Sfakianes Pites come from the region of Crete known as Sfakia (hence the name) and are the perfect example of delicious simplicity. They’re filled with local xynomizithra cheese, pan-fried (without oil or butter) and then, served with a generous drizzle of Cretan honey. Such a treat!
My mom grew up in the village of Anopolis, Sfakia. We spent loads of time there on our summertime visits to Crete to see family. My yiayia (Greek word for grandma) had stacks of Sfakianes Pites ready for us in her freezer, along with so many other goodies. Just like most traditional recipes from Crete, these pies are made using the most simple, local ingredients yet, their flavor is so complex. The exterior of the pita is slightly crisp while still soft on the inside. It is filled with a tangy ricotta-type cheese known as xynomizithra and then, drizzled with local thyme honey. Absolutely divine! Oh, how I wish I could turn back time and eat one of these delicacies from my grandma’s hands. Such sweet memories.
Ingredients for Sfakianes Pites:
- all-purpose flour
- olive oil
- vinegar or lemon juice
- myzithra cheese
- Greek thyme honey
What is a good substitute for myzithra cheese?
If you are lucky enough to live by a Greek specialty food store, then try some myzithra cheese. It is creamy, tangy, and very complex in flavor. However, not all of us can easily buy this delicacy (me too!!) so luckily, there are some good substitutes.
The closest substitute is a combination of drained ricotta cheese (if you can find ricotta salata from an Italian market then, you won’t have to drain regular ricotta overnight) combined with sheep’s milk feta cheese. For this batch (makes 4 pies) you will need 5 ounces of ricotta and 3 ounces of feta cheese. The sheep’s milk feta works much better than cow’s milk and makes this combination taste more like actual myzithra.
If you prefer a milder filling then, just use ricotta cheese.
How to drain ricotta cheese:
Like I mentioned before, if you can get some ricotta salata that is sold in Italian markets, it is very close in texture to myzithra cheese and does not need to be drained. However, the ricotta cheese that is sold in the supermarket holds a lot of moisture and will ruin your pies if it is not properly drained. This is very simple to do.
- Line a strainer with a kitchen towel (or cheesecloth) and set it over a deeper bowl so that it is suspended over it and not touching the liquid that will drop to the bottom of the bowl.
- Place the ricotta cheese in the strainer.
- Place a few pieces of thick paper towel over the ricotta and place some weight on top. A jar, smaller bowl, or a bag of beans will work. This is to compress the ricotta and to help release the moisture.
- Set it in the refrigerator overnight.
- In the morning, the ricotta will be thicker and ready to use.
To quickly remove the moisture you can place the ricotta onto a plate that has been lined with paper towels and flatten it out. Cover it with more paper towels and keep changing the towels once they are wet with the moisture that is released. In an hour or two, the ricotta will be ready to use. I’ve drained ricotta cheese this way several times when I wanted to make these pies last minute and didn’t want to wait for the ricotta to drain overnight. 😁
- Once the dough is prepared, it needs to rest for at least 30 minutes at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator. This helps the dough stay soft and supple. So, don’t skip this step.
- Pan fry them over medium heat without any butter or oil.
- Roll the dough out as thin as possible without tearing it. This will help the pie cook evenly.
Can the Sfakianes Pites be frozen?
Yes! That’s the second-best part. First, is obviously, how delicious they are.😊
Assemble the pies and place parchment paper between them. Transfer them to a freezer-safe bag or container and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. You can then cook them frozen over low heat and raise the heat to medium for the final 2-3 minutes.
Where is Cretan Honey sold?
Honey from Crete is hands down my favorite. The texture is almost like caramel and there are hints of thyme and oregano somewhere in there that give this honey such a unique flavor.
This honey is sold in Mediterranean markets and online. Here are some of my favorite brands from my Amazon affiliate:
I hope that you give these pites a try and that you enjoy them with loved ones. If you do, share pics with me on Facebook & Instagram.
Do you have any recipe requests? Post them in the comments section and will share them with you as soon as I can.
Kali Orexi and I will be back soon with a new recipe for you.
Sfakianes Pites: Pies from Sfakia, Crete
Sfakianes Pites come from the region of Crete known as Sfakia (hence the name) and are the perfect example of delicious simplicity. They're filled with local xynomizithra cheese, pan-fried (without oil or butter) and then, served with a generous drizzle of Cretan honey. Such a treat!
- 2 cups (300 g) all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 6 oz (140 ml) water
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice or vinegar
- For the filling:
- 8 oz (230 g) xynomyzithra cheese or 5 oz ricotta cheese (drained) plus 3 oz sheep’s milk feta
- Greek Honey for topping
Make the dough:
Combine the oil, water, salt, and vinegar in a bowl and whisk together. Add the flour and knead together for 8 minutes. If the dough is too dry at the beginning of kneading, add 1-2 more tablespoons of water. If it is too sticky and wet, add a tablespoon or two of flour. The dough should be soft and tacky at the end of kneading. Pace it in a lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic or a kitchen towel Set aside for an hour to rest.
Assemble the pies:
Cut the dough into 4 equal portions and roll each portion into a ball.
Roll each ball into a 7-8-inch circle.
Separate the mizithra into 4 portions and roll each portion into a ball.
Place a mizithra ball onto the center of each round and bring the edges of the dough over the cheese to cover it.
Flatten the pie out and roll it on a lightly floured surface to about 6-7 inches in diameter.
Place a nonstick skillet over medium heat and cook each pie about 3 minutes per side or until golden.
Transfer to a plate and serve warm with lots of Greek honey. Enjoy!
Freezer Instructions: Assemble the pies and place parchment paper between each one. Transfer them to a freezer-safe bag or container and freeze up to 3 months. When ready to use, cook each pie over low heat for the first few minutes then, raise the heat and cook until golden on each side.
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