|A close-up of the traditional greek bougatsa - phyllo pastry filled with cream and garnished with powdered sugar and cinnamon. (Photo: dreamstime.com)
Bougatsa is a Greek breakfast pastry, either sweet or savoury, made with phyllo dough wrapped around a sweet custard-like filling.
Phyllo which means leaf in Greek is a type of unleavened flour dough and is characterized by its paper-thinness. It is achieved through a very complex lamination that involves not only a fat, like butter or margarine, but also oil.
It is believed that bougatsa originated in the northeastern Greek region of Macedonia, Serres to be particular, because most immigrant Greeks established themselves there after the Greek-Turkish war of 1922.
It was extremely popular in the northern Greek port of Thessaloniki as the Thessalonians found it to be a meal that would keep them full from the time they left for work until it was time to break.
Making bougatsa phyllo pastry requires skilled bakers and difficult techniques.
Philippos Bandis, the owner of the Bougatsa Bantis and a bougatsa artisan in Thessaloniki, is one of the few producers left still making phyllo by hand.
He said preparing flour is the most important and difficult part to get authentic bougatsa.
"We don't want the dough to be hot because it will break. To make the edges, you need a lot of practice and experience to make them thin as in the center of the fold. All this phyllo must be the same everywhere. This is the most difficult part. Of course you must not have holes,” said Philippos.
According to Greek tradition, bougatsa is prepared for breakfasts and served hot or warm with coffee. It is baked in a large pie dish then cut into small squares and sprinkled with icing sugar and cinnamon.
Bougatsa is made from phyllo pastry and garnished with a type of custard made with semolina and vanilla. The cream itself is made of milk, butter, sugar, eggs and fine semolina.
Bougatsa can also be made with different types of savory fillings, such as cheese, vegetables or meat ground with onion and pepper.
Philippos said the taste of bougatsa varies between regions in Greece. For example, bougatsa in Veria is very sweet and full of cream.
According to Philippos, there’s some difference for the most popular breakfast in north Greece.
“This bougatsa, here in Thessaloniki, we try to make more crunch in the phyllo. In Ceres, the other town, they make the phyllo softer. It's a little different,” said Philippos.
Most modern bougatsa is made with machine-made phyllo, but some cafes and bakeries, selling hand-made bougatsa, still exist, especially in smaller towns and villages of Greece.
According to Philippos, hand-made bougatsta tastes better than machine-made, and he considers making bougatsa by hand an art.
“The number of people that make bougatsa, has dropped year by year and this art seems to be disappearing. It's a pity though there’s another kind of food, the bougatsa made by machine. So I want to show the young people that it's a beautiful job,” he said.