Chef Gigi's Baked Feta Cheese Phyllo Pastry Pie (Banitsa)

Not-So-Traditional Bulgarian Banitsia

Banitsa is a famous cheese, yogurt, and egg pie. Historically renowned dish of Balkan cuisine and typically served for special events. I can’t get enough of it. Based on my geographical location and ingredients, this recipe still has enormous flavor; the sharp feta cheese with the richness of the eggs and yogurt is a perfect trifecta, but the crunch of paper-thin baked dough drives it home.

Bulgarian Banitsia is traditionally prepared with homemade phyllo sheets, a delicious Bulgarian brined cheese called Sirene, fresh Bulgarian yogurt and vegetable oil. If you source Bulgarian products, I recommend using them for the most authentic experience. Feta and Greek yogurt are the closest and widely used substitutions, they work well, so dont be too worried if you can’t find traditional ingredients.

I love the result of filling and rolling the dough up into loose cylinders so much; I make all sorts of crazy-variations. Sometimes I use sundried tomatoes, cream cheese, chopped scallions, then sprinkle the top with everything bagel spice. Occasionally, I will create a sweet dessert using almond paste mixed with eggs and a drizzle of orange flower water and honey, then top off with powdered sugar. 

Sunday Brunch drool-worthy! 

Thawed Ready Made Dough Leaves, Fillo, Phyllo Dough
Thawed Ready Made Phyllo Dough Leaves

You’ll Need:

15-20 sheets Phyllo dough, thawed

8 ounces Greek yogurt, plain  

3 eggs, beaten

2 tablepoons unsalted butter, melted 

1 teaspoon fresh baking soda

10-12 ounces internationally sourced feta cheese, crumbled 

Fresh ground pepper

Non-stick cooking spray

1 tablespoons of unsalted butter, softened

Parsley, chopped fine for garnish or your favorite herbs

Here’s How:

Preheat your oven to 350’F degrees. Lightly grease a springform pan with non-stick cooking spray, or use any baking vessel you have. Don’t shy away from your 9×13 rectangular casserole dish either- it doesn’t need to be round. 

Remove the dough from the package and gently unroll it onto a clean working surface. Cover with a lightly dampened, clean kitchen towel so the dough will not dry out too quickly while you’re working. 

Crack the eggs into a cereal bowl and lightly whisk them with a fork. Set aside.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk the yogurt with the egg mixture, drizzle in the melted butter, add fresh ground pepper and baking soda. 

Working with 2 sheets for each roll, standing in front of the long side of the rectangular-shaped dough, sprinkle about 3-4 tablepoons of the yogurt-egg mixture onto the pastry sheets, top with a handful of cheese sprinkled on top of the egg mixture. Carefully rollthe sheets of the dough away from you to form a loose cylinder. The dough may have some tears, but that’s okay. Just continue creating a long cylinder shape.

Place the first roll into the center of the pan wrapped in a coil. Repeat this step with the remaining pastry sheets until you fill the baking vessel.

Once complete, lightly brush the top with some of the remaining yogurt and egg mixture and dot with the softened butter. Bake approximately 25-30 minutes until the pie is golden brown. 

Cool slightly before serving, and complete the meal with a delicate toss salad comprised of tender baby-green tossed with a lemon vinegarette.

Note: If you run out of egg filling at completion, crack an additional egg, whisk with a teaspoon of water, and lightly brush the egg wash across the top of the pie before baking, prompting a beautiful shiny and evenly browned crust.

Be sure not to use too much filling or the dough will loose its crunch.