How to make flaounas

How to make flaounas

By Sophie Richardson

It’s week six in the Great British Bake Off tent and time for the pastry challenges. There have been bread, cakes and biscuits but it’s pastry that has even the most competent baker’s brow beading with sweat. This week they’ll be making shortcrust pastry for frangipane tarts in the signature bake, puff pastry for vol-au-vents in the showstopper and an unusual Cypriot pastry for the technical.

It’s impossible for the bakers to prepare for the technical challenge, especially one that has been plucked from Paul’s encyclopaedic knowledge of random pastries from around the world. This week I expect none of the bakers will have heard of flaounas – I certainly hadn’t when the recipe was put before me.

Flaounas, it turns out, are sweet cheese pastries that are typically baked for Easter Sunday and Ramadan in northern Cyprus. Not being completely sold on the idea of sweet cheese, I donned my apron and set to work.

On the ingredients list were two items that are pretty hard to find (thanks, Paul). Ground mahlab, the kernel from the stone of a cherry, has a fragrant taste a bit like the combination of cherries, almonds and vanilla. The other ingredient is mastic powder which apparently has a pine-like flavour. Both can be bought online or in specialist food shops.

The contestants won’t have the same issue with finding these ingredients but will they know what to do with them?

How to make flaounas

First you make the filling. Start by grating a shedload of cheese (I used pecorino and halloumi) until your arm is aching and you’re wondering if Paul chose this as an endurance, not a baking, challenge. In another bowl, mix plain flour, fast-action yeast, sultanas and semolina. Then, into a third bowl, beat eggs with milk before tipping the flour mix and the egg mix over the mountain of cheese and getting your probably-now-exhausted arm to bind it all together. The mixture is then covered and left while you get on with the next stage.

Time for the pastry. Flour and the unsual mastic and mahleb go into a mixing bowl, then the dry yeast is added to one side of the bowl and sugar and salt added to the other side – you don’t want the yeast to be activated before it’s mixed together. Softened butter and room-temperature milk go in to the middle of the flour, then it’s time to mix it all together by hand, adding a little more milk to make the mixture come together into a soft but not sticky dough.

Yay, more exercise! Next, knead the dough for 10 minutes to activate the gluten and make the dough smooth before putting it back in a bowl and covering to prove for an hour, or until it has doubled in size.

So far, so good.

While waiting for the dough to prove you have to make a sesame seed glaze for the pastry. This involves heating sesame seeds in a little white wine vinegar and water until boiling, then straining the seeds in a sieve and laying them out on a clean tea towel to dry.

When the pastry has proved it has to be cut into 12 even pieces. These are then individually rolled into 15cm squares, placed onto the sesame seeds to cover one side, then returned to the work surface ready for filling – you’ll need a lot of space for this challenge.

The cheesy filling has to be  divided equally among the middle of the pastry squares before folding up each side and pinching hard at the corners. The pastries are then put onto lined baking sheets and brushed with an egg yolk glaze.

The pastries are supposed to be baked in the oven at 200ºC but this seemed a little too hot, as they darkened very quickly, so I reduced the heat to 160ºC and baked for another 10 minutes until the filling had puffed up.

Et voila!

I, unlike the contestants, had the privilege of knowing the exact measurements and timings for the recipe – I wonder how the contestants will fare in this time-consuming pastry crusade.

For me, thank my lucky pastry-laden stars, these weird cheese squares worked. The delicious. office was divided in opinion on how they tasted – most not being able to come to terms with sultanas and cheese together in the same recipe. But it’s not down to them – it’s Mary and Paul who will be judging, and ranking, the last seven bakers.

I wonder who, if anyone, will make a perfect flaouna?

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