I don’t think I am asking too much, all I want to do is see how phyllo dough is made without waking up at an ungodly hour of the night. I went to Leon’s Bulgarian Bakery in Jaffa specifically to see how they flip phyllo dough in the air, in elegant and precise artistry but when I got there the manager told me that the pastry dough is made at 2 am. I was, however, given permission to take pictures of the phyllo being stuffed and decorated in back of the shop while the manager told me the history of the bakery.
Sadly, Leon, the bakery’s name sake passed away a few years ago from cancer but his two sons are continuing his family legacy, the art of handmade phyllo dough. The sons, in fact are the third generation in the bakery business which was started by their grandmother in Bulgaria and has continued with their immigration to Israel. During the height of culinary development of the Ottoman Empire, phyllo dough was used in both savory and sweet recipes in their famous kitchens of Topkapi in Istanbul. Areas which were under Ottoman rule integrated the Turkish style of cooking including many of the Balkan nations such as Bulgaria, the Levant and Greece.
What makes phyllo dough unique is its complete lack of oil. It is made only with high gluten flour and water and stretched into paper thin sheets which are used to make baklava, burek and many other stuffed delicacies. Often the sheets are layered and brushed with margarine, butter or oil to produce a layered pastry effect. While most bakeries continue to use margarine, Leon’s has switched to canola oil to reduce trans fat in their products, although their baked goods can also be ordered using butter. It is also possible to order just the handmade pastry sheets as well as kadaif, which looks like shredded wheat (also called shredded phyllo) which is used to make the traditional Arab kadaif desert.
There is a steady stream of customers going in and out of Leon’s bakery and he even gets visits from well known television personalities such as Gidi Gov, who produced a television show on Israeli foods as well as Phyllis Glazer, a journalist and cookbook author who also leads food tours in Israel.
Leon’s and Sons Bakery
Address: 17 Oleh Tzion, Jaffa
Open: Sunday-Thursday 5:00-17:00
Friday 5:00- 14:00
Boyos, Eggplant and Meat Burek
Boyos is a ladino term used for many different Sephardic pastries including this one which was inspired by Benny Saida and the classic flavors of the Balkan. Janet Amateau has an interesting post about boyos in her Sephardic food blog.
500 grams ground lamb or beef
1 onions, finely chopped
2 medium sized eggplants
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 tablespoon of parsley, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
About 10 sheets of phyllo dough
Poke the eggplants with a fork in a few places and grill them whole until soft. Split them open and place them flesh down in a colander above a bowl to drain excess moisture. When they are cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh of the eggplant and discard the chard skins. Preheat oven to 180 C. Meanwhile fry the onion in olive oil until golden brown, add the meat and cook until it changes color and begins to brown. Add the tomato paste, eggplant puree and spices. If the mixture is too wet, continue cooking until the liquid has evaporated. Add the parsley.
Layer 2 sheets of phyllo dough, brushing olive oil between each sheet. Place a fifth of the meat mixture across the length of sheets and roll the sheet to form a long cigar. Fold the cigar into a snail shape and place on baking tray. Repeat with the rest of the phyllo sheets. Make an eggwash and brush across the tops of the stuffed pastries. Bake at 180 C for 30-45 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown. It is also possible to layer half of the phyllo sheets in a pyrex baking tray, spreading the meat mixture over it and covering with the remaining sheets.