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This delicious recipe is brought to us by Greek food expert Peter Minakis, otherwise known as Kalofagas (Greek for gourmand). Read on and learn what makes this dessert so special, unique, and incredibly delicious.
One summer while in Greece I had the pleasure of also visiting Constantinople (Istanbul) for a second time. Prior to heading to this huge foodie destination, I knew (and wanted) to sample the many desserts and sweets that were on offer. This post is more about a dessert that’s taken another form from it’s original one, Ekmek Kataifi.
In Turkey, the dessert is simply Ekmek, a bread pudding soaked in syrup and topped with Kaimak (Kaimaki), a sweetened clotted cream. The Greek take on this dessert consists of a kataifi pastry base/bottom, a semolina cream center and a topping of whipped cream. Toasted almonds or chopped pistachios are usually the crowning glory…oh nuts & joy!
Kataifi pastry (also called Kataifi phyllo) looks like vermicelli or shredded wheat. It’s sold in Greek, Turkish and Middle Eastern stores and I even saw it sold at a Loblaws Superstore! Kaitaifi pastry is made by drizzling rows of thin streams of flour and water batter on to a revolving hot platter. They dry into strands on wire-thin pastry. This other type of “phyllo” is popular from Greece to the Levant and it usually appears in desserts and now appearing more often in savory dishes. Just last week I made a Kunefe and last year I made the classic Kataifi (similar to Baklava).
What you will have to do is defrost the kataifi overnight in your fridge as soon as you’re ready to make the dessert, take the Kataifi out of the fridge for 10 minutes to come to room temperature. The first thing that should be made for this dessert is the syrup. Just like with Baklava and other syrupy desserts featuring phyllo, either the pastry has be cold/syrup hot OR pastry hot/syrup cold. In this case, the logical approach to this recipe is making the syrup first, allowing it to cool to room temperature and then pouring it over the just out of the oven hot kataifi.
The center of the dessert is a custard made with a semolina flour base and some corn starch. There’s sugar, shredded coconut and the wonderful and aromatic spice called Mastic (or mastiha, Masticha, mastika). Mastic (Mastiha in Greek) comes from the island of Chios and it is exclusively produced in the 24 villages on the southern part of the island.
Mastiha does grown on other parts of the world but as my friend (and mastiha expert) Artemis points out,
“the resin from these specific trees has a distinct aroma, color and importantly, antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties not found in the other resins. In fact, the trees in this portion of Chios have been given “var. Chia” as their scientific variety name because of their production of this unique resin.”
Mastiha most commonly appears in the form of tears, little off-white nuggets that from the harvested resin of the Mastic trees. Mastic often appears in the breads, the Greek Easter bread (Tsoureki), custards and many desserts. Mastiha can also be found in some inventive savory dishes.
The recipe I’ve decided to go with is flavoured mildly with ground mastiha. I placed some mastiha in the freezer and after a half-hour or so I take them out, place them between two pieces of plastic cling-film and crush with a rolling pin. I then carefully scoop the ground mastiha with an offset spatula and use it in my recipe. The custard is very easy and as soon as it cools, it’s placed on top of the cooled kataifi base and then allowed to set and ultimately placed in the fridge.
The cream center and kataifi base require at least 3-4 hours in the fridge to set – overnight would be best. The next day, Loosen the sides with a knife, invert onto a platter and then revert (cream-side up) onto to your serving/presentation dish. The last step is to simply whip your cream and top your dessert. The flavouring of the whipped cream is icing sugar and some vanilla extract. I’ve also experimented with adding some powdered milk as a stabilizer to the whipped cream – I am very happy with the results!
I know the photos have already sold you on this dessert, you know where to buy kataifi pastry, you can make a basic custard and you can even order mastiha and have it mailed to your kitchen doorstep but what does this dessert taste like? Think a slightly soft yet crisp kaitaifi base just hints of the syrup that permeated the just hot-out-of-the-oven pastry. The creamy custard with the aroma of mastiha and its unique flavour, bites of shredded coconut for a natural sweetness and finally, the soft, pillowy whipped cream rosettes that are topped with the chopped pistachios.