I jumped in elation when I finally found an accurate recipe for this epic childhood dish, Feteer Helw or Egyptian Sweet Flaky Pastry, and I can’t wait to share it with you all at Chez Nermine.
Some argue that this pastry recipe is as old as Egypt itself. According to some resources, this pastry was made by ancient Egyptians and offered as an oblation to the pharaohs (worshiped gods back then).
If you are looking for an interesting hands-on activity to do with your family, this recipe is a great vehicle to learn about the ancient Egyptian civilization that dates back more than 7000 years.
Personally speaking, nothing is better associated with my childhood summertime in Alexandria, Egypt than Feteer Meshlatet (flaky Egyptian pastry) with both it’s savory and sweet versions.
I still find it amazing how the ongoing pandemic reshuffled the priorities in my life. Fancy desires retired to the back burner while simple pleasures powerfully resurfaced to bring in happiness and instant gratification. This is a compelling silver lining of COVID-19.
Childhood comfort food is by far an evident example of that positive change! The simple pleasure of cooking, sharing, and savoring childhood dishes was a game-changer during my quarantine journey.
Not only do I derive energy and happiness from the exotic textures and aromas intertwined with so many childhood memories, I also find them to be a riveting conversation starter among family members and a healthier alternative to the anti-social screen time. My kids absolutely loved this sweet pastry and were interested to know more about its roots.
This joyful and evocative cooking attempt was made possible thanks to Emy Lotfy, a talented cake artist and Instagramer who shared her foolproof recipe on the platform of Elnamleya, anEgyptian cooking club on Facebook that challenges its members every month with an A-class recipe.
Growing up, this treat was more of a street food rather than a homemade one. The kiosks scattered along the corniche of Alexandria served savory and sweet Feteer Meshaltet around the clock which rendered the attempt of homemade versions a waste of time and energy.
As an introduction to her recipe, Emy describes the joy of queuing to get her ordered pastry. Her account of watching the seasoned bakers shape and bake the pastry was an experience in itself. I find my own memories associated with this dish to be pretty similar, if not identical to Emy’s.
The bakers purposefully impressed the long waiting line of customers with their unmatched speed and impressive show of throwing and spinning the layers of pastry dough high in the air and picking them with the tips of their fingers before the flying disk of dough lands on their counter. It is a baking show that never grows old or boring.
The multi-layered pastry is lightly pressed by hand before it heads to a red brick oven (similar to an Italian pizza oven) to come out flaky and plump, with a tanned crusty surface. It gets a generous dust of superfine confectioner sugar and is wrapped in colorful paper that is fit to absorb any pastry’s excess grease.
If you ever find yourself in Egypt, never skimp on this unique experience of eating Feteer Helw and watching how it is made. If you shy away from sweets try its savory version filled with either cheese, sausage, basturma (cured beef).
You can’t accuse this pastry of being a light treat. It is rich in ghee and carbs, and its calorie count soar further with either sweet or savory fillings.
It is worth noting that planning ahead is key in this recipe, as the success secret of this sweet recipe is to let the dough rest enough overnight. You can’t rush the process!
Bread flour, rich in gluten, is the best type of flour to make this pastry. According to pastry experts, avoid using an electric mixer as it would render the dough stiff and hard to roll out and stretch. Using your hands is the best tool for this one.
Whether you’ve tried this pastry before or not, I would love to read your comments/feedback on this post.
And for course, your shares and likes mean the world to me.
If you try this recipe in your own kitchen share a photo of your dish on IG and hashtag #cheznermine
Feteer Meshaltet Helw : Sweet Egyptian Flaky Pastry
Serves: 6 people
- 3 cups flour
- 1½ cup warm water
- Pinch of salt
- ¼ cup ghee, melted
- ¼ cup unflavored oil, such as canola oil
- Assorted roasted nuts (cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, or any nuts you prefer)
- Coconut flakes and/or powder
- Superfine confectioner sugar
- Light sugar syrup
For Cream Filling
- 1½ cup milk, full fat
- 3 tablespoons cornflour or cornstarch (diluted in ¼ cup of milk)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon clotted cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For Simple Syrup
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 stick cinnamon
- The rind of an orange
- 3 to 5 whole cloves
- Make the cream filling: Add milk, sugar, and diluted cornstarch to a heavy bottom pan placed over low heat and stir until it thickens. Add the vanilla and turn off the heat. Add the clotted cream and let the filling cool completely.
- Prepare the dough: Add the sifted flour to a deep bowl, make a well in the center and slowly drizzle in the warm water while mixing the water and the flour with a fork. When you toss in all the water, use your hand to knead the dough until a sticky dough comes together. Don’t over knead the dough. Wipe your hands with oil before removing the dough from the bowl and place it in an oiled recipient for 10 minutes. Divide the dough into four dough balls, wipe them well with oil and let them rest no less than 8 hours or overnight.
- Shaping and assembling the pastry: Wipe your counter or work station with enough ghee-oil mixture. With a rolling pin, roll out each dough ball into a disk. Stretch the dough disk by pulling the end of each disk until it becomes paper-thin and transparent. Fold the disk like an envelope, while wiping each fold with the ghee-oil mixture. Repeat the same steps with layer 2, but before folding into an envelope, put layer 1 in the center and then fold 2 over layer 1 after adding the cream filling. Repeat the same steps with layer 3 and 4. Flatten the whole pastry with your hands to use up all the space of the pan and let it rest again for 20 minutes.
- Bake the pastry: Preheat the oven to 500°F. When it is very hot, pop the baking pan inside the oven for 30 minutes or until the pastry is plump, and golden. You can broil the surface for an extra tan if desired.
- Decorate the pastry: While it is still hot, drizzle the pastry with syrup (recipe follows), and sprinkle it with nuts, or just dust it with powder sugar, and eat it hot or cold.
- Toss the sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat and stir until all sugar is dissolved. Add the stick of cinnamon, orange rind, and whole cloves. Let the syrup simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let it cool down. Remove the spices and drizzle over the hot pastry.
- Use bread flour (rich in gluten) to make this flaky pastry.
- Avoid using an electric mixer as it would render the dough stiff and hard to roll out and stretch. Alternatively, use your hands. They are the best tool for this one.