Episode 6, GBBO 2015, technical challenge


These cheesy-filled pastries hail from the island of Cyprus. Located in the Eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus is closer geographically to Turkey and Syria, but it has always had close ties with Greece, as they share the same language, culture and, largely, religion. Cyprus was a British colony from 1925 to 1960 and is now a member of the European Union, although the northern section has been occupied by Turkey since 1974, so EU law is not in force there.

Flaounes are primarily prepared on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday to be eaten on Easter Sunday, when Greek Orthodox Christians break their Lenten fast. Historically, they were also an efficient way to use up eggs and cheese that had accumulated during the fast. They are similar to a bread that, before Christianity, it is said was made to celebrate spring, when it would be given to children who went from house to house singing about the return of the swallows in springtime. More recently, flaounes were given to children who went from house to house to announce the resurrection of Christ, or to wake up the inhabitants to attend midnight mass on Easter.

In Cypriot homes, making flaounes is a two- or three-day process involving the whole family (or at least the female members). The filling, made with grated cheese, eggs, yeast, and some unusual (to me) spices, is mixed together first and left to rise in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, they make the dough and then divide the tasks for assembling the pastries among the family members — one rolls out and cuts the dough, another presses the dough into sesame seeds to create a crunchy outer crust, and a third one piles the filling in the middle of each piece and folds the edge in around the filling. Then the flaounes are left to rise. Once risen, in many villages, they are taken to the neighborhood wood-fired oven to bake.

Flaounes contain some unusual ingredients, and I’m fortunate to live close to a Mediterranean market where I was able to purchase halloumi cheese, semolina flour, as well as mastic and mahleb, two spices that are not used much in this hemisphere. 

Mastic gum, also known as masticha, is actually the hardened sap from a small evergreen tree called, mastic, which is primarily grown on the island of Chios. These “tears” of the mastic tree were, in ancient times, used as chewing gum, with the added benefit of cleaning teeth and freshening breath. It comes in the form of what look like unpolished crystals that must be ground with a mortar and pestle. I tried chewing a little bit, and it has a piney flavor that’s not unpleasant, but not sweet like the chewing gum we’re used to.

Mahleb, also known as mahlab, mahlep, mahlepi, mahalab, mahalep, mahalepi or mayleb, is an aromatic spice made from the stone of a St. Lucie cherry. These ground-up cherry pits have a bitter flavor when placed directly on the tongue, but in baked goods they provide a unique hint of cherry, bitter almond and a bit of rose. They say it’s best to buy the seeds whole and grind only what you need, as mahleb will lose its flavor or go rancid soon after, but my local market only sold it already ground, so I put the rest in the freezer while I research other recipes to use it in. This one looks particularly promising.

Paul’s recipe for flaounes calls for a combination of pecorino romano cheese and halloumi. Traditionally, these pastries would be made with a Cypriot cheese made of goat’s milk, called paphitiko, but halloumi is easier to find. Halloumi tastes a lot like fresh Wisconsin cheese curds, without the squeak. It’s mild, salty and semisoft.

Semolina flour is made from hard durum wheat and is well-suited for making pasta because of its high gluten content, but it is also used in breads and other baked goods in Italy and other Mediterranean countries, North Africa and the Middle East.

The cheesy filling!

In addition to the cheese, flour, semolina, eggs and milk, the filling is unusual because it contains sultanas (golden raisins), dried mint, as well as yeast, which gives it a light, bread-like texture. This is why Paul’s recipe calls for it to be mixed up first and left to rest while you make the pastry dough. Before filling the dough, a little baking powder is added to help it rise even more.

The pastry dough is also made with yeast, enriched with butter and milk, and flavored with mastic, mahleb, salt and a little bit of sugar. After all the ingredients are mixed together, the dough is kneaded until smooth, then allowed to rise for about an hour (mine took an hour and a half).

Forming the flaounes.

After the dough has risen, it is rolled out and cut into 12 6-inch squares. Each square is pressed into a pan of sesame seeds and then placed on the work surface, with the sesame seeds on the bottom. The filling is then divided evenly among the squares, and the edges of each square of pastry dough are brought up around the filling and folded over to create a smaller square with the filling peaking out of the middle. The pastry dough is brushed with beaten egg yolk and baked.

As they bake, the cheesy filling puffs up and expands upward, so the end result looks like a rather large, sesame-covered bun stuffed with a golden mound of flavorful cheese that is studded with plump raisins. The cheese is sharp and salty, but the raisins give your tastebuds a burst of sweetness when you bite into one. If I make these again, I will increase the raisins to up the sweet-salty factor. I couldn’t really taste the mastic and the mahleb, since the cheese overpowers the rest of the flavors, but I used my leftover dough to make breadsticks, and I could definitely discern that slightly fruity, slightly floral aromatic flavor in them.

I know in Cyprus, flaounes are used to break the Lenten fast on Easter morning, but I used my flaounes as an accompaniment to pasta, like a cheesy garlic bread. They would also be good with a leafy green salad or a hearty bowl of soup!

You can find Paul’s original recipe here, but I have adapted it for American bakers below. 

Paul Hollywood’s Flaounes

Source: BBC.co.uk
(Adapted for American bakers)

For the filling:

  • 18 oz. pecorino romano cheese, grated
  • 9 oz. halloumi cheese, grated
  • ½ c. + 1½ T. all-purpose flour
  • ¾ c. fine semolina
  • 2¼ t. (1 packet) instant yeast
  • 2 t. dried mint
  • 3/4 c. golden raisins
  • 4 large eggs
  • 4 T. milk
  • 1 t. baking powder
    • For the pastry:

    • 5½ c. bread flour, plus extra for flouring
    • 1 t. mastic gum, ground to a powder
    • 2 t. ground mahleb (a.k.a. mahlepi)
    • 1 t. sugar
    • 1 t. salt
    • 2¼ t. (1 packet) instant yeast
    • 4½ T. unsalted butter, softened
    • 2 c. whole milk
      • For the glaze:

        • 1½ c. sesame seeds
        • dash of white wine vinegar
        • 3 large egg yolks, lightly beaten


          1. To make the filling, place the grated pecorino romano and halloumi cheeses into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, semolina, yeast, dried mint and raisins together. Beat the eggs and milk together in a small bowl or a measuring pitcher.
          2. Tip the flour mixture over the cheese and then pour the egg mixture over all. Mix lightly with your hands until well-combined. Cover and leave to stand while you make the pastry.
          3. To make the pastry, place the flour, mastic powder and mahleb into a large mixing bowl. Add sugar and salt on one side of the bowl and yeast on the other. Place the butter in the center with 1½ cups of the milk. With your hands or a wooden spoon or spatula, combine the ingredients until they form a soft dough. Gradually add more milk if needed — you may not need it all.
          4. Transfer dough to a floured surface and knead until smooth. Then put it back in the bowl, cover and leave to rest for 1-1½ hours, until almost doubled in size.
          5. For the topping, place sesame seeds, vinegar and enough water to cover in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, drain well, and spread the seeds over a clean tea towel to dry.
          6. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper.
          7. Divide the pastry in half and roll out one half at a time on a lightly floured surface until about ⅛-inch thick. Cut a 6-inch square out of cardboard to use as a template. Cut each half of the dough into 6 squares. Firmly press one side of each square of pastry into the sesame seeds to coat. Place on the prepared baking sheets, sesame seed side down.
          8. To finish the filling, mix in the baking powder and divide the mixture into 12 balls. Place one ball of filling in the center of each square of dough and fold the sides toward the center of the filling, leaving a gap with some of the filling exposed.
          9. Brush the tops and sides of the pastry with the beaten egg yolks and let them rest for 15 minutes before baking. Place in preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 350°F and bake for another 15 minutes, or until pastries are golden-brown and puffed up. Transfer to cooling racks. Serve hot or cold.
          10. Flaounes will keep in the refrigerator for a few days. They can also be frozen if they are wrapped well in plastic wrap and aluminum foil. Thaw in the refrigerator and reheat before serving.

          Up next: Vol-au-Vents

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