Fall is the season for baking cookbooks. Between the chill in the air and the upcoming holidays, people are ready to rev up their ovens. This year is no exception and I’ll be discussing a bunch of them for The Forward.
First up, Breaking Breads. Written by Uri Scheft, co-owner of Breads and Lehamim in Israel, this cookbook offers bakery specialties like the best chocolate babka in New York and beautiful (and tasty) challah that graced my Rosh Hashanah table this year. There are tons of recipes that reflect Uri’s Israeli and Danish heritage and his wife’s Yemenite and Moroccan background, including strudel, kubaneh, several marzipan pastries, krembo, and different salads and dips.
I first met Uri at Union Square Cafe, where he used to eat a late lunch at the bar. The restaurant was across the street from Breads, and the bakery supplied the sesame crusted Jerusalem baguette (recipe in the book) that filled the bread baskets and were my usual mid-shift break-time snack. No surprise that I was also in Breads a few times a week and I really miss working nearby.
For my article for The Forward, I made Uri’s cheese burekas because stuffed food is traditional for Sukkot. I baked them on Sunday morning, stuffed three in my mouth straight from the oven, got a few pictures in, and then brought the rest to my friend’s: her four-year old sons loved them. You might be tempted to skip the nigella seeds because they’re not as easy to find as sesame seeds, but it would be a mistake (and they’re really inexpensive at Whole Foods). Their flavor is hard to describe – it’s a little bit like burnt onion, but in a good way, and it really complements the cheese mix (feta, cream cheese, and sour cream).
Breads Bakery’s Cheese Burekas
Recipe by Uri Scheft from Breaking Breads. I used Dufour brand all-butter puff pastry, which comes in packages of 14 ounces, but Uri notes that this is close enough to a pound for the recipe to work. Even though my unbaked burekas looked a bit of a mess, by the time the pastry puffed browned and the cheese melted, they came out pretty nicely. If you want, you can fill and fold the burekas and them freeze them so you can have a fresh burekas whenever you want – they might just need a few extra minutes in the oven.
Makes 8 burekas
2/3 cup (135 grams) cream cheese (at room temperature)
3/4 cup (30 grams) feta cheese, crumbled
1/3 cup (70 grams) sour cream
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons (25 grams) all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling and shaping
1 pound (455 grams) store-bought puff pastry, thawed if frozen
1 teaspoon water
Pinch fine salt
1/3 cup (50 grams) sesame seeds
1/3 cup (50 grams) nigella seeds
1) Place the cream cheese and feta cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-low speed until smooth. Add the sour cream and mix until well combined. Add 1 egg and beat to combine, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary. Add the flour and mix until combined.
2) Set the puff pastry on a lightly floured work surface and roll it into a rectangle approximately 8½ by 16½ inches and about 1/8 inch thick. Trim the edges so you have a nice, clean rectangle, then divide the dough into eight 4-inch squares. In a small bowl, whisk the remaining egg with the water and salt; brush some of this egg wash over 2 adjacent edges of each square. Reserve the remaining egg wash.
3) Place about 3 tablespoons of the cheese filling in the center of each square and fold the non-egg-washed side of the dough over to meet the egg-washed edge—but do not press the edges to seal. Instead, lightly tap the sides together about 1/8 inch in from the edge; then use your finger to press down and seal the triangle along this line (this is so the edges puff when baked, letting you see the layers of the pastry at the edge of the burekas).
4) Set the burekas on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes and up to 24 hours (if refrigerating them longer than 1 hour, cover the sheet pan with plastic wrap).
5) Preheat the oven to 400° F.
6) Remove the burekas from the refrigerator and brush the top of each one with the remaining egg wash. Stir the sesame seeds and nigella seeds together in a small bowl, and sprinkle each bureka generously with the seed mixture. Bake the burekas until they are puffed and golden brown, about 25 minutes. Try to cool the burekas slightly before eating—if you have the willpower!