Galaktoboureko – Greek Custard Pie

Updated 27th March 2024

Crispy layers of phyllo filled with a vanilla semolina custard soaked in a citrus sweet syrup. Do I need to say more? Probably not but you know I am going to! Galaktoboureko is a traditional Greek dessert and one of my favorite classic Greek desserts. It’s made of buttery layers of phyllo and a very creamy custard. It’s rich and definitely a treat. It’s one of those desserts that you make sure to leave room for after dinner. It’s made of three delicious layers – the phyllo, the custard and the syrup. Why don’t we talk a little about each of them.

Galaktoboureko – Greek Custard Pie

All About the Phyllo/Filo

You can definitely make the phyllo from scratch but I never do. I can never get the layers thin enough to be as light and fluffy as store bought phyllo. You can get away with thicker phyllo in a savoury pie but not when making Greek custard pie. This pie gets soaked in syrup so thicker phyllo sheets would really get weighed down by the syrup and the layers would lose their crispness. Store bought always makes things so much easier and it’s so easy to work with as well. Phyllo dough is usually found in the frozen food section. Each package usually contains several of paper-thin sheets of phyllo. These sheets can become gummy if too damp, or brittle if too dry. To prevent either of those things from happening, first you must make sure to defrost phyllo in the fridge, not on the counter. This prevents too much condensation from forming and making the outer layers of phyllo gummy, making them want to stick to each other. I usually defrost it overnight. Remember to also place unwrapped phyllo dough on a damp kitchen towel and cover with another damp towel or paper towels. The towels shouldn’t be wet but just damp to the touch. After taking a sheet or two to work with, recover the remaining phyllo. Again, the goal is to keep the dough hydrated and prevent it from drying out. Then you’re ready to start layering! Another important thing when layering phyllo to get those light and crunchy layers, is to try not to touch the phyllo with the pastry brush too much when you are adding the butter in between layers. Drizzle it over and barel brush it on ever so lightly.

All About The Semolina Custard Filling

When you are making custard of any kind it’s important to use high quality eggs and butter (no margarine here please) and also use heavy cream not just milk alone. The custard must be rich and flavourful and good quality, full fat milk and cream will give you that wonderful flavour. This is not a creamy custard by any means when you make it and that is ok. It doesn’t need to be pushed though a sieve or anything like that. Some recipes call for separating the yolks from the whites but I don’t do that. It’s much easier keeping the two together. Other recipes call for whipping the whole eggs until super foamy then adding into the custard. I left those instructions in the recipe notes. I found that those steps make very little difference in the outcome so I don’t make the galaktobourkeo that way anymore. This simplified more streamlined galaktoboureko recipe tastes wonderful every time. No eggy flavour and a nice and light creamy custard that sets well without being overly stiff.

All About The Syrup For Galaktoboureko

The syrup is what brings the dessert together. It’s traditionally flavored with cinnamon and lemon but I like to switch things up sometimes and do orange or grapefruit too. Feel free to chose which flavour you would like to infuse it with. It’s so wonderfully fragrant and delicious. The syrup must be completely cool before pouring it over the piping hot pie right out the oven (can easily be made the day before). This will keep the top layers crisp and syrupy at the same time. If the syrup is hot it will just soak the top layers right through and they will loose their crispness. The syrup should be ladled over gently and methodically over the entire pie so it soaks evenly. Here’s where tastes differ though. Some like their pie dripping with syrup. If that is the case then use the full amount of syrup or even double it. If you like it less soaked and more on the drier side (not dripping with syrup) just make half the amount. I always like to make the full amount though because I like it between those two - slightly dripping. I gauge how much I am going to use while I’m ladling it on and seeing how much of it gets soaked through. Some Variations add some cognac to it or even rosewater to the syrup for extra flavour.

Galaktoboureko – Greek Custard Pie

Galaltoboureko Recipe Ingredients

  • PHYLLO DOUGH/ FILO PASTRY: I always use store bought which you can buy from the frozen section of the grocery store - thaw overnight in the fridge (better than on the counter top as the phyllo sheets could get a bit soggy from the condensation)
  • BUTTER: I use unsalted butter for this recipe - you will need it for the custard and for lightly brushing between layers of phyllo pastry
  • EGGS: You will need 5 whole eggs and all at room temperature
  • MILK: Whole milk works best for best flavour and richness for the custard
  • HEAVY CREAM: This creates a really rich and creamy custard which I love but if you prefer o use whole milk instead feel free to replace it
  • SUGAR: Granulated sugar is what you will need for the custard and for the syrup.
  • SEMOLINA: Fine semolina is what I use. Semolina is a type of flour made from durum wheat. I almost always use semolina for the custard in my bougatsa and my galaktoboureko.
  • LEMON ZEST/PEEL & LEMON JUICE: Lemon Zest is optional but adds a really nice flavor to the custard - its not overwhelmingly lemony in any way - just a hint (say optional but on testing the recipe many times - I prefer adding it - it gives the custard such a nice flavour - without it I find it quite bland). You will also need lemon peel and freshly squeezed lemon juice for the syrup.
  • VANILLA EXTRACT: I strongly recommend using Pure vanilla extract for best flavour for the custard
  • CINNAMON STICK & HONEY: Both flavor the syrup. Some recipes also call for adding a few whole cloves but I prefer to sit with just cinnamon for this version

Galaktoboureko – Greek Custard Pie

How To Make Bougatsa (full instructions in recipe card below)

  1. Prepare the Custard: Star by warming and whisking your milk, cream and sugar until it just starts to bubble or simmer. Sprinkle in the semolina while whisking and continue to whisk and cook over medium low heat until thickened. Off the heat whisk in the cubed butter vanilla and lemon zest then the eggs, cover and set aside.
  2. Prepare the Syrup: Heat water with the sugar lemon peel and cinnamon stick to boil the simmer until sugar is totally dissolved. Off the heat stir in the honey and lemon juice and set aside to cool
  3. Preparing & Using Phyllo: Thaw phyllo overnight in the refrigerator. As a last resort only, thaw at room temperature for five hours and use immediately. Prepare all ingredients for your recipe before opening the thawed phyllo. Remove the thawed phyllo from the package and unroll the sheets. Cover the unrolled phyllo with a sheet of waxed paper/parchment paper or plastic wrap covered by a damp towel to keep it moist. It dries out very quickly. As you remove one sheet at a time, cover the remainder. If you tear a piece of phyllo by mistake, don’t worry. You can patch pieces together to use in a middle layer of the pastry, and this will rarely if ever, show in the final product. you will need approx 16 sheets of phyllo pastry for this recipe.
  4. Assemble Galaktoboureko: Lightly butter prepared pan then layer 8 sheets of phyllo lightly brushing or sprinkling with butter between layers and letting layers hang over the edges of pan. Spoon custard over the phyllo. Fold in the edges of phyllo over the custard then add 8 more phyllo sheets over the custard buttering in between. Score slices. Transfer to preheated oven and bake until golden
  5. Pour Syrup Over Galaktoboureko: Once out the oven ladle over the cold syrup over the hot galakotbourkeo.
  6. Serve: Allow to cool in the pan 1-2 hours or until just barely warm/room temperature. Slice and serve.

Galaktoboureko – Greek Custard Pie

Galaktoboureko Tips:

  • Room temperature Ingredients- eggs, milk and cream so that everything cooks evenly.
  • Brush phyllo layers gently sprinkling them with butter and lightly buttering them - they do not need to be fully saturates with butter.
  • Remember cold syrup over hot pie right out the oven. Feel free to to make the syrup ahead and keep it in the fridge.
  • Slowly drizzle over the syrup evenly ladle by ladle to allow the strip to absorb slowly into the layers of phyllo dough.
  • For best texture galaktoboureko is best eaten the day it’s made. When refrigerated the phyllo will soften and lose its crispiness. This doesn’t mean you can still enjoy the galaktoboureko. It will still be tasty.

Galaktoboureko – Greek Custard Pie

The hardest part is waiting for it to cool to room temperature for the custard to set and make slicing it easy. I love mine just set and still slightly warm. But that is just me. The cooler the pie gets the firmer the custard gets. Most people including my mom say it’s ok to leave this dessert out at room temperature uncovered or loosely covered for a few days which helps keep the custard stay light and the phyllo crisp, but if you aren’t comfortable doing that than feel free to store it in the fridge. The custard will be firmer and the phyllo may lose a bit of its crunch but the taste will still be delicious. Some actually prefer it cold. Either way I know you will love this traditional Greek pastry recipe. It’s a lot simpler than you think to make with pretty basic ingredients. It’s perfect for entertaining because it can feed a crowd and everyone loves it. Enjoy!

More Recipes You will Love:


Servings: 12 depending on how large your slices are
Prep Time: 30 mins
Bake Time: 1 hour 20 min
Non Active Time: 1-2 hours for cooling/setting


For the Phyllo

  • 1½ sticks unsalted butter, melted for brushing phyllo (plus more if needed)
  • 16 sheets of phyllo dough

For the Custard Filling

  • 1 cup fine semolina
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 5 eggs, lightly whisked
  • ½ cup unsalted butter (approx 1 stick), sliced into cubes
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest

For Syurp

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 large strips of lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice


For the Custard

  1. Place the sugar, milk, and cream in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to just a boil.
  2. Once it is starting to boil add the semolina flour slowly in a thin stream while whisking. Turn down the heat immediately to medium-low heat and keep whisking until it becomes creamy, thick and smooth. (approx 10-15 mins) When the whisk leaves streaks in the mixture, it means it has thickened enough and it is ready.
  3. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla until fully incorporated.
  4. Whisk in the eggs until well incorporated (you will need to put a little elbow grease into it at this point - whisk vigorously)
  5. Cover and set aside while you prepare syrup and phyllo.

For the Syrup

  1. In a medium pot combine the sugar, water, cinnamon stick and lemon peel.
  2. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil
  3. As soon as it comes to a boil, mix gently to help the sugar dissolve completely then lower heat and simmer 5-10 min it will be slightly reduced
  4. Remove from heat and stir in the honey and lemon juice and set aside to cool completely. Can be made 3-4 days ahead and kept in the fridge)

Assembling Galaktoboureko

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F
  2. Melt butter and brush the inside of your 9” x 13” or 23 cm x 34 cm baking dish.
  3. Top with 1 sheet of filo pastry. Brush with butter. Top with 7 more phyllo/filo sheets, alternating from lengthwise and crossways overhanging (basically 2 sheets per layer) brushing and sprinkling each layer with butter. (The sheets need a light coating of butter not saturated)
  4. Pour in the now slightly cooled custard.
  5. Fold over the over hanging edges of the phyllo lightly brushing them with butter
  6. Layer 8 more sheets of phyllo over the top of the galtakobourko brushing with butter in between each layer. (trim edges to fit neatly in pan if needed or I like to fold my phyllo sheets in half and it’s the perfect size to cover the pie in a 13x9 pan- if doing so you only need 4 more sheets folded in half and brushed with butter in between layers)
  7. Brush the top generously with butter using the edges of the brush to gently tuck in the edges.
  8. Using a sharp knife, score the top of the pastry into 12 squares. Be gentle with the pastry. You just need to cut through the top layers of pastry, not the custard
  9. Sprinkle with a little bit of water. Optional
  10. Place pan in preheated oven and bake until golden brown and filling is just about set with a little jiggle when you shake the pan. Approx 45-50 min

Pouring Syrup Over Baked Galaktoboureko

  1. As soon as it comes out of the oven, ladle the syrup gently and evenly as possible over the top letting it soak in between ladles. It will make a light crackling sound as the chilled syrup hits the hot pastry.
  2. Cool for 1-2 hours (or just barely warm/room temperature) then slice along the scored parts and serve.
  3. This is best eaten on the day it is made as the pastry on top will go soft once refrigerated. Will keep well at room temperature for the day but leftovers should be wrapped and placed in the fridge where it will keep for up to 4 days. Keep in mind that the phyllo dough softens as it sits - it will not stay crispy.

Recipe Notes

  • STORAGE: For best texture galaktoboureko is best eaten the day it’s made but it will keep in the fridge covered tightly for up to 4 days. When refrigerated the phyllo will soften and lose its crispiness. This doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the galaktoboureko. It will still be tasty.
  • My original recipe called for separating the egg whites and from the egg yolks and beating whites into meringue. I think it was actually a lot of work for little difference in outcome but if you prefer to do it that way feel free too. Here are the original custard directions: Beat the eggs along with half the sugar in a standing mixer or using a hand mixer for 3-4 minutes until stiff but not dry peaks form when the whisk is removed. Set aside. Proceed with the recipe as written above whisking the remaining sugar with the milk cream and semolina. When ready, loosen the semolina custard (also help temper it) by adding and mixing in 1-2 spoonfuls of the whipped eggs and sugar mixture (meringue) and then fold in the rest gently until fully incorporated. Proceed with phyllo, assembly and baking as above.

Galaktoboureko – Greek Custard Pie