This may be a garden-variety sweet among the Greeks, but done well it sings like a siren from a Homeric poem. One taste and your friends and family will have to restrain you from diving bodily into the pan, from whence you might never return.
Made-from-scratch filo makes the whole project especially entertaining, but don’t feel obliged. Life is only so long. Note that you’ll need both more sheets of filo and more syrup if you’re using store-bought, since it’s both thinner and more absorbent. Start with the filling. Combine your milk, zest, sugar and vanilla in a medium saucepan. Set than on medium-high heat.
Meanwhile prepare your egg mixture. Combine the whole eggs and yolks in a large bowl.
Wreck’em, then add the cornstarch and Cream of Wheat.
Whisk that together until it’s thick.
When the milk comes to a rolling boil, pour about a third of it into the egg mixture.
Whisk that right away.
Then add another third.
Whisk that in, then pour everything from the bowl back into the saucepan. Much like pastry cream, no?
Really it’s like ultra-rich hot cereal. Wow, that’s good.
Now add your butter pieces and, again, whisk.
Pour the whole mess into a sheet pan, cover it with plastic wrap and let it cool completely.
When you’re ready to build, butter a 9″ x 12″ baking pan (casserole) liberally.
Lay in a sheet of filo.
Add another, butter that, you get the idea. Use four sheets or so if you’re using homemade filo, more like six if you’re using store bought.
Trim the overhang, leaving a good one-inch lip (or slightly more).
Spread in your cooled custard/porridge.
Then get back to the filo-butter business. You know how this works. Lay on a sheet…
…another sheet. Four or five will again suffice with homemade dough. Six or eight for store bought.
Again trim off the overage. Then with a butter knife gently tuck the overhanging dough down along the edges.
Again with the butter. You want that pastry crispy, right?
Now score the top into whatever size pieces you like. Try to cut only about half way through the pastry.
Spritz on a little water for crunch, then bake the pastry in a pre-heated 375 oven for 50 minutes to an hour. You want it nice and brown.
When the pastry is out of the oven for ten minutes, add the first of the syrup. This here is just a little too much…but I was trying to get a good action shot. Wait until it’s absorbed before you add more. Don’t drown it. Just add as much as it will soak up. You’ll apply syrup 3-4 times, but may not use it all.
It’ll look about like this:
You can slice and serve this right away, but it’ll taste better the following day having chilled all night in the fridge.
Serve it with a dusting of cinnamon. Normally I don’t get weird about details like spices, but I have to say that just-grated cinnamon takes the dessert to another level. You can make a show of it at the table like the wait staff at The Parthenon in Chicago. Something about all those extra aromas really makes this dessert shine. Opa!