I've been curious about flaounes since seeing them on Great British Bake-off years ago, and especially since I have mastic and mahleb on hand. Mahleb, which is made from the small pits of wild St. Lucy’s cherries, is just such a delightful aroma. I should add it to more things. Very lightly almondy and sweet with a hint of floral note. If you don’t have mahlab, the suggested substitute is for almond extract (at half the called for amount) and cardamom (at 1/4 the called-for amount) or a pinch of anise.
As for the mastic, it has a not so subtle resin aroma, like pine sap. The typical substitute is vanilla, but I wondered if a pinch of rosemary or even juniper berry added in would get closer to the effect. Vanilla is not piney! I absolutely loved the Greek Tsoureki bread I made that uses both and am keeping my mastic in the fridge. The mahleb stays in the freezer and I have both whole and ground.
Flaounes are a traditional Easter pastry since milk and eggs were not eaten during the fasting season of Lenten before Easter. So in order to preserve the 40 days of milk that was not being drunk, people made cheese and the eggs were simply stored in a cool place.
Traditional flaounes were made with a local Cypriot goat’s milk cheese called paphitiko. As the pastries became popular across Greece, other cheeses also began to be used, like halloumi.
In even farther removed regions where Greek cheese was not accessible, mild cheddar and Romano became popular substitutes. I was able to pick up a little package of halloumi right at the local grocers. For those like me that had not tried halloumi, it is soft, salty, and slightly squeaky. Quite similar in my opinion to the fresh cheese curds I grew up with, living relatively close to the Tillamook cheese factory. Indeed, it is described as similar in texture to fresh white cheddar cheese curds or a very fresh mozzarella. In terms of flavor it is mild, and a bit salty; somewhat reminiscent of feta or Romano but less intense because of the mild profile and softer texture.
The filling should be made the day before to let the flavors meld, or "awaken". Some recipes called for sourdough in the filling, some don't. I added a little bit though this recipe does not use it. Feel free to use whatever recipe you like. If you happen to be dairy free, I found a vegan version posted here: Vegan mini flaounes.
I am tempted to try the mini versions: "Small, 3 inch, triangle flaounes, called flaouniteses or flaounoudes, can be found year round and are eaten as a snack or appetizer. " Apparently these can be made as a sweet version, although I did not find a single recipe for that. In this recipe the pastry is more neutral and the accompaniments determine whether it is enjoyed as sweet or savory.
We would love to have you try out this uniquely flavored pastry with us this month
and share how it turned
out! New recipes are posted every
month on the 16th. Check out our Facebook group to see the participants' baking results during that time. If you would
like to post your results with a Buddy badge on a blog, let us know in
the comments or on the Facebook page.
* I might suggest going easy on the mastic if you have never tried it before, starting with half or less. I chewed on a couple tears to try it out and liked the flavor. For me, it was really nice when pounded with the sugar, an odd combination of sweet and fresh sharpness with a little chew. For me, the flaounes were fun to try but not a repeat. The Tsoureki will be made again for certain, and will include the mastic as it is fairly subtle in that recipe, though I would increase the mahleb, so good.
(Recipe may be halved.)
Cypriot Flaounes (Greek Easter Cheese Bread)
makes 12 (3 inch x 4 inch) flaouna
Filling (make ahead)
1 tsp mastic (if you have never tried mastic before, you might wish to start with half the amount!)
1 tsp mahleb *
1 tsp sugar
8 oz (228 g) halloumi cheese (I used all halloumi)
8 oz (228 g) soft, mild cheddar
1c (115 g) raisins
½ c (84 g) semolina flour (I used fresh ground durum wheat)
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp dry mint, crushed (I used fresh mint, twice as much)
2¼ tsp active dry yeast
1¼ c (300 ml) lukewarm milk, divided
1 tsp mastic, optional
1 tsp mahleb *
1 tsp sugar
4 c (512 g) flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
⅓ c olive oil
For The Topping
1 egg, beaten
½ c (70 g) sesame seeds (I used toasted black sesame seeds that I have on hand, but regular sesame seeds are the traditional option!)
The day before baking - Make the Cheese Filling
With a mortar and pestle, combine the mastic and mahleb together with 1 tsp sugar and pound together until it is a fine powder. In a bowl, grate the cheese and mix with the raisins, semolina flour, baking powder, pounded sugar and spices, and crushed mint.
Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until the cheese has come together firmly enough that it can be shaped into a ball. (More or fewer eggs may be needed depending on the moisture level of the cheese used.)
Cover the filling and chill overnight, or at least 4 hours, to let the flavors come together.
Day 2 – Prepare dough, assemble and bake
Remove the filling from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature while you prepare the dough. Mix yeast with ½ cup lukewarm milk and set aside to activate for 5-10 minutes.
Pound the mastic and mahleb with 1 tsp sugar until fine. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar mixture. Add the oil and rub it into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture has a sandy texture. Pour the activated yeast into the flour and mix well. Add the remaining ¾ cup of lukewarm milk gradually, kneading by hand and adding just enough to incorporate all the dry ingredients and create a firm dough that does not stick to your hands.
Cover dough and set aside to rise for 1-2 hours, or until nearly doubled. Place the sesame seeds onto a wide plate or tray. Roll out the dough 1/8-inch thick (a full batch should measure roughly 15x20 inches). Cut the dough into 5 inch squares. (Or cut the dough your desired shape and size if making the smaller triangular or other mini versions.) Brush one side of the cut dough with the beaten egg and place it egg-side down onto the seeds. Place a heaping ¼ cup of the cheese filling on top of the dough (on the un-seeded side). (Be sure to not compact it, so that the filling stays light and airy! Just pick it up lightly with fingers and plop it down onto the center of the dough square.)
|I compacted my filling and it yields a much more|
dense result. Try to place the filling lightly.
Brush the egg wash on the outer edges of the dough and fold them up towards the center (leaving the top center of the filling uncovered). Pinch the un-seeded side of the corners of the dough together to keep the sides in place over the filling.
Place the shaped flaounes on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Brush the exposed filling with a little beaten egg.
Let the pastries rise for 30-45 minutes, until slightly puffy. Near end of rising time, preheat oven to 375ºF. Bake the flaounes for 30 min, until deeply golden.
Serve with honey and cinnamon for a sweet treat or olives and sliced meat for savory. (I'm sure my approach of eating them warmed with vanilla ice cream on top was very non-traditional, but it sure was tasty!)
*If you don't have mahlab, substitute 1 tsp with ½ tsp almond extract and ¼ tsp cardamom (or a pinch of anise).
Flaounes can be stored in the freezer, double wrapped, for a few months. Thaw them and reheat and they are just as good as the fresh ones.
The rest of the Bread Baking Babes