What is Galaktoboureko?

“Delicious” is the answer. It’s basically a custard pie — the name means “milk pie” — baked in a deep dish, surrounded by filo and soaked with a citrus-scented syrup. Hang on, Joe, that sounds vaguely familiar. Indeed it does, especially if you’re a baklava fan.

But I thought baklava was Middle Eastern or Turkish in origin, isn’t this Greek? Yes and yes, however galaktoboureko represents a melding of those traditions. Greeks have long been makers of pies and custards. It seems that something not entirely dissimilar to a quiche existed in Greece in antiquity.

The key Turkic/Middle Eastern contribution is probably the filo. It’s thought that the idea of stacking fillings between ultra-thin sheets of dough is a tradition that dates back to the ancient Egyptians. That may well be, however it’s the Ottoman Turks who are generally credited with popularizing and disseminating the technique.

The Ottomans occupied Greece for roughly 375 years, from about 1450 to 1821. This is something of a sore point among the Greeks, many of whom consider Ottoman rule to be a period of cultural decline. That may be true too, however the Ottomans likely brought not only filo to Greece but cane sugar and citrus, which are other key components of both baklava and galaktoboureko. So that’s not all bad.

29 thoughts on “What is Galaktoboureko?”

  1. Phyllo is Greek not Turkish. The word phyllo (or filo as you write it) is a Greek word. Baklavas is also Greek, originating from the Ancient Greek dessert koptoplakous.
    The occupation by the Ottomans was a period of decline and great loss which ended with the Greek Revolution in 1821. Don’t try to teach history through your pastry site, please.
    It is disgusting for a Greek to read “how bad could it have been” about the Turkish occupation in Greece.

    1. I’m sorry Marianthi but your reply clearly shows illiteracy in History. Phyllo is named such due to the larger number of Greek immigrants to the States, nothing more. Also, koptoplakous was the predecessor to pasteli, a delicious 100% Greek dessert but nothing like baklava except for the fact that it has honey and nuts (and nothing else for that matter). Also, didn’t Skai Greece publish the commentary of Greece’s most prestigious academics on the Turkish occupation claiming that the Turks helped Greece prosper in trade? Please don’t try to post conspiracy theories through a pastry website, either. Watch a little less Liacopoulos and read a little more academic journals. 🙂

      1. The world filo, or phyllo more correctly is a sheet of something in.this case pastry. The term.is Greek by origin, thankyou

    2. Greek phyllo dough was invented by the Ottoman Empire based on their use and understanding of Greek food.

    3. Marianthi ! Clearly your hate has turned you into an idiot who can’t even bear to accept any argument about the origins of a dessert. Educate yourself !

  2. In fairness to our host, he DID point out that Greeks consider that period one of decline. I have to protest that the fact that the Greeks use a Greek word for the pastry doesn’t mean it came from Greece – the French say “croissant” for a pastry that came from Austria.

    This said, the ancient Greek writer Hesiod does have a line that in English is translated as a “thin- wrapped cake full of sesame and cheese”.
    http://books.google.com/books?id=DQzVAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA545&dq=inauthor:hesiod+cake&hl=en&sa=X&ei=66PkT7j5Hcbn0QHFtJnWCQ&ved=0CEIQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q&f=false
    If the translation is accurate, “thin-wrapped” would certainly describe some baklava.

    The koptoplakous apparently was described by Athenaeus:
    “Both these terms are almost certainly the same as Athenaios refers to as koptoplakous , which was two sheets of pastry filled in between with finely chopped almonds, walnuts, sesame and honey; none less than our modern familiar baklava’
    http://books.google.com/books?id=jYa3J6xrjt4C&pg=PA184&dq=koptoplakous&hl=en&sa=X&ei=3KTkT_-0Coiw0AH6kNiACg&ved=0CEkQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=koptoplakous&f=false

    1. Thanks Jim! I’m not sure we’ll ever know definitively where thinly layered pastries came from originally (my personal guess is that they were a regional development) those are some very interesting references. Thanks very much for the email!

      – Joe

    2. Koptoplakous laked any dough. Greeks have other delicious sweets that they should promote such as Byzantine melomakarona, easter chorek, pasteli and in fact galaktoboureko, which although based on the Turkic yufka -or phyllo dough- is 100% a Greek recipe.

      But Baklava and its main ingredients, are a Turkic delicacy. I suggest you ask marianthi if anything in the Turkish cuisine is originally Turkic. She will, of course, disagree. I’ve lived in Greece for 20 years and even Gyros (or Doner Kebap) which they know for a fact that it came from Turkey, is claimed as Greek to tourists. I don’t know why so much hate, Greeks seem to enjoy cheesecakes more than baklava nowadays but not one has claimed that cheesecakes originate in ancient Greece. Kinda reminds me of the Republic of Macedonia and how they try to claim anything around Alexander the Great as their own…

      But I agree, the word yogurt is Turkish but this doesn’t mean that the Turkic people first made yogurt. Perhaps that they brought it to Europe, first, but other than that not much more.

      1. The Greeks has sophisticated food way before the Turks settled down. They were nomads and when they took over Greece they changed all the Greek recipe names to Turkish to claim as their own. Have been doing research on this for over two weeks for a few of my blogs. The turkish nomads contributed nothing to Green Cuisine but claimed Greek cuisine as their own. I have a particular disdain for those claims because I lived in Cyprus in the 1970-80’s when the devisiveness between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots was horrible. The Turks conquered and took over all the Greek resorts, let them fall to disrepair and I was there when the United Nations were there with guns. The Turks had a total disregard for the Greeks & ran them out of their own part of the country. I have no sympathy for the cruelty of those people and after doing a lot of research on Greek vs. Turkish food there is no such thing as “original” Turkish food.

  3. I’m interested to see your variation of this. I’ve always been a fan of custard-anything – and I’m real intrigued to see how the fragile Phyllo holds up to a custard. =)

  4. I absolutely LOVE all the historical and social context you put things in, Joe!!! It’s part of that very personal voice that makes this blog unique and special. I hope you will never hesitate to write about all of your thoughts on any given topic especially since you’re so welcoming to other ideas that may correct or expand on something or go off on other tangents.

    1. I’d say the odds of me giving up on history are aout zero, Rainey. Ditto on the wise-ass asides. No worries! Thanks for the email!

      – Joe

  5. Oh, this is a favorite, from the days (verrrry long ago, in my misspent youth) when I was a street musician in Athens; the street vendors sold delicious half-pockets of galaktobourreko which they dusted with cinnamon confectioner’s sugar before handing to you. It’s very easy/fast to make if you buy your filo. I add a northern twist by painting a layer of melted apricot or raspberry jam onto the filo before pouring in the custard (works better than on top of the custard before putting on the top layers of filo.)

    1. I want to hear about that one, Lynn. I’m a part of the misspent youth brigade, having played the bass in nightclubs for far too long. So gimme the rundown: how did you end up there, for how long and what instrument did you play? Also, how did you manage to get anywhere with the incessant taxi cab strikes?

      – Joe

    2. That was in fact bougatsa, a delicacy from Minor Asia which the Greeks and Turks shared for years until 1922 and the exchange of populations.

      In Turkey it’s called Kurt Boregi, or Kurdish Pie.

      The custard, I think, has semolina while the custard in galaktoboureko is milk-based.

  6. oh my gosh. This looks a lot like a common Australian canteen-food dessert from my childhood. It was called a “bee sting”: custard sandwiched between layers of flaky pastry, and the top layer was a sticky glaze of flaked almonds. Not sure if there was citrus though.

    Thanks for the sweet memories! and informative post!

  7. Ha, ha, ha! Much national pride here! 😉 So typical. As if the rest of the world knows or cares.

    1. Hey, Greeks are proud people…and for good reason. Look at that history! But I never mind a spirited argument.

      Thanks Lynn!

      – Joe

  8. Keep the history up Joe . I love to read and research history of foods . I write a food blog myself and to me it is important to pass on traditions and history as our youngsters are not taught this anymore . Here are my 5 senses to the filo

    The practice of stretching raw dough into paper-thin sheets probably evolved in the kitchens of the Topkap? Palace, based on Central Asian prototypes.[2] Yufka may have been “an early form of filo” since the Diwan Lughat al-Turk, a dictionary of Turkic dialects by Mahmud Kashgari recorded pleated/folded bread as one meaning of the word yuvgha, which is related to yufka, meaning ‘thin’, the modern Turkish name for phyllo as well as a Turkish flatbread also called yufka.

  9. Can you explain in a paragraph how galaktoboureko was related to Ancient Greece? Like when and why?

    -Hannah

    1. Hey Hannah! This sounds like an essay question from school! Does penmanship count? 😉

      Actually as far as I know there was no galaktoboureko in Ancient Greece. The ancient Greeks did enjoy custards, sometimes in pie form, but they didn’t have filo nor the tradition of soaking pastries in syrup. Those innovations came from Persia by way of the Turks, who took over Greece in about 1500 A.D.. They held the peninsula and pretty much all the islands for about another 300 years. Plenty of time, in other words, to show the Greeks what thin doughs and dense sugar syrups were all about.

      Pencils down! That’s pretty much all I know, Hannah!

      Cheers,

      – Joe

  10. @joepastry

    I wasn’t aware thin doughs and sugar syrups came from Persia? Iran is a Turkic country anyways so do you have a source supporting a Persian origin for those?

    I’m also curious what the relation is between Byzantine gastrin/Byzantine koptoplakous/Roman placenta cake, Persian lauzinaq, Turkic yufka and baklava. Is yufka Central Asian or Anatolian Turkish?

    This website seems to argue that all pastry dough comes from Central Asia.

    “The first baklava recipes already existed in antiquity, they were known in the Byzantine Empire under the names κοπτοπλακούς (koptoplakous) and κοπτοπλακόν (koptoplakon), which means “sliced ​​plate cake”. The oldest known recipe for this cake comes from late ancient Greece and is described by Athenaios in his book Δειπνοσοφιστών (Book XIV) mentioned. He describes the Koptoplakous recipe from Crete as a cake consisting of several layers, which is filled with Pontic nuts, poppy seeds and almonds and then poured with honey. The layers of dough should be laid out very thinly, similar to filo dough. This coptopla recipe is very similar to today’s baklava. When asked whether the origin of this is in Greece or whether the cake came to Greece in the course of antiquity, Athenaios does not provide an answer.

    Most of the theses assume that the origin of the puff pastry is in Central Asia. Characteristic of the nomadic way of life of the Turkic peoples there is the layering of thin flatbreads baked in pans, the so-called yufka, which are not known in this stacked form in either Byzantium or the Middle East. The basic structure could thus have come through those to Anatolia and the Middle East.”

    Athenaios lived in an era when Greeks had never even met a Turk so its weird to think Greek food back then was influenced by it. Also seems weird to assume nobody ever though of layering dough although that might be the case. Who knows?

    Also baklava supposedly influenced strudel but don’t Romanians have something similar (placinta)? Is the Romaina dessert truly derived from the Roman one or is it Ottoman influence?

    1. Hey Paul!

      Those are all great questions, and I confess I don’t know the answers. Generally I have a few go-to sources for these sorts of topics. I believe the source for this post was a Mediterranean Feast by Cliff Wright, who does a great job with his history. I myself am not a historian, so I don’t often delve as deeply into these subjects as others might. I have a few readers who are committed food historians and even anthropologists. They often push me to get more academic in my writing, but at the end of the day I’m not trying to be the definitive source for any of this sort of information. My main purpose is to generate interest in these sorts of topics, which I hope encourages further research for readers who are interested. I wish you good luck with your own research!

      And thanks very much for the comment.

      – Joe

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