This is the start of a new part of the blog I’m calling “World Series” where I’m gonna go through the alphabet and pick a country, then try and make a popular dish from that country. I’m going to try and make a mix of breakfasts, brunches, lunches, dinners, desserts, and snacks so we have a full range of exciting dishes to try! Just one more thing, I want to make it clear that if these don’t turn out well, or aren’t very traditional to how they're made in their home country, I’m just enjoying exploring different cultures and foods, I'm not doing this to make fun of cultures and their national dishes, I just thought that since a lot of us (me included) can’t travel anywhere, I would do some research and bring the culture to my kitchen!
We’re starting off in Albania with a traditional breakfast dish called Byrek/ Burek/ Lakror. This dish consists of making a flaky pastry much like filo and then a filling of spinach, feta/goats cheese, and occasionally meat, it can be baked into one large pastry that is cut and served in portions or as small triangles of pastry often sold in markets and from street-food vendors. I made the smaller version and just put goat's cheese in them as a first attempt.
160g Plain Flour
Pinch of Sea Salt
90ml Warm Water
90ml Olive Oil
225g Feta Cheese (any softer cheese will work as it needs to melt down easily)
To start with we need to make our dough. In a large bowl add flour, salt, water, and oil then mix with a wooden spoon until you have a sticky dough.
Once your dough ball begins to form, tip it out onto a clean, floured surface and gently knead for 3-5 mins until the dough no longer feels sticky. Place the dough back into the bowl, put a tea towel over the top of the bowl and leave it to rest for around 20 mins.
Now we want to make the filling. In a small bowl add 1 egg, cheese, 1 tbsp of olive oil, and the milk then gently whisk this together until you have a thick consistency. I think traditionally this is supposed to be more of a paste and mine was quite watery so using a looser cheese like feta or cream cheese may have a better consistency. Set the bowl aside for now.
Preheat the oven to 200C/ 180 Fan/ Gas Mark 4.
Take the dough from the bowl and cut it into 3 equal pieces. Using one piece at a time, lay it out on a flat, floured surface. Begin to gently roll the dough with a rolling pin or your fingers until it forms a 30 cm long rectangle. I used a rolling pin and this may have crushed the dough causing it to be thicker and lose its layers, traditionally it’s suggested you push the dough with your fingertips to form the shape, so this may be the best option to keep it light. If the dough is too tough to move around then leave it to rest again for another 10-15 mins.
Next, drizzle a small amount of olive oil onto the dough and spread this evenly around the surface.
Cut the dough rectangle into 4 even strips and place half a tbsp of filling at the top of each strip.
Fold each strip in a triangular pattern (like you would fold up a flag) from one end to the other starting with the filing end until you have small triangular parcels. Place these seam-side down onto a greased baking tray or silicone baking mat.
Place the final egg in a mug and whisk this before brushing each parcel with the egg wash. Place the Byrek in the oven for 45 mins, turning the tray around halfway through until the parcels have risen, are a deep golden brown and crispy.
Leave the parcels to cool on a wire rack for around 15 mins and then they’re ready to eat!
Well, that was my attempt at Byrek! Having done some research and looked at some pictures online, I noticed that alot of them were large sheet bakes probably made for family breakfasts or special occasions, these pastries had very thick, flaky pastry much like baklava but either baked into a single sheet or moulded into a round, Cumberland-sausage style shape. Mine is obviously little triangles and although you can see from the picture that I do have a little bit of layering in the pastry, it is still quite a thick shortcrust-style pastry rather than light and flaky. I would have liked more filling and I think I should have added extra filling like spinach into it too but I had so much fun making these and it was something very different to what I would usually make, I had loads of little parcels left so I took them to work and had them for lunch, they're very filling!
Even though I know these aren’t the best attempt, they still tasted buttery, cheesy, and rich, especially when they're fresh and warm from the oven, I hope that one day I can make it to Albania or its surrounding countries and even Turkey where Byrek is made and try the real version for myself!
For now, I hope you liked the start of a new series and you’ll enjoy learning about different cultures and dishes with me. There's plenty more where this came from, next time we’re going to Bolivia!