How to Make Albanian ‘Byrek’
If you visit Albania, one of the first traditional foods you would probably try there is ‘Byrek’, a delicious traditional savory pie, mostly prepared with vegetable fillings and a kind of soft cheese called (gjize) which you cannot get abroad (as far as I know). Cottage cheese is the closest we can get. It’s crispy, it’s soft, delicious and for me, it brings a lot of memories. My mom would make this every Sunday. Leek and cheese filling; tomato-onions filling; sweet pumpkin filling; all so delicious. My children love the cheese variant, that’s why I’m sharing that one with you.
I am describing the cheese-only option as it is the easiest for a starter.
400-450 gr puff pastry (ready-made; no filo pastry)
70 ml olive oil or sunflower oil
70-100 gr butter
Cottage cheese 250-300 gr
Feta cheese 150 gr. diced
Flat surface for rolling the dough.
Oven baking plate (approx. 45×40 cm or a bit larger)
Brush to spread the oil-mixture
Open the package of the puff pastry and lay out the pastry sheets to unfreeze. Normally there is a piece of plastic between the sheets. Do not remove this at this moment. Place the pastry with the plastic side down. Let it rest for 10 min. Count and divide the pieces. We will need two layers. Normally I have 8 pieces (10×10 cm) for each layer.
Meanwhile, you can prepare the oil-butter mixture.
Take a small pan and pour the oil in it. In Albania, they usually use sunflower oil. Heat till you see a bit of damp coming out of it. Remove from heat and add the butter. Let it resolve and stir a few times. Let the mixture cool down a bit.
Byrek has two layers of dough with a filling in between. We work first on the layers.
Take the first peace, spread a teaspoon of the oil-butter mixture on the sheet, and build up till you have used all 8 pieces. Do not oil the upper layer.
Work on the same way for the other upper layer.
Now let’s roll the first layer
Take some flour and spread it on the flat surface. Do this also on the top of the pastry. Begin to roll it out. Repeatedly spread a bit flour while rolling if you see that it sticks. Roll it evenly till it can cover the surface of the backing plate. Make it even a bit bigger (1 cm).
Take the backing plate, spread 3 eating spoons of the oil mixture evenly. Do not forget the sides. Lay the first rolled layer there and turn the oven on. Preheat to temperature 220 *C.
Roll the second layer too. When ready with rolling, prepare the filling.
Take a bowl and mix with a spatula the cottage cheese, feta cheese, eggs a bit of salt and pepper as desired. Spread the mixture evenly above the first layer.
Place the upper layer directly and press the sides together while forming a crust. I usually use a small fork to make it look nicer.
You should have about 1/3 of your oil-butter mixture over. Spread it evenly above the upper layer. Well done! Your byrek is ready to be baked.
Normally it takes 25-30 minutes to bake. After the 25th minute watch it constantly as you do not want the upper layer to get burnt or get too brownish.
Take it out. Let it rest for only 5 minutes and cut into pieces. ENJOY. You may eat it with your hands. No need for cutlery.