It’s April. I have begun noticing more cheese hanging in stockings outside my aunt’s house. Which means “flaouna”-making season is just around the corner. “Flaounes” are a traditional Cypriot Easter bread. They are savoury – a really flavourful and beautiful cheese bread. They come in triangle and square shapes, and I believe there is a religious reason behind this, but I am not sure at present. In any event, it is one dish that Cypriot families enjoy making together. With my parents visiting at the moment we decided to make some home-made “flaounes”. Note to self and all: “flaouna” recipes may need to be altered depending on where you live because the “flaouna cheese” (apparently this is its technical name) may be hard to find. For example, you can guess how the reaction would be if one went shopping for “flaouna cheese” in a Canadian grocery store. I already hear crickets. Have no fear though, when my mom first arrived in Canada she made “flaounes” with a combination of Italian cheeses. To this day, that recipe is loved by many in Canada, our Cypriot family and my Cypriot friends. This week, however, we made the traditional version. “Flaounes” are amazing. They are an incredible combination of ingredients producing a taste unparallelled in the realm of cheese bread. Breakfast (…lunch, dinner and probably snack time) has been served.
For the filling:
17 cups finely grated “flaouna cheese” (If in Cyprus, you will be able to find this. If you are outside of Cyprus, not so sure this is readily available. Instead of “flaouna cheese” substitute with a combination of cheddar and other favourite hard cheeses.)
2 cups finely grated halloumi cheese
4 tbs ground dry mint
3/4 tbs ground mastic
1 tbs ground mahleb
20 tsp baking powder
25-30 eggs (it depends how dry the cheese is and how much it absorbs the egg)
1 cup of raisins
For the dough:
15 cups of unbleached all purpose flour
15 tbs vegetable shortening (spry)
1/2 tbs of salt
1 tbs of ground mastic
1 tbs of ground mahleb
4 cups of milk
3 1/2 tbs of dry yeast
1/3 cup of white sugar
eggs for egg wash (egg wash is just a lightly beaten egg)
1. Prepare the filling the night before. In a large bowl mix together well the cheese, half of the baking powder, mint, mastic and mahleb.
2. Add 5 eggs at a time, mixing the cheese mixture well with your hand until it becomes medium-soft. If the mixture feels dry add more eggs, one at a time after having added the 25th egg.
3. Cover and let rest over night at room temperature.
4. In the morning, add the remaining baking powder, raisins and mix well with your hands. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel.
5. Then prepare the dough. Mix together the flour, mastic, mahleb and salt in a large bowl. Add the vegetable shortening and rub the shortening into the flour mixture with your fingers.
6. Dilute the yeast with 1 cup of warm milk and 1 tbs of sugar in a bowl making a very soft dough. Cover the same and let rise in a warm place for about 15 minutes until a light foam has formed on top.
7. In the meantime, warm the remaining milk with remaining sugar over the stove at low heat. Place in a large bowl.
8. Beat the eggs and add them to the milk. Keep this mixture warm until the yeast mixture has risen.
9. Once the yeast mixture has risen, add it to the flour mixture. Start adding the milk mixture slowly while mixing the dough with your hands. If the flour mixture needs more water, have some warm water at hand and add a little warm water if necessary.
10. Start needing the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic. This will take about 10 to 15 minutes.
11. Cover with a blanket and let the dough rise for about 2 hours.
12. When the dough has risen, punch it down with your fists.
13. Cut a piece of dough the size of a small lemon. Roll it into into a circle approximately 9 inches in diameter. Place a small plate over the circle and trace around it with a knife forming a flat, circular piece of dough.
14. On a flat, clean surface sprinkle a generous amount of sesame seeds and pour a little water over top the sesame seeds to wet them.
15. Place the circular piece of dough onto the sesame seeds so that one side is covered with sesame seeds.
16. Place a handful of the cheese mixture into the middle of the circle. Take a brush, and brush egg wash on the edge of the circular piece of dough.
17. Fold the sides of the circle to form an open triangle as shown in the pictures. Ensure that there is a small opening on top. Lightly press the corner edges down with the prongs of a fork to secure the cheese inside.
18. Place on baking paper on a pan. Prepare all the “flaounes” the same way. Once a pan is full, cover the same with a kitchen towel and let the “flaounes” rise again for about 1 hour. Do the same with each full pan.
19. Preheat the oven to 160C. Lightly brush the top of each “flaouna” with egg wash and bake for 45 minutes. Pour yourself a glass of lemonade and enjoy – it has been a long day!