Divine pleasures, reloaded
Ekmek kataifi is one of the most lavish amongst traditional Greek desserts. Sweet, yet not too sweet, creamy yet not too rich and as airy as fleeting fluffy clouds on a spring morning. The way its different textures and levels of sweetness combine will have you going for a second helping or perhaps a second tray.
Head straight to the recipe
My ekmek kataifi came up for a rather special occasion, we were celebrating mum’s birthday. She hasn’t had one in ages, so I felt like spoiling her a bit. There is a long tradition following the ekmek kataifi in the family. Grandma’s uncle Kostas used to have a creamerie back in the ’50s that kept going well into the 80s in the small residential area of Kalamaki. It was one of these traditional establishments that you could get dairy products, from raw material such as fresh milk and butter to processed ones such as yogurts and just a few delectable desserts like rice pudding and small pots of cream that quality of ingredients alone gave them this unique, divine taste. His ekmek kataifi was the star, it had the fluffier, perfectly syruped base without being too sugary, rich custard cream, airy whipped cream and a bed of pistachios as a topping. All layers expertly balanced so that you enjoy the lightness of the kataifi base, two different textures of cream interlocking and a bit of a crunch from playful purple-green pistachios on top.
Of course the heyday of traditional creameries is now long overshadowed by lavish French style patisseries and chocolate has certainly taken over. To my delight, a few really good creameries are still around and they have even upgraded their products from fully traditional to more modern and perhaps brought in a couple of chocolatey versions to please the crowds. As for my family, Uncle Kostas’ ekmek kataifi set a precedence that is hard to bit. His ekmek kataifi is always remembered with love, sighs of bliss and a long interchange of comments about how airy the kataifi base was. Unfortunately I didn’t get to meet Uncle Kostas or try his wonderful ekmek kataifi as timing did not allow. Somehow though, I developed an instinct to emulate a result almost as good as Uncle Kostas’ as my ekmek kataifi certainly passed the family test. What can I say? It runs in the family. 😉
Let’s see what you need to make your own.
Word of advice before you start on ekmek kataifi.
Putting the ekmek together can be a little fussy and you might have to plan ahead a bit. Whilst you can prepare the base in about an hour with baking time, you will need to wait for it to cool down (2-3 hrs) before layering with the custard and then once the custard is smoothly layered on top of the kataifi base it will need to be chilled for a minimum of 30 minutes before layering with the whipped cream and decorating with pistachios. So the important stop points you have to bare in mind is the cooling of the base and the chilling of the custard before you layer the whipped cream. Normally, I prepare the kataifi the night before and on the following day I make the custard cream, layer it on the kataifi base, chill it and then go ahead with the whipped cream and decoration of my ekmek kataifi.
If you are knew to kataifi fillo and you are after a less laborious version, check out the tiny kataifi version.
For the kataifi base:
- 300 g shredded phyllo dough
- 100 g butter
For the syrup:
- 330 ml water
- 450 gr sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 lemon for its peel
For the custard:
- 700 ml milk 3.5% fat
- 3 egg yolks
- 150 gr granulated sugar
- 50 gr corn starch
- 50 gr butter, chilled and cut into cubes
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 2 packets vanilla powder
For the whipped cream:
- 250 ml heavy cream 35% fat, chilled
- 50 g icing sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pistachio nuts, crushed, for decorating
It fills a tray 28 x28 cm tray or 11’x11′.
What to do:
Start with the syrup.
- Add sugar, water, a cinnamon stick and lemon peel and bring to the boil. Just as it starts bubbling remove from the fire, this is approx 7 minutes.
- Set the syrup aside to cool and go ahead with the kataifi base.
Bake and syrup the kataifi base
If you are using frozen kataifi let it thaw in the fridge overnight. When you are working with this pastry, make sure to have a dump tea towel handy to cover it as it dries out very easily.
- Preheat the oven at 160ºC
- Start shredding the pastry to dissolve any knots and cover your tray. The more you shred, the fluffier it gets.
- Melt the butter and with the help of a ladle pour over the kataifi pastry evenly so that it is fully covered.
- Bake at 160ºC for 30-40 minutes until golden.
- Once pipping hot and out of the oven pour the cool syrup over the baked kataifi. Cover with a clean towel and let it absorb the syrup and cool down.
Make the custard aka patisserie cream
- In a mixing bowl, add half the sugar with the egg yolks and mix to combine. Then, add the vanilla extract and the corn starch and beat some more.
- In a large pan add the milk with the rest of the sugar and warm up on low heat. Once the milk has warmed up, be careful to not get it to boil, add slowly about 1/3 of the sweetened milk in the egg mixture and stir well to combine.
- Transfer the egg-sugar-milk mixture into the pan with the rest of the milk and keep it on low heat. Keep stirring thoroughly until the cream thickens.
- Layer the custard on top of the kataifi base, cover with cling film so that the top doesn’t form a crust and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, ideally an hour.
- Add the fresh cream with the icing sugar and mix to get it wonderfully fluffy.
- Get your kataifi and custard tray and carefully peel off the cling film.
- Layer the whipped cream and sprinkle a very generous handful of crushed pistachios.
Keep ekmek kataifi in the fridge and serve chilled. We had it with pink champagne for mum’s birthday and I do love it with coffee too.
From Athens with love,