Silky Cheese Pies: Steamed and Baked

Croatian štrukli struck me, to put it simply. If ever there were a dish that connects the phyllo-wrapped pies of Eastern Europe and the Middle East with Italian stuffed pasta, štrukli is it. A recipe by Bozena, a Croatian from Melbourne started me on my štrukli adventure. I rolled a quite large sheet of phyllo, spread the cheese filling all over it, then carefully rolled it – more precisely I folded the sheet several times over the filling – to create a long log. Up to this point there was nothing unusual or new about this pie, as similar shaped pies are commonly formed in Turkey and the Balkans, then coiled and baked in a pan.

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But for this Croatian pie the roll was then cut into pieces, which were boiled and finally browned in the oven. I was afraid that in cutting the pieces the filling would ooze out. It did not, however, as the soft, resilient, home-rolled phyllo successfully sealed the edges as I cut the pieces with the dough scraper. But I didn’t like the look of the pieces I carefully boiled in softly simmering water. Some of the filling dissolved into the water and my intention was not to create a tasty broth.

In her classic book The Foods of Morocco, Paula Wolfert writes: “steaming is not only used to cook couscous, it is a very important procedure in Moroccan cooking that preserves shape, color, taste, and vitamins {…} Steaming pasta, rice or thin pancakes are a revelation.” So I decided to try steaming the pieces before baking them. The resulting pies were indeed a revelation; exceptional – crisp on the outside and silky-smooth inside, as the cheesy stuffing saturated the steamed-baked phyllo with exceptional flavor.

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The original recipe said that štrukli could also be baked without pre-cooking, so I skipped steaming half of the pieces, doused them with the sour cream and egg mixture and baked them (see variation). These were also very good, crunchy but somewhat dry inside, not different from the usual cheese pies baked in various shapes around the Eastern Mediterranean.

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Whichever way you choose to make it, štrukli is a wonderful main course that you can accompany with a salad of raw, steamed or roasted vegetables. It is also ideal for picnics and the ultimate finger food for parties. It freezes well, so bake more and store for a quick meal or snack.

See the Recipe: Croatian Štrukli: Steamed and Baked Cheese Pies

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