Cheese burekas are savory cheese filled pastries beloved in Israel (cheese being the most popular flavor). They're easy and delicious to make yourself with the help of frozen puff pastry. Though traditionally made using Israeli cheeses, I've worked out some excellent substitutes easily found in supermarkets in North America and Europe.Yum
Snack, street food, next to your coffee, with your dinner: burekas are ubiquitous savory treats in Israel. Because flaky puff pastry stuffed to the hilt with savory goodness is always a good idea. Outside of Israel, you can sometimes find frozen burekas at markets with large Jewish or Israeli populations, which you then bake in the oven brushed with egg wash and the packet of sesame that'll be included. But if you can't find burekas premade, you can easily make yourself this Israeli treat with puff pastry and a few kinds of cheese. Of course we'll soon be tackling from-scratch burekas, but for now we're taking this (delicious) shortcut.
Ingredients for cheese burekas
To make burekas, you'll need:
- Puff pastry - Though precut squares are convenient, I found them slightly too small for burekas. I recommend getting a sheet that you can roll out and cut to the right dimensions. Since we're making cheese burekas, you can get an all-butter puff pastry, if you can find one.
- Israeli white cheese or ricotta - Israeli white quark cheese, g'vina levana, gives the cheese fillings its body. (See here for more on Israeli white cheese.) If it's not available where you are, an equal amount of ricotta (any type of ricotta) makes a good substitute.
- Bulgarian, bryndza, or feta cheese - A crumbly, salty cheese gives a cheese burekas its characteristic flavor. You can use any of these interchangeably. Bulgarian cheese is common in Israel, as is sheep's milk feta.
- Kashkaval or parmesan cheese - The third cheese flavor layer in the burekas comes from kashkaval cheese, a grated hard Balkan cheese common in Israel with a sharp flavor. Parmesan, grated, makes a great substitute here.
Other ingredients include an egg yolk to bind the cheese filling, plenty of freshly cracked black pepper for flavor, and another egg and sesame seeds to top the burekas.
Shaping the burekas
In Israel, burekas are shape coded to reveal their fillings. Cheese burekas are triangular. To make the triangle shape, cut your puff pastry in 4" / 10cm squares. Place a teaspoon of filling in the center and fold over one corner to form a triangle. Burekas don't have to stay completely sealed—bakery burekas are open a bit on one side, usually. But, you do want them to be mostly sealed, so press down firmly with your fingertip on the open edges.
I find that burekas bake better from frozen, so I like to freeze my shaped burekas for 15 minutes before baking them, while I preheat the oven. You can also freeze them for longer and bake later. Thoroughly frozen burekas will need about 3-5 minutes more in the oven.
Unbaked burekas freeze exceptionally well and turn out exactly as delicious as ones you shape and place right in the oven. Since this batch makes a fairly large amount, you can freeze half for later: just place the shaped burekas on a lined baking sheet and freeze on the sheet for 30 minutes or so, then pop them in a bag for storage (they won't stick together this way). When you're ready for some fresh burekas, bake them just as you would fresh burekas, with egg wash on top. They will take just a few extra minutes to bake and puff up (less than five).
Cheese Burekas (dairy)
- 1 package frozen puff pastry (2 sheets) - 500 g or ~1 lb
- 1 cup Israeli white cheese (gvina levana) or ricotta cheese - 250 g or 1 package
- ½ cup Bulgarian or feta cheese, crumbled - 125 g
- ¼ cup kashkaval or Parmesan cheese, grated - 40 g
- 1 egg yolk
- generous pinch black pepper
- About 15-20 minutes before you're ready to begin, set out the frozen puff pastry on the counter to defrost.
Prepare the cheese filling:
- Combine the white cheese or ricotta, Bulgarian or feta, and kashkaval or Parmesan. Mix well. Add in egg yolk and black pepper and mix again. Set aside.
Fill the burekas:
- Working with one roll at a time, unroll the puff pastry. Dust with flour and roll out into a long rectangle, about 12" / 30 cm on the shorter side.
- Using a pastry wheel or pizza cutter, divide the pastry into squares about 4" / 10 cm.
- Place one tablespoon of filling in the center of each square. Fold one corner over to form a triangle, pressing firmly with your fingertip to seal the edges.
- Place finished burekas on a lined baking sheet. When the sheet is full, pop it in the freezer to flash freeze before baking (for about 15 minutes, or more).
Bake the burekas:
- Preheat the oven to 375°F / 190°C.
- Brush the tops of the burekas with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes, untill golden and well puffed. It's okay that the seams open a bit, that's supposed to happen!