Bulgaria: Banitsa

Bulgarian banitsa

Banitsa is a Bulgarian breakfast and dessert pastry which appears in both sweet and savory forms: one sweet type is particularly popular at Christmas. (Other spellings of the pastry include Bonitza, Bonitsa, or Banica.)

A homemade banitsa can look rather like a large souffle. There, though, the resemblance stops, since banitsas are built up using layers of buttered phyllo dough. The filling of the savory type can involve eggs, feta or other white cheese, and sometimes yogurt. The soft filling ingredients are layered alternately with the phyllo dough, and the whole business is then baked (although sometimes, in its fast-food form, it's fried: and you'll sometimes hear people in Bulgaria complaining about the presence of too much oil in the finished product). Banitsa bears some slight resemblance to strudel, and this is probably the cause of the pastry being referred to rather bizarrely as "sheep's cheese strudel" in the English-speaking media during the celebrations of the EU's 50th birthday, where this pastry was one of the 27 national desserts served. Both the sweet and savory versions are likely to appear as a dessert.

Savory forms of banitsa can include spinach, herbs, milk, or pumpkin. When the pastry becomes part of the holiday celebration, the banitsa may contain small charms, coins or sayings written on paper meant to bring luck to the one who finds the token in the piece they're served.

The recipes...

Ingredients:

  • 2 packets of phyllo dough (Bulgarian "fini kori" or phyllo from the frozen desserts section)
  • 200 grams of yellow cheese (Bulgarian kashkaval or a mixture of cheddar and mozzarelle)
  • 500 grams of white cheese (Bulgarian sirene or feta cheese)
  • 7 eggs
  • 100 grams of butter
  • 1/2 cup of soda water
  • 1 cup yogurt

Directions:

Mix six of the eggs, the grated butter, the crumbled white cheese, the yellow cheese cut in small pieces, and the yogurt. In a buttered pan, lay a layer of the filo dough, spread a layer of the mixture. Finish with a layer of filo dough. Then cut the banitsa into serving pieces. Mix the last egg with the soda water and stir. Pour the mixture over the banitsa and make sure there are no pieces of the filo dough left dry. Bake in a preheated over at 200 C for 40 minutes, or till golden.

Remove from the the oven, sprinkle lightly with cold water, cover with a paper towel and a kitchen towel / dish towel, and allow to rest for 10 min. Serve hot. If desired, before serving sprinkle with granulated sugar.

You can reheat the banitsa in a microwave for 3 min. or in a regular oven for 10 minutes at 375F.

Variations:

Spinach Banitsa

Same as the regular banitsa recipe, but substitute 3 eggs with 1/2 kilogram spinach, washed, cut and lightly fried (no more than five minutes).

Green Onion Banitsa

Same as the regular banitsa recipe, but substitute 3 eggs with 5-10 stalks of green onion (about 1 cup diced onion), lightly fried (no more than ten minutes).

Mlechna Banitsa (Milk Banitsa):

  • 500g flour
  • 8 eggs
  • 1 litre milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup semolina
  • 1 tablespoon sunflower oil
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 180 g butter
  • Confectioners' sugar
 

Prepare a medium-hard dough from the flour, 1 egg, oil, vinegar and water; roll into sheets. Place the sheets in a tray, basting each with melted butter.

Bring the milk to a boil, add the sugar, remaining butter and semolina while stirring constantly, followed by the beaten eggs when cooled. Mix well and pour over the pastry sheets.

Bake in a moderate oven. Cut in squares and sprinkle with confectioners' sugar.

A Bulgarian view: Magdalena talks about her favorite banicharnitsa (banitsa-making shop) in Sofia