Баница  със сирене (cheese pastry)

Well, the English name of this dish is awful. It doesn’t even come close to what “баница” is. Anyway, you readers, who don’t speak Bulgarian, will have to deal with it.

I remember the good days of the childhood when my Grandma will lock the front door (you know that in Bulgaria the guests don’t need to call on you before coming),  and will start making the phylo dough.  It took her the better part of the morning to knead it and then to roll it into almost transparent sheets which threaten to break every moment. Today, preparing  “баница” is fast and easy thanks to the pre-made phylo dough. You can buy it almost in every grocery store. The recipe I am about to give you is for 500 gr of dough (  sorry guys, this is the Kingdom of SI units) or equivalently 20 sheets of the dough. In fact, you can stuff whatever you feel like- mushrooms, rice and meat, spinach … but I am going to give you the basic recipe for the cheese stuffing.

You need:

  • 500 gr white Bulgarian cheese. Can be substituted with Feta but you better soak the Feta in cold water couple of hours before you intend to start making the pastry.
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp salt (IF the cheese is not salty)
  • 1 to 2 tbsp yogurt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • about 60 gr butter, melted and about the same liquid amount of cooking oil. Mix the melted butter and oil well.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. The pastry will not rise if the oven is not preheated. Beat the eggs until they form a foamy surface. In a separate plate mash the cheese with a fork down to small crumbs. Add the cheese crumbs and the salt (IF needed) to the beaten eggs. The yogurt will make the mixture more liquid so you have to decide how much yogurt you need. Usually 1 to 2 tablespoons are enough. In a cup mix the baking soda with the yogurt until you see the yogurt rising. Add this to the egg and cheese mixture. Mix all ingredients well. From this point on you have to work relatively fast ( not phone talks). Remove 10 sheets of phylo dough from the fridge. If you have only one big package of 20 sheets, then remove them all from the fridge and cover them with a damp cheese cloth or towel. The dough dries very quickly and once it is dry, it brakes into flakes. Take one sheet. Now comes a part that in the beginning may seem and sound impossible but with the time you will master it. The sheet needs some oil so that it can stay fluffy and the layers in the roll can stay well separated. On the other hand, this dough hates the oil and doesn’t absorb it well. So, if you are not careful enough, you will end up with a pastry that has dripping oil. Ugh. One way to manage is the following: Dip a teaspoon into the oil mixture. Take it out from the cup while it is dripping slightly oil. With light movements of your wrist make circles with the spoon in the air over the sheet. 

Fold the sheet in two. Sprinkle some more oil. With a fork add some small amount of stuffing at one of the shorter ends. Be careful not to put too much of the egg and cheese mixture. In the oven it will expand and may come out of the roll as you will see happened to me.

Roll the sheet from the short end with the stuffing to the other short end.

Repeat the same procedure with all the phylo dough sheets you have. Put the rolls into a baking sheet tray. Lightly brush the rolls with the remaining mixture of butter and oil. Do not exceed. Be moderate. Put the tray on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes. The first 15 minutes are essential for the stuffing to rise so you must not open the oven. After the first 15 minutes you may open the oven to check the baking. The pastry is ready when the surface of the rolls turns golden brown.

Remove the rolls onto a plate and serve them either immediately or when they cool down. They can be accompanied by yogurt, white wine or some semi-dry red wine.

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