Greek Orange Pie (Portokalopita)



When M & C were in Santorini last year, they ate  – and loved – something called “orange pie.” Initially dissuaded by its frequent appearance on menus and designation as the ‘national dessert of Greece,’ a server at one of the restaurants they liked most insisted that they try it.

They were both expecting a literal orange pie, similar to an American lemon cream pie with flour-based piecrust and creamy, orange, pudding-like filling. The server explained that it wasn’t like that; she described it as “semolina cake”, but M reported that it tasted like a cake with fillo dough shredded up in it and soaked in orange syrup. I was intrigued by the challenge.

They tried making it first, searching the web for a semolina cake recipe. Given that semolina cake often features orange, it seemed somewhat logical. But the cake they made, while quite good, didn’t resemble the orange pie at all. So I searched “greek orange pie” which brought up a whole host of recipes, all of which featured filo dough in the cake.

I found the one that seemed to the most authentic-sounding, but well-translated recipe. (There were other sites that featured ones that seemed more authentic – author lived in Greece and so on. But on some of these, the translation was so bad that I doubted that it would result in a good product.)

The cake is chock full of oranges and filo. You start by making an orange-infused simple syrup.

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Then you create a base of crumpled filo brushed with butter and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar for the pie bottom.

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 Then much like an American pie, you bake the “crust” separately before adding the filling on top of it.

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When I made the filling, I could see why it had some similar qualities to semolina cake. It uses a lot of olive oil (also the fat of choice in semolina cake), but if that weren’t enough  in addition butter on the filo base, it called for full fat Greek yogurt for the filling as well. The recipe I found had raisins in it but since M & C said there were none in the one they had, I left them out.

But the oddest part is, indeed, adding torn filo dough to the filling. This actually makes it a great cake for someone who hasn’t worked with filo because you don’t have to worry about retaining the sheet integrity.

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When you tear up the filo and add it to the bowl of filling, it looks like you have a bowlful of paper scraps. Then you mix it.

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After pouring the filling on top of the base, you bake it again.

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When it’s done baking but still warm, you poke it, then pour on the orange syrup.

 M&C are right. It is incredible. It’s light and sturdy at the same time, the paper-thin filo giving it an airy structure. It reminds me a lot of the filling for sfogliatelle. And like many Italian deserts, it’s not very sweet.

I did wonder  afterwards, though, when comparing it to the picture from the ones eaten in Greece, if “tear phyllo dough” was an incorrect translation of “shred phyllo dough”. This made it a bit difficult to cut and eat, so next time, I’ll try shreding it, like a chiffonade of phyllo.



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