Battle of The Borek

Final batch of borek

The Turkish Food Centre in Camberwell sells a really mean spinach and cheese borek. It’s a snazzy swirly number which has been making a regular appearance in my face of a Saturday morning. Last week though, one just wasn’t enough. With hindsight, it would have been easier to nip down to the TFC and buy another one, because I basically spent the entire weekend battling with the pastry recipe.

It came from my mate, but it’s not his fault I ballsed it up to be fair; he was working when I asked him for it, and I got drip fed bits in Turkish whispers over the space of a two day period. The first batch were um, pretty interesting. ‘Oh, isn’t it weird that there’s no folding of the pastry after I’ve brushed it with butter?’ I thought to myself. Weird that, considering I’m trying to get it flaky. How will it do that without any layers? So in realising that mistake, in engaging with the culinary knowledge I have built up over a number of years, I decided promptly to just carry on regardless like a complete and utter tool. The pastry was shit, and everyone on Twitter laughed at me, saying the resulting borek looked like turds. THANKS YOU GUYS.

Borek or turds?

So I tried again. Goddam it’s hard to roll that pastry out really thin; it’s just flour and water, and the fat is brushed on in the form of melted butter between the folds. I even bought a special skinny rolling pin in not one, but two different lengths, so I have a reeeeeally long one specially reserved for that time when I need to make a borek the size of the Starship Enterprise. That’s big, right? I hate Star Trek. I think.

I used a spiced butter – actually the niter kibbeh from this recipe but think about it, nigella seeds totally work in borek – and I folded and rested and rolled and made a right royal mess and in the end they looked…well, they looked a lot better than the first batch. The flakes were there but the pastry was nowhere near as plainly and obviously rammed with delicious butter like the TFC version, which is rubbish, because it was. After two days and 30 odd borek I declared temporary defeat. The next day my mate came around, had a look at my efforts and said all they needed was a bit longer in the oven. Arse. “Other than that” he said, “totally nailed it!” and he knows his shit in the borek department. So in your faces Twitter followers! Behold my tasty pastry turds!! (top picture by the way). Bottom line is that the recipe below is a sound one, so knock yerselves out. What do you mean I’ve put you off trying?

Spinach and Cheese Borek (makes 12)

325g Turkish flour (I bought mine from the TFC and I knew it was the right one because it said ‘borek’ on the front. Genius)
175ml water
1.5 teaspoons white wine vinegar
Spiced butter (recipe here)
600g spinach, roughly chopped
175g Tulum cheese (or use feta)
Half an onion, finely chopped
1 egg, beaten

A skinny rolling pin helps here. I bought mine from – you’ve guessed it – the TFC.

Mix the flour and water together then knead until lovely and smooth. I did this in a Kitchenaid mixer with a dough hook. Let the dough rest under a wet cloth for about 30 minutes.

Make the filling by washing the spinach and then putting it straight into a large saucepan, lid on, low heat, until it is all wilted down. Allow to cool then squeeze out as much water as possible. Chop finely. Gently cook the onion in a little olive oil until soft but not coloured. Allow to cool then mix with the spinach. Stir in the cheese. Taste and add salt if necessary.

Separate the dough into balls, each weighing approximately 45g. On a lightly floured surface, roll each ball out as thinly as you can, into a circle shape. You should be able to see through the dough when it is thin enough. Brush the pastry with the spiced butter, then fold it in half and keep folding until you have a small square of pastry (about 4 folds). Let rest for 10-15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200C. Roll each ball out again as thin as you can, in a circle shape. Add a thin snake shape of filling around the bottom half of the circle and then roll up into a cigar shape. Curl the cigar around into a snail shape. Brush each with the beaten egg and bake for 30 minutes or until a lovely golden brown colour.

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23 thoughts on “Battle of The Borek

  1. Mmmmmm, that is our national dish! Burek! When is with spinach it is “zeljanica”, with cheese “sirnica”, with potato “krompiruša”, and “burek” is always with meat.
    I eat it all life, but don’t know to make, cause not easy without holes. :-)))) Thank you on this wonderful recipe!

  2. YUM. These look just like the snack-sized Spanakopita turds we gorged on every lunchtime (elevenses actually) in Kefalonia this summer. Now I can gorge on them all year round… Thank you Helen, I feel a couple of stone coming on!

  3. My (greek) grandmother has passed on a recipe for these too, I love them- will definitely have to go to TFC now that I know they stock them!

    Mine are still not as flaky as giagia’s, but one secret I have learned along the way is that you don’t melt the butter, so you can really slather it on thick. Thicker than you feel comfortable with… you should use most of a stick really. Also she uses vegetable shortening, but I think everyone has their own preferences.

  4. The first pic looks good and just to let you know, in Turkey nowadays a lot of people make borek using ready made baklava filo (I don’t know if you can find those in TFC but they usually have 4 in one pack and it says “baklava” on the front of the package)

    You only need to add the filling and water and oil and you’ll get Flaky (notice the capital F) and delicious crunch too. It has a similar but more substantial taste to a millefeuille (which we also use to make borek at emergencies).

  5. I’m totally impressed by the quality of your borek pastry, it looks amazing. I watched a video on making borek pastry once where they used a frightening amount of vegetable oil and just kind of stretched out super thin your borek pastry looks much more civilized and I don’t think they look like turds at all.

  6. We make borek quite a bit and it always come out yum. I was initially confused what all the build up was at the beginning of the post and then I saw the rolling pin. What??? You didn’t just buy filo pastry??? Madness, but yeh, like loads of respect, I won’t be going down that path any time soon.

    Do TFC sell every speperate stage of borek then?
    1. Premade Borek
    2. Filo Pastry + fillings
    3. Borek flour + fillings

    I’m a strictly 1 and 2 type person

    1. Tasty tasty pastry turds. Let’s face it, the shape is unfortunate. I usually make the cigar shaped ones, and with ready made pastry. They do have a really good brand in the TFC actually, I shall ask my mate to remind me what it’s called.

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