You are six years old, on a sunny Sunday. You are walking in the quiet streets, holding the hand of your gramma that looks huge and wise and smiles at you. The world is bright and safe, for you and for the street cats that lie on the cars, stretching in the sun or sitting in a Sphynx position, their eyes like slots, almost roaring but not quite.
You visited your aunts today, to show them your first drawings. You are six now, so you go to school. They are real drawings, water colours and everything, with your name written on the right-down corner, the letters big and uneven, going slightly downwards. A grown girl they say. You blush and you look down at your Sunday shoes, black with a silver buckle, already a bit dusty from a short run in the park. You wanted to pick up daisies, but gramma said you shouldn’t. Grandpa is softer; he lets you pick flowers and laughs at you when the tip of your nose gets yellow from the pollen. My little bee he says. Sometimes he catches a butterfly for you, but not often. When you ask why he says that when you touch too much a butterfly’s wings you destroy them, and they can fly no more. So you never ask for a butterfly again, but you always go and watch them close when they are sitting on the flowers – not touching.
“What are you thinking little one?” She looks at you from above, half-concerned, half-amused. Not waiting for the answer – “are you hungry? Let’s go and get something sweet. But you won’t tell mama or grandpa, deal?” Deal.
A bougatsa hybrid.
Buttery puff pastry. Vanilla-bean cream. Powder sugar. The smell of cinammon. This is a bougatsa hybrid. My childhood in a pie.
Bougatsa is a serious deal in northern Greece. There are constant debates on the fyllo, what filing is best, savory vs. sweet, etc. etc. My version is a hybrid; bougatsa is never made with puff pastry, it’s cream is traditionally made with semolina, it’s not round and it’s not decorated with flowers (shocking, no?).
I broke the rules. The taste and the feeling is all there.
- 2 sheets puff pastry (real butter)
- 3 cups vanilla-bean pastry cream
Buy the puff pastry.
- Go to the closest supermarket. Pick up 2 puff pastry sheets. Check that it is made with butter. Check the dimensions. Everything fine?
- Move to the counter and pay. Go home and store it in fridge. Do something to reward yourself for the 6-7 gained hours of your life, which would be spent in making your own puff pastry. Watch 2 classic movies. Do yoga. Go through pizza recipes. Walk the dog (is that rewarding? I don’t even have a dog).
Make the vanilla bean pastry cream!
- 1 litter full-fat milk
- 1 vanilla bean
- 4 eggs
- 120 grams sugar (10 tablespoons)
- 60 grams cornflour (or normal flour)
- Scrap the seeds out of the vanilla bean.
- In a sauce pan, combine the milk, the vanilla bean and its seeds, with 2 tablespoons of sugar (out of the total 10). Stir to disolve sugar. Warm it on the stove on medium-high heat, until it starts steaming.
- In the meantime, combine in a bowl the 4 eggs, the cornflour, and the rest of the sugar. Use the whisk and beat them until combined.
- Once milk steams but is not boiling pour 1/4 of the milk to the egg-flour bowl, while whisking, so that the temperature of the egg-mixture increases.
- Add the egg-milk mixture to the sauce pan, and continue heating in medium/medium-high while whisking constantly. Dont walk away from the sauce pan, don’t stop whisking.
- After about 10′ the cream will start thickenning. Continue stirring with the whisk until the first big bubble forms. Once the bubble bursts, immediately remove the saucepan from heat, and empty the cream in a clean bowl.
- Cover it with plastic wrap: press the wrap against the cream’s surface, to make sure a crust doesn’t form. Let cool.
Make the pie!
- Grease a round baking tray (I used a 28 cm diameter, for a sheet of puff pastry of 32 cm diameter)
- Put 1 sheet of puff pastry in the tray, make sure it does not wringle or tear.
- Pour on it the cooled vanilla-bean pastry cream. Cover it with the other sheet of puff pastry. Press the ends of the sheets together and make sure they closed properly (unlike me!)
- Decorate with excess puff pastry and bake at 180 ºC/ 356 ºF for 45-50 mins, or until golden.
Eat it all!
Let cool for 15 mins. Dust generously with powder sugar AND cinammon. Enjoy your first taste of bougatsa. Be sure it won’t be the last one.
Notes: This recipe makes more vanilla pastry cream than needed for the pie. Make good use of the rest 🙂 Also, the cream will be extremely hot and runny when the pie is just out of the oven, so be a bit patient. Again, unlike I am 😉