“Cheese pie Dobrogea style”
Dobrogea is the area in the south-east of Romania comprising the Danube delta and the cities of Constanta and Tulcea. Historically, it has been somewhat prone to invasion and colonization and as a result has many varied influences in its cuisine. One period of foreign control was during the Ottoman period when many settlers from the Ottoman Empire moved to the region, introducing Turkish culinary habits to the area. As a result you find many good pies and pastries in the region, as well as other sweet and savoury delights.
Placinta Dobrogreana (pronounced /pla-chin-ta do-bro-gee-ana/) is probably one of the most famous pies or pastries in Romania – its popularity meaning that it can easily be found in good pastry shops all around the country. Whilst researching the recipe I notice that there do seem to be variations. Some make it as a pie with the cheese filling between layers of thinly rolled-out pastry. Other recipes have the filling rolled up in the pastry like a sausage and then arranged around the baking tray. Some recipes combine the cheese with sour cream, others with eggs. I’ve tried to incorporate elements and options of all these methods, but how you ultimately make it is up to you depending on your preference for ingredients and look.
This version is the savoury version of the pie, but a sweet version also exists, using sweetened cheeses and sometimes mixed with raisins. If you can’t be bothered to make your own dough (really, it’s an easy dough to make, so don’t be afraid!) you can use shop-bought phyllo pastry.
Servings: 8 slices
Time: 90 minutes
Time: 90 minutes
For the dough:
1 small egg
1 tablespoon of oil (sunflower or olive)
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of vinegar (not malt)
For the filling:
500g of soft fresh cheese (see method)
Smantana (sour cream) and/or eggs (probably no more than 3 – see method)
100g melted butter or oil (sunflower/vegetable)
1 large egg
3 good tablespoons of yogurt or sour cream (smantana)
1. Pour the flour into a mixing bowl, make a well in the centre, and add the egg, oil, water, salt and vinegar.
2. Combine the ingredients in the well and slowly draw in the flour, mixing well with your fingers, until a dough starts to form.
3. Form the dough into a ball and turn out onto a floured work surface. Knead the dough until you achieve a soft, elastic dough which is no longer sticky.
4. Put the dough back in the bowl and cover with a damp tea towel and rest on the sideboard for 30 minutes. Alternatively, flour the ball a little, and drop it into a plastic freezer bag, give it a twist to eliminate the air, and rest for 30 minutes.
5. While the dough is resting, preheat the oven to about 200-210C (medium heat).
6. Now it’s time to start to make the cheese filling. You should use about 500g of cheese but you can add more if you like a thicker layer of cheese in your pie (or indeed less, if you like it less cheesy). I used a mixture of telemea de oaie (ewe’s milk cheese, something like a feta), branza proaspata de vaca (a soft fresh cow’s milk cheese) and branza de burduf (a soft but slightly mature tasting sheep’s milk cheese) but you can use any good fresh or semi-fresh cheeses (such as chevre, feta, Neuchâtel, paneer, queso fresco). Combine the cheeses well, and break up the harder ones with a fork, and then add either smantana (sour cream) or eggs, little by little, until you reach a nice sloppy consistency. I recommend adding the eggs/cream gradually – the amount you need will depend on the initial consistency of the cheese and the size of the eggs. The consistency you want is quite thick, certainly not ‘pourable’, but something like a thick cake batter or bricklaying mortar (if that helps you at all!). Taste it when you’ve done combining it and add salt if necessary.
7. You’ll need to brush the sheets of dough with a little butter or oil. If you intend to use butter, now is the time to melt it in a pan over a very low heat.
8. Once the dough is sufficiently rested, it’s time to roll it out. First of all, roll the dough into a sausage and cut into six equal parts. Form each sixth into a ball and then roll it out until it is the size and shape of the baking tray you intend to use (mine was a 25cm diameter circular tray, about 3cm deep).
9. Butter or oil the bottom of the tray well, then put in the first sheet of dough, brush it with butter/oil, then put in the second sheet, then half the cheese, spreading it out to about 1cm from the edge of the tray, then another two sheets of dough (the first, again, brushed with butter/oil). Now add the rest of the cheese, again spreading it out until it’s about 1cm shy of the edge of the tray. Finally, add the last two sheets of dough, brush each with butter/oil.
10. What I do now is to gently run the back of a knife over the top to mark the portions, dividing it into eight wedges (as I use a circular tray). I don’t actually cut through the dough, I just depress it so that the cutting point will more clearly defined at the end of the baking process.
11. Now, put the pie into the preheated oven and cook for about 20-30 minutes until the top has started to brown. At this point, make a mixture of one egg and three tablespoons of smantana (sour cream) or yogurt, according to preference. Spread this mixture over the top of the pie and return it to the oven for another 15-20 minutes, or until once again brown.
12. Once it’s nice and brown all over (but not burnt!) take it out of the oven, let it cool down for a few minutes, and then cut it into portions using the lines you scored in it earlier. Then…eat!