I know it’s almost Easter when I get the urge to make kallitsounia (sometimes spelled kalitsounia or even kaltsounia). These are sweet little cheese pies from Crete, a traditional Easter treat. They are also called lyhnarakia which means “little oil lamps”, a plausible name since the pies are shaped like ancient oil burning clay lamps. Crete is known for its varieties of little sweet and savory cheese pies, many specific to the different regions of the island.
One Easter holiday we spent two weeks in Crete, staying in a small village south of Heraklion in the wine producing area called Malevizi, the area of the original malmsey grapes. Our closest shopping town was Ayios Myron. Actually, Ayios Myron was only a slightly larger village than the one we were staying in, but it boasted a bakery, a butcher (empty and closed during Lent), a small all-purpose grocery store, several kafenions (coffee shops/bars) and a sweet shop run by the local ladies’ cooperative. That cooperative sold the best kallitsounia I have tasted – a combination of farm fresh ingredients, excellent baking skills, and our relaxed holiday spirit.
Kallitsounia (Cretan Easter Cheese Pies)
Making these always evokes memories of that perfect Easter holiday in Crete. Traditionally the cheese used would be a sweet myzithra, a “whey” cheese made from sheep’s milk, similar to ricotta.
Makes approximately 3 dozen
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup milk
- 1 small lemon, juiced
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 4 cups plain (= All Purpose) flour
Combine the oil and the sugar and mix until well blended. Many Greek recipes mention softening baking powder in the lemon before adding – it will fizz and expand volume. Add this to the oil-sugar mix. Alternately add the milk and flour until the flour is mixed. It will appear clumpy, but form it into a ball with your hands for a pliable dough. Wrap in clingfilm while you make the filling.
- 2 cups ricotta ( approximately 1 lb.)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 Tablespoon finely chopped mint (optional)
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl until well blended.
- 1 egg
- ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line your cookie sheets with baking parchment. Take a piece of the dough and form into a ball about the size of a walnut. Roll out into a rough circle, approximately 4 inches in diameter. The edges may be rough, but this is fine.
Take a rounded teaspoon of the filling and place in the center of the dough circle. Fold up the edges and pinch shut at intervals all the way around. Place on the parchment lined baking tray and proceed to make more kallitsounia.
In a small bowl, beat the egg and dab on the pastry with a pastry brush. Sprinkle a little ground cinnamon on top.
Bake for 20 minutes. The kallitsounia will brown on the edges and expand slightly. Cool on rack.
Note: It is exceedingly difficult to get the absolute correct ratio of dough to filling. As a result, I usually manage to have dough left over. I never let this worry me, but think of it as a little extra treat. I simply divide the leftover dough into walnut sized balls, roll out, fill with a bit of crumbled feta and various bits such as pieces of Kalamata olive or strips of sun dried tomatoes or simply a sprinkling of herbs, fold over into a half-moon shape, wt the edges and pinch shut. Brush the pastries with the egg wash and bake in the 180 degrees C (350 degree F) oven for 20 minutes and lunch is ready!