I love the last week of the carnival season. It is a special one in the tiny country of the Mediterranean Basin called Greece. According to tradition and Orthodox religion (strongly interrelated for centuries), carnival’s last week is called “dairy week” (Tirini). Back in the old days, shepherds sold their dairy products, milked the same day. All week long home cooks used to bake all kinds of custard pies, cheese pies, pasta pies, yogurt, artisanal cheeses, and butter. It was allowed to eat dishes based on animal products but not meat. Totally fine by me. Imagine how crazy this week can be for dairy lovers. I mean it’s the dairy paradise, for sure. Undoubtedly, this traditional Greek milk pie (galatopita gala=milk pita=pie) is the best ambassador not only for these 7 days but for the whole year: milk, butter, eggs, and semolina produce a creamy custard baked over thin phyllo. Give me only 15 minutes of your time (the rest is baking time) and I will give you the best milk pie of your life.
Are you interested only in the recipe? Ok! No problem. Jump to Recipe
The last festivities of the carnival period are marked by the consumption of dairy products and the abstinence from meat. 7 days of cheese, butter, milk, and eggs and no meat at all. The rationale behind this week is to prepare the body for the 40-day pre-Easter meatless period. The last day of this week is called Kyriaki Tyrofagou (or cheese Sunday) and the most cheesy and creamy dishes are served. A tradition on cheese Sunday is to end your dinner with an egg and to break the Lenten fast with an egg 40 days later. Quite interesting, isn’t it?
Come on, guys! Make this cheese pie along with this cheesy pasta dish or this flour pie or that custard pie. Tomorrow it’s Clean Monday, the first day of the Lent period. No red meat, no meat by-products (cheese, milk, eggs), no fish with a backbone. Only plant-based food. Does it sound like torture? Not all because there is a tremendous variety of vegetable, grain, and seafood dishes and we usually rediscover traditional recipes and make them even more tasteful every single year.
Oh, my!!! I have this vague memory of my grandmother baking a milk pie in firewood oven but unfortunately, I cannot recall the flavor. You see, I was impressed by the fire and the whole baking procedure and I didn’t care much about the pie. Believe me, it was divine and I got my mother’s testimony and recipe to prove it. This recipe is a keeper even if you don’t bake it in a firewood oven.
THE DAIRY PRODUCTS
Do you want to taste the most authentic version of the Greek milk pie? Good. Then, I strongly recommend dairy products from goats or sheep. I used goat milk and sheep butter trying to replicate my grandmother’s recipe back then when they made that pie from products of their livestock. The strong taste of these dairy products will enhance the flavor and will make this milk pie an unforgettable experience that is going to be on repeat over and over again.
Nevertheless, I know it is rather difficult for some of you to find goat and sheep products. No worries. Use whatever it is easier for you to find or available in your fridge. I assure you it will be delicious and definitely is worth your time.
PHYLLO. YES OR NO?
Yes and no. There are so many delicious variations of this milk pie all over the country. In northern Greece, they prefer to enclose the custard into thin phyllo pastry sheets and in southern Greece, they make the simpler version without phyllo. Either way, milk pies are scrumptious and so seductive. No way to eat only one piece.
I use store-bought phyllo pastry for my traditional desserts. Even though I can handle phyllo dough for savory pies like the legendary spinach pie (spanakopita), the thought of making phyllo pastry from scratch has never crossed my mind. There is a good reason for that. It should be so thin that you can read a newspaper through it. Yes. That’s how you evaluate good thin phyllo. I mean imagine baklava or galaktoboureko (another traditional custard pie with phyllo and syrup) made with thick phyllo sheets. No way. It would be so disappointing. Thin phyllo needs serious skills and so much practice and patience.
However, it would be possible to make a homemade decent phyllo pastry using a pasta machine. It’s in my immediate plans to buy one and give it a try. Until then, I usually buy fresh thin phyllo pastry and pay attention to the ingredients: flour, olive oil, vinegar (or lemon). No preservatives or oil of doubtful quality. Only olive oil, please. It isn’t that hard to find it in Greece and in fact, there is a huge variety of good quality phyllo pastry. Truth be told, it is so tempting to just go to the market and buy one.
GREEK MILK PIE: THE RECIPE
To be honest, it is so simple that it is hardly a recipe. In a pot boil milk, sugar, butter, semolina, add eggs, layer the phyllo sheets and …. in the oven. See? That easy!!! This recipe is mostly waiting time.
The only tricky part is not to burn the custard because semolina thickens the mixture very quickly. Just follow my instructions and keep an eye on the heat.
A final tip is to add gradually and veeeery slowly the eggs in the custard and stir like crazy otherwise they stiffen.
READY! NOW, WHAT?
Let it cool a little bit in order to cut a nice piece. You may sprinkle iced sugar and some more ground cinnamon but it’s totally optional. I usually enjoy my galatopita with a cup of Greek coffee.
Enjoy my friends!
Greek Milk Pie - Galatopita
FOR THE FILLING
- 4 cups (1 liter) whole milk, preferably from goat or sheep
- 1 cup (250g) granulated sugar
- ½ cup (120g) fine semolina
- ½ cup (125g) butter, unsalted, preferably from goat or sheep
- 5 eggs, slightly beaten
- 1 small lemon, the zest
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 pinch of salt
FOR THE PHYLLO
- 5 phyllo pastry sheets (thin phyllo)
- 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 4 tablespoons melted butter, unsalted, preferably from goat or sheep
FOR THE TOPPING
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
FOR THE FILLING
- Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
- In a heavy-bottomed pot heat the milk with the butter over medium heat until lightly simmering. Add the sugar, vanilla extract, lemon zest, a pinch of salt and gradually the semolina on low heat. Stir constantly until it thickens and be careful not to burn it. The custard is thick enough in more or less 15 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and set aside for 5 minutes.
- In a small bowl, beat the eggs and gradually (and very slowly) incorporate them into the custard mixture whisking continuously.
FOR THE PHYLLO
- In a small bowl combine ground cinnamon with the granulated sugar.
- Grease well a 12-inch (30cm) round x 2-inch (5cm) deep pan or tart pie dish or a pie dish or mold. With dry hands on a flat dry surface gently open and unfold the phyllo. Layer the first phyllo sheet. Cover the whole surface and leave the rest of it overhanging your baking dish. Brush the whole surface and the edges with melted butter and sprinkle with the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Small breaks or cracks aren't a problem.
- Carefully place a second sheet on top of the first. At this point the whole baking dish should be covered with phyllo dough. Brush completely with butter and sprinkle with the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Repeat with the remaining phyllo sheets.
- Pour the filling over the phyllo and spread it evenly with a spatula. Use a knife to cut the overhanging dough. Don't cut all of it because we need enough dough to form a beautiful ring around the baking dish.
FOR THE TOPPING
- Whisk together all the ingredients and pour this over the surface of the custard.
- Bake at 350 °F (180°C) for about 45 minutes on the rack just below the middle of the oven. Let it cool for half an hour. Sprinkle with icing sugar (optional).