When I was in Greece this summer, my father-in-law phoned from work one morning to say that his co-worker had earlier described a Greek dessert he himself never heard of and he was wondering if even I had ever come across this sweet. It turns out I had never tasted or quite frankly even heard of it either but when I asked my husband’s aunt later in the day if she had, she quickly pulled out her journal of recipes and promptly began reciting the ingredients needed to make the citrus-flavored dessert, Πορτοκαλόπιτα (portokalopita: orange pie).
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to make the Πορτοκαλόπιτα for my father-in-law during the remaining weeks we stayed in Greece and only recently pulled out the sheet of paper I’d quickly and messily jotted the ingredients onto. As I had some extra oranges in the fridge, I decided to give this unfamiliar dessert a whirl and honestly, I am glad I did.
The ingredients my husband’s aunt relayed to me came with no cooking directions. The only thing she did get to tell me was that the sheets of phyllo were meant to be torn and thrown directly into the egg mixture as opposed to being lined along the baking pan as in traditional versions of pita, be it savory or sweet. So the other day, I picked up a whisk, took out a large bowl and set to mixing the ingredients until well-combined; poured the mixture out into a baking dish; added the torn phyllo dough; made a simple syrup; poured it over once the pita was baked; and well, that was it. No mixers, no blenders, no gadgets to clean and dry. Simple baking. At its best.
And this Πορτοκαλόπιτα was simply delicious. The orange flavor was not overbearing and the custard quite light. I even topped some slices with a Greek spoon sweetof orange rind and walnuts … mmmmm, it was really good!
*Next time I make this (and I will make this again) I plan to leave my sheets of phyllo out uncovered to dry up a bit as I thought in some spots of this pita they managed to bunch up and remain a bit soggy. I imagine if they are dried out a bit then torn (or torn first then dried, for less of a mess) they will mix better in the custard and hold their own.
*Begin your syrup first and once it’s done, set it aside to cool and then begin your pita as it will be better to add a cooled syrup to it once it is removed from the oven.
Portokalopita — Πορτοκαλόπιτα
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups Greek yogurt
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
10 sheets phyllo
2 cups sugar
3 cups water
1 tablespoon Thyme honey
Zest of 1 orange, stripped
In a saucepan over medium-high heat combine the water, sugar, honey and strips of orange zest. Bring to a boil and cook for about 15 minutes. Cover the saucepan and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil a baking dish (I used an 8×11-inch). Unroll the phyllo dough and tear it into large pieces then let it sit uncovered until you are ready to use it. In a large bowl whisk the 4 eggs until just combined. Add the oil, sugar, vanilla, orange zest, yogurt and baking powder and whisk well. Pour the mixture into the baking dish then toss in the torn pieces of phyllo pushing some pieces down slightly to coat.
Bake the pita until set and golden on top, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, score lightly into pieces with a sharp knife and then add the cooled syrup. Set the portokalopita aside and let cool completely before serving.