow to cool for a few minutes and before serving dust generously with powdered sugar and cinnamon.
Check out a video of me putting it together here.