Lihnarakia are the sweet cheese pastries that come from the island of Crete. They’re sold in most bakeries all year long and made in homes during Easter-time. Follow my easy recipe to enjoy with tea or coffee. Sweet, creamy, goodness in every bite. And, they can be made ahead and frozen!!
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Lihnarakia get their name from the old fashioned oil lamps that they resemble. These delectable pastries come from the island of Crete (where my family is from) and they are as delicious as they are dainty. The crust is between a cookie and a pie: tender, slightly crisp on the exterior, and with just the right amount of softness. The cream filling is traditionally made with mizithra cheese. However, here in Houston, it is not easy to find so, I went with full-fat ricotta cheese instead. The result was perfect! Creamy velvety-smooth perfection in every bite.
Where do these pastries come from?
These delicious sweet cheese pastries are sold in almost every bakery on the island of Crete. I had them for the very first time last summer while visiting family and fell in love. There are 2 types of lihnarakia:
- Anevata: translates to leavened because they contain yeast. I’ll share that recipe as soon as I can
- the second kind is the kind without yeast. This recipe!
Traditionally, they’re made with sweet mizithra cheese or anthotiro, a sweet creamy cheese made in Crete. The island of Crete is known for its traditional mizithra. There are 2 types: xinomizithra (the sour kind) and that is usually added to savory dishes such as Boureki and it is in their world renound Cretan Bougatsa from Chania. Both recipes are on this blog.
Unfortunately, the traditional mizithra (both kinds) are very hard to find. Nevertheless, I found that ricotta cheese is a wonderful substitute.
Important Tips for a velvety smooth filling:
- Strain the ricotta cheese in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours. Place the ricotta in a colander or strainer and suspend it over a bowl to catch all of the liquid that will drain. Cover the cheese with a paper towel and plastic wrap to prevent it from absorbing refrigerator odors. The longer it drains the creamier the mixture will be. You can leave it in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours.
- I also add a quarter cup of fine semolina flour to my mixture. It makes it extra creamy. Semolina flour is usually sold in the baking aisle of the supermarket. If you cannot find it there, a local Mediterranean/ Middle eastern market will have it for sure. If you prefer to shop on Amazon, you may purchase it here.
I love recipes like this one that can be assembled ahead of time and frozen. It makes entertaining so easy! Follow these tips and you will have lihnarakia ready to go with that cup of tea in 20 minutes!
- Follow the recipe instructions and assemble the pastries. Place them on baking trays that have been lined with parchment paper.
- Place the trays in the freezer for 25 minutes. Alternately, if you do not have room in your freezer you can allow the pastries to chill in the refrigerator and then freeze them later on.
- After 25 minutes have passed, take the trays out and reshape the pastries. They tend to lose their shape and need a helping hand.
- Place them back in the freezer until they harden.
- Transfer the cheese pastries into freezer bags or freezer-safe containers and keep them frozen up to 2 months.
- When ready to bake, take the pastries out of the freezer and place them on a baking tray(s) lined with parchment paper. Next, brush the tops with egg was and sprinkle with cinnamon.
- Bake in a preheated 350 °F oven for 20 minutes or until the edges are golden. They will taste as they’ve just been made.
If you have space in the freezer, make an extra batch. From my experience, the secret to stress-free entertaining lies in preparation and desserts like these are the perfect example. Just, do the work once and you will have dessert on hand whenever anyone stops by to say hello. This way, you will never hesitate to call loved ones over for tea-time.
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For the Dough:
- • 3 and 1/3 cups (468 g) all-purpose flour
- • 2 teaspoons baking powder
- • ¼ teaspoon salt
- • 4 ounces unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
- • ¾-1 cup granulated sugar
- • 1 egg
- • ¼ cup yogurt
For the filling:
- • 425 g ricotta cheese, strained overnight
- • ¾ cup (165 g) granulated sugar
- • 1 egg
- • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- • ¼ cup semolina flour
- • Lemon zest, optional
- For the egg wash: 1 egg yolk plus 2 tablespoons water
- Ground cinnamon for garnish
- Make the dough: Combine the flour, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl and whisk together.
- In the bowl of a tabletop mixer that is fitted with the paddle attachment, add the butter and sugar. Beat on high speed for 2 minutes.
- Add the egg and beat until fluffy.
- Add the yogurt and beat until incorporated. The mixture may curdle. It is ok. It will come together when the flour is incorporated.
- Add the flour in a few batches and mix until a dough is formed. The dough should be soft but not sticky. Add a little more flour if needed.
- Transfer the dough to the bowl and cover it with a towel or with plastic and allow it to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
- Make the filling:
- The ricotta must be strained overnight or for at least 6 hours. Place it in a strainer and then suspend the strainer over a bowl. Cover with a paper towel and refrigerate. The liquid will drain into the bowl and the ricotta will thicken.
- Discard the liquid and transfer the ricotta into a dry bowl.
- Add the remaining filling ingredients and mix together.
- Assemble the little pies:
- Transfer the dough to a work surface and knead it by hand (without any flour) for 1 minute.
- Lightly flour the work surface and place the dough on top.
- Roll out the dough to a quarter-inch in thickness. Cut 4-inch (10 cm) circles and place them on baking trays that have been lined with parchment paper.
- Roll the remaining scraps of dough out again and keep cutting circles until the dough runs out. You should end up with about 21 circles.
- Take one circle at a time and roll it out just a little (1 roll per turn for about 4 turns).
- Place the circle in the palm of your hand and place a heaping teaspoon of cheese filling in the center.
- Pinch the edges of the dough together. About 7-8 pinches to create a decorative pattern.
- Place the pastries on the baking trays and chill in the freezer for 20 minutes. Re-enforce the shape by pinching the edges together again and freeze for 30 more minutes.
- Notes: The pastries may be chilled in the refrigerator as well for a little bit longer. Chill them long enough for the dough to harden. This will help the pastries keep their shape while baking.
- Once the pastries are frozen, you may transfer them to an airtight freezer-safe container, or a bag and they will keep fresh up to 1 month.
- Preheat the oven to 350 °F, 180 °C.
- Brush the tops of the cheese with egg wash and dust them with ground cinnamon.
- Bake on the center rack for 20-25 minutes or until the decorative edges are golden.
- Serve with tea or coffee. Enjoy!
- Leftover baked pastries may be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
It is very important that the dough rests for at least 30 minutes. This will help it roll out easily and it will be much easier to shape them. After the dough rests, knead it for a minute (without adding any flour to the work surface. Then, place it on a lightly floured work surface and roll it out ¼ inch thick. If the pastries start to open up on the tray, carefully press the tips together and reshape them. Once they chill for a little bit (15-20 minutes) then, you can fix their shape easily. It is best to chill them in the freezer as long as it takes for them to harden completely. Baking them frozen will help them hold their shape. It is highly recommended to make them a day or two ahead if you will be serving them at a dinner party. They will still take 20 minutes to bake. Our family likes these pastries on the sweeter side so, I use the entire cup of sugar in the dough. You can make them less sweet by using a ½-3/4 cup of sugar