It’s the month of April and people in some parts of the world including India, celebrate Easter this month. Across the many countries in Europe, one aspect of Easter celebrations includes the making of breads especially for this time of the year. A lot of these breads are very decorative in appearance, symbolic of the religious beliefs of this season. They also tend to more cake-like than bread in texture and taste because they’re mostly made with a lot of butter, eggs, all sorts of spices, dried fruit and nuts that one would normally not use to bake bread. This is not really surprising as Easter is celebrated after a long period of fasting for Lent.
So it seemed apt bake an Easter bread with the “We Knead To Bake” group and this month, Flaounes was the bread of choice. I had come across Flaounes (pronounced “fla-OO-nez”) a little while back and had marked this as one of my “must bake” breads. Flaounes, like other Eastern breads, is rich and “eggy”, but the difference is that this bread from Cyprus is savoury and not sweet.
Flaounes are savoury cheese pies baked for Greek Orthodox Easter, and traditionally made on Good Friday and are part of the fast-breaking meal after Lent when meat and cheese are not eaten. They are eaten at breakfast and also exchanged as gifts of friendship and goodwill. Flaounes are also made in semi-sweet and sweet variations.
Like all traditional recipes, each family has its own which is sworn by as being the best. Some families make their Flaounes with yeast (for a slow rising dough) while others use baking powder (for a quick rise). Some like their Flaounes more “bready” while others like it to be more about the filling. Then there are those who don’t like adding sultanas to their cheese filling! So its pretty much a make-it-as-you-like-it kind of bread.
The cheese that is traditionally used in these pies is called “Flaounes” cheese which is cheese that is produced locally by Cypriot shepherds, and very difficult to find outside the country. These cheese pies are traditionally made in large numbers at Easter and the women of the family would get together to make the business of making them easier. Since Flaounes keep (and also freeze well), they’re eaten much beyond Easter.
Flaounes cheese can be substituted with a combination of Cheddar or similar hard cheeses and a softer, milder one like Halloumi. For the savoury Flaounes, the cheese filling tends to be salty so choose one cheese which is quite salty.
Some of the cheeses suggested as substitutes for Flaounes cheese are Cypriot/ Greek cheeses like Kefalotyri, Kefalogravier or Kaskavali. Other cheeses include Halloumi, English Cheddar, Italian cheeses likeParmesan, Romanelo or Pressato (mild), Pecorino (salty) or French Cantal cheese.
If any of these are available (and affordable) in your part of the world then you can use a combination of those, otherwise find a combination of cheeses that will work for you. For my Flaounes I used a combination of Cheddar, Mozzarella and Paneer in my Flaounes. (I used the Nilgiris brand of Cheddar and Mozarella)
There are a couple of ingredients that go into the filling that are typically Cypriot/ Greek and they are “mehelepi” and “mastiki. Mehelepi (mahleb/ mahlab) is the ground dried pits of a wild Mediterranean cherry. Mastiki (mastic) is the dried resin from a kind of shrub. Both of these spices are quite common in Greek and Middle Eastern cuisine and they really have no good substitutes so if you can’t find either, just leave them out.
As I mentioned earlier, these pies are quite heavy on eggs but because we don’t like the “eggy” flavour I have taken most of the eggs out of this recipe (and adjusted it accordingly) except for the one I used in the dough. You can leave that out too if you don’t use eggs. For those of you who like eggs, eggs are used in the bread dough as well to bind the filling. I chose to use milk instead but you can use an egg instead of the milk in the filling. I also used milk instead of egg wash to brush my pies and made a paste of flour and milk to seal the pies instead of egg.
Black pepper or chilli flakes are not traditionally used in these Easter pies but I added chilli flakes because the filling tasted too bland to me otherwise. So leave that out if you want. Also remember to grate your cheese coarse rather than fine. I know there are people who dislike raisins and sultanas and I myself don’t like the former but like the latter. While you can leave them out of the filling, I personally feel that the sweetness of the sultanas adds a flavour to the salty cheese.
Flaounes can be shaped into triangles or squares, and just make sure that you press down the flaps well while folding the dough over the filling, or these pies will open up when they bake. Do take a look at this video where Paul Hollywood and Toni Buxtonmake Flaounes to get a good idea on how they’re shaped.
Flaounes (Cypriot Savoury Easter Cheese Pies)
(Adapted from The Traveler’s Lunchbox)