Sfakiani pita or Sfakian pie, is perhaps the most well-known and delicious cheese pie of Crete. It takes its name from the village of Sfakia, a rugged region in southwest Crete, famous for its brave people, wild nature and its gorges (in fact, the world famous and impressive Samaria Gorge is in Sfakia). It is said that when German philologist Michael Deffner tasted sfakiani pita during his visit in Crete in 1919, he proclaimed: “Oh, my God! No King has ever tasted a pie as good as this!”
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Sfakian Pie: A Pie of Freedom and Generosity
Pies have a special position in the traditional Cretan cuisine. Thousands of acres of farmland full of olive groves dot the island of Crete. The production of olive oil dates back to the Minoan kingdoms (i.e. around 4,000 years ago); some of the island’s olive groves are actually thousands of years old. Cretan pies are prepared and fried exclusively with olive oil produced from these olive groves. The two main categories of Cretan pies are the wild green pies (chortopites), which are filled with a combination of wild greens, and the traditional cheese pies (mizithropites), which are filled with Cretan goat cheese.
Sfakiani pita, is perhaps the most well-known and delicious cheese pie of Crete – which is carefully grilled and then topped with honey, or savory version filled with fennel. It takes its name from the village of Sfakia, a rugged region in southwest Crete, famous for its brave people, wild nature and its gorges (in fact, the world famous and impressive Samaria Gorge is in Sfakia).
There are many pies, but the Sfakia pie is totally brilliant. The more delicate the better and with honey on the top the final result is outstanding!
The Sfakia region has never been completely occupied. During the Venetian rule, Sfakia, unlike other parts of Crete, enjoyed a certain degree of autonomy. The Ottoman invaders also failed to completely subjugate the area, faced with desperate resistance of local residents. Most of the 400-year-old Turkish yoke Sfakia remained self-governing and independent. The people in Sfakia are similar to the local environment: they are majestic, difficultly accessible and harsh.
Ethereal Layers and an Unparalleled Taste
The more delicate the better. In earlier days the result of the final Sfakian pie was a significant criterion of the housewife skills and knowledge. The thinner the Sfakia pie was, the more commendable and admirable the housewife was. The original Sfakia pie consists of an extremely delicate layer of local myzithra between two ethereal pastry sheets, while the more zealous ones accompany it with a generous spoonful of honey. This pie has an incredibly light and superior taste which is indeed incredible.
“SFAKIANES PITES” (SFAKIAN PIES)
- 1/2 kilo flour
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 glass of water
- 1/2 kilo soft “mizithra” cheese
- Cretan raki, salt, honey
We put the flour in a bowl and pour in the olive oil, water, some salt and some Cretan raki. We knead until it becomes a moderately hardy dough. We divide the dough into apricot-sized “balls”. We shape each ball of dough into a round shape, open it very slightly in the middle, fill it with 1 tablespoon of soft mizithra cheese, and rewrap it. Then, we gently mold the dough and the mizithra together, from the center to the periphery, giving it the shape of a medium-sized dish. Proper and careful molding is very important, as the pie must be very thin.
We fry the pies one at a time in a hot, non-stick pan, using very little (or none at all) olive oil, turning them over constantly so they will not burn, until they are cooked. Once ready, we serve the pies warm, after adding some honey on top of each of them.
Read more about Sfakianes Pites on the Agricultural Cooperative of Chania website.