It wouldn’t be right to have a blog titled “My Big Fat Greek Fanny” without mentioning where the fanny came from. I didn’t get my fanny from my mama; I got it from galaktoboureko (gah-la-toh-boo-reko), or what my friends and I jokingly call, gala-ta-booty-grow. It’s obvious that my fanny has enjoyed this tongue twister dessert once or twice. But galaktoboureko is more than a tricky name; it’s a classic Greek dessert that is absolutely divine.
Galaktoboureko is a sweet dessert defined by its filling of gala (milk) and wheat (most recipes use semolina, farina or cream of wheat). Like rizogalo (rice pudding) galaktoboureko is a common treat in my house. It’s a little time consuming to make, but the result is definitely worth your time. Even the process is worth it if you’re into sweet smells and taste testing. Whenever my mom makes galaktoboureko, I linger around the kitchen like a puppy pleading for a bone because as she finishes the custard filling, she spoons out a bowl for me before she adds any raw eggs to the mixture. If you use this recipe just for the filling alone, you would still be satisfied. But continue, because the best is yet to come.
Because I always pester my mom for a sample taste of the custard, she puts me on phyllo duty as payment. This is when things get a little tedious. Galaktoboureko requires two thick layers of phyllo dough: one on the bottom and one on top, sandwiching the thick custard filling in the middle. Each sheet of phyllo dough must be coated generously with butter and lined up smoothly for the next sheet to be laid on. I am very particular in my phyllo process and that skill has actually translated to an important part of my life—baking side by side with my yiayia and other Philoptochos ladies.
The Philoptochos women (members of a service organization of the Greek Orthodox Church) selflessly spend months preparing all the galaktoboureko, baklava (a nut filled dessert with an even more tedious phyllo process) and other pastries and dishes that are quickly devoured at local Greek festivals, weddings, and other Greek functions. It’s a cutthroat environment working in a kitchen of Philoptochos women. I’ve witnessed yelling matches, the not so discreet Greek eye roll and a lot of under the breath cursing when things aren’t made the right way—and every Greek cook has the “right way.” Thankfully I’ve made it out of the kitchen alive and I’m proud to say I’ve received compliments on my phyllo dough skills. The women, aka my new BFFs even ask me to come back and help them make pastries year after year. I consider it my life’s greatest accomplishment.
After the phyllo dough has been meticulously layered and buttered and the custard poured in the pan and then topped with another phyllo layer, it’s time to put the galaktoboureko in the oven. I always enjoy the sweet smells that come from the pie cooking as the syrup topping is being made. Once the galaktoboureko turns to golden perfection, the finishing touch is the bath of syrup that infuses sweetness throughout the pie. Some like to serve galaktoboureko warm for a softer custard texture. I let mine cool and sit over the course of a day or night to allow the custard to get more firm. Both ways are fine and whatever you prefer your fanny will be happy either way. Now all that’s left to do is eat and let the booty grow with galaktoboureko—and to hit the gym even harder. Yes, galaktoboureko has a price.
For the filling:
-4 cups whole milk
– 1 cup semolina (OR ½ cup cream of wheat & ½ cup semolina)
-1 cup sugar
-1/8 tsp. salt
-1/2 square of butter
-1 tsp. vanilla extract
-1/2 tsp. baking powder
-1 pound phyllo dough
For the syrup:
-3/4 cups of sugar
–1/2 cups of water
–1/4 cup Karo syrup
–1/4 cup honey
–1 tsp. vanilla
–1/4 cup of bourbon or metaxa (optional)
1. In a large saucepan, combine milk, sugar and salt and cook over medium heat until milk is warm.
2. Slowly add baking powder and cream of wheat (or cream of wheat and semolina) and stir constantly until mixture is smooth and thick.
3. When the custard is thick, add butter and vanilla and remove from heat and set aside.
4. In a separate bowl, separate the eggs and beat the egg whites until frothy. Fold in the yolks.
5. Slowly add the eggs to the milk mixture and mix well. Set aside.
6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
7. Butter a baking dish (9 x 13) and layer 7 sheets of phyllo, brushing each one generously with melted butter. The edges of the phyllo should come above the top of the pan.
8. Pour the milk mixture into the pan and turn in the edges of the phyllo dough over the custard.
9. Cover the custard with another layer of 7 sheets of phyllo dough, and again brush each one generously with melted butter.
10. Score top layer by gently cutting 5 slits into the phyllo dough. This allows for the syrup to soak in the custard once it’s poured on.
11. Bake for 30-45 minutes or until the top is golden.
12. While the custard is in the oven, make your syrup. Bring all ingredients to a bowl for 10 minutes and let cool. If using bourbon, pour in after the syrup has cooled and stir in.
13. Once the galaktoboureko comes out of the oven, immediately pour the syrup over the pie.
14. Let cool before serving.