By Nikoletta Nikolaou
Born in London before moving to Sydney, Nikoletta loves spending her free time in the kitchen cooking for loved ones and friends. She believes home cooking creates heart withing the home and has a passion for preserving her Cypriot culture and heritage through food. Influenced by her mum, Koulla and yiayia Talou, she brings moments of her childhood to the table.
Flaounes - Greek Easter Cypriot Cheese Pastries
A favourite easter delight that every village and family has their own version of. Flaounes are a true labour of love and are a bit of a process. I used to help my mum make them every year before I moved to Australia. Last year was a bit of an emotional one without them; I really started to miss my people back home in London and all our traditions, so this year I wanted to start our own. I asked mum to send me her recipe (which was in Greek by the way, so I’ve had to spend some time translating. Thank God for Greek school on Saturdays!) The recipe makes about 50 flaounes and uses a couple of Cypriot spices; mehlepi, which are grinned cherry seeds and mastic or masticha which comes from the Greek island, Chios. This is the resin from the mastic trees. These crystallised ‘tears’ are very common in Cypriot cuisine. Both give the flaounes a unique aroma so if you can, pop into your closest international grocers, you’ll be able to find them there. Traditionally, flaounes use a specific cheese, it’s literally called ‘flaouna cheese’, which can be hard to find. Instead, I used a mix of pecorino romano, halloumi and some cheddar that I had in the fridge and was really happy with the taste. You can, of course, use milder cheeses if you prefer, just make sure they’re hard cheeses.
I also thought I’d share some tips.
1. Start with a clean and tidy kitchen. Making flaounes is a process and might seem a little scary but I found maintaining a clean space makes it more enjoyable and less stressful.
2. Grate your cheeses 2-3 days before you make your flaounes as they need to dry out a little so you can achieve fluffy flaounes.
3. Have all your ingredients measured and ready before you begin.
4. Start early, take your time, enjoy the process, have a cuppa or two and give it some love. If you’re giving this a go for the first time on your own, like me, you’ll want to make it an enjoyable tradition rather than a strenuous chore, so stick your favourite tunes on and have fun. If you need a playlist, I’ve shared my kitchen tunes here.
We'd love to know if you give this a go, so please tag Nikoletta, #theGreekEasterFeast and Grecian Purveyor on Instagram and share your flaounes with us.
For the dough
11g dry yeast
1½ cups lukewarm water
1 cup lukewarm milk
2 tsp salt
2 tsp powdered mahlepi
2 tsp powdered mastic - Natural Mastiha Tears from Chios
3 tbsp sugar
2kg horiatiko (village) flour or bakers flour or all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups sunflower oil
5 eggs, whisked
For the filling
500g pecorino romano
1 tsp powdered mastic
2 tbsp sugar
5 tsp baking powder
3 ½ cups fresh chopped mint
3-4 cups raisins
5 tbsp flour
18-20 eggs, whisked
2 lightly beaten eggs
2 cups sesame seeds
For the dough
1. Put the yeast in a bowl and add the lukewarm water. Stir in the yeast with a pinch of sugar and let it rest and rise for a couple of minutes.
2. In a large bowl, sift the flour, add the mehlepi, mastic, sugar and salt and run your fingers through to mix.
3. Open a well in the centre of the flour and pour the oil slowly while mixing gently. Rub with your palms until you get thick crumbs. Add a small amount of milk, yeast mixture and a little of the lightly beaten eggs and slowly bring together until you make a soft dough that does not stick to your hands. If the dough is feeling a little dry, add a little more lukewarm milk.
4. Once you’ve combined the dough, knead until you have a smooth ball.
5. Place the dough back in the bowl, spread a little oil and cover with 3-4 towels or do it proper Cypriot village style with a blanket. Leave to rest for 2 hours until doubled in size.
For the filling
1. The process for the filling starts 2-3 days before making the flaounes. Grate the cheeses on the thin side of the grater and put them in a bowl. Cover with a plastic wrap and put in the fridge. Each day, shake the bowl and mix the cheeses to help them dry out. This will make the cheese soak up the eggs and give you fluffy flaounes.
2. The night before you make your flaounes, rinse the mint well, cut the leaves and spread them on a towel to dry. Wash the raisins, soak them in boiling water for 20 minutes, drain and then spread them on a towel to dry. Put plenty of water in a saucepan, add the sesame seeds and boil for 2-3 minutes and then drain them. Place a towel on a wide tray and put the sesame in. Cover with a towel to keep them wet. If they’ve dried up a little overnight, add a couple of droplets of water.
3. On the day you make the flaounes, remove the cheeses from the fridge and bring to room temperature.
4. To the cheese, add the mastic, sugar, sifted flour, baking powder, raisins and mint and mix well. Pour a little bit of the beaten eggs at a time and mix. You might not need to use all of the eggs so pour in small amounts and mix until you’re able to make a ball with the filling without it breaking. Cover the bowl with a towel.
5. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
6. Take some dough, keep the rest covered so that it doesn't dry out, and roll it out fairly thinly but not too thin so it doesn’t hold the filling. Use a saucer or small bowl to cut round discs. Place the discs flat in the damp sesame tray, lightly press with the palm of your hand and remove from the tray, placing it sesame side up. Lightly roll with your rolling pin so it sticks, then turn over. Add a heaped teaspoon of the filling in the centre and fold the sides inwards into a rectangle, square or triangle leaving a small hole open at the top with the filling showing. Squeeze the corners with a fork then space them out on a baking tray and brush the pastry with some beaten egg.
7. Bake your flaounes for 45-50 minutes until golden. Enjoy some hot out of the oven with a cup of authentic Greek coffee, drizzle with some thyme honey and serve it with some delicious bergamot spoon sweet for a full Cypriot hospitable spread...
Thanks to Nikoletta for this delicious recipe, and if you'd like to see more of her traditional Cypriot recipes, then head to https://www.nikolettaskitchen.com.