Sweet Cheese Pies. Easy Desserts from Mom’s Recipe Book
Cheesecakes are widely present in international cuisine. The ones I’ll talk about today are a traditional Moldavian recipe, from Northern Romania. Mom made them countless times when I was a kid. Since I discovered how easy they are to bake, I gave these pies many a try as well.
The Romanians have called these pies “poale’n brâu” for centuries. That translates literary to “the bottom of the skirt raised to the waistband”. Why? Perhaps many years ago, women would wear their skirts as improvised bags to carry whatever they would forage in the forest or a small bunch of twigs for the fire. Ever so practical!
When you make the pies, you do have to stretch the corners and cover the cheese filling as in an envelope, or a pocket; perhaps that is visually similar to pulling the rim of the skirt and tug it under the waistband.
Historically, the great pharaoh Ramesses II, known as Ramesses the Great for his military prowess, seemed to have been addicted to this dessert. So much so that he took some with him in the afterlife. The archaeologists have discovered traces of pies filled with honey in his burial place in the Valley of the Kings. (By the way, the great pharaoh did depart in style, his funerary temple – not tomb! – measures 820 sqm/8800 sq. ft. and included a library with thousands of papyri; in case you wanted some non-cheese pies related facts!)
Next in the chronological line of civilisations, the Greeks carried on making pies they filled with fruits.
The affluent Romans, great lovers of lavish banquets, would fill the pies with meats or cheese.
In Medieval Europe, the pies were the favourite dessert of pilgrims and royal heads equally. The latter would have them filled with peacock meat because they could afford it!
The sweet folded pies made it to the Americas at the same time with the great adventurers who remained in history as the discoverers of the New World (that turned out not to be India, which they were looking for). In fact, the said world had been there for quite a while and was doing just fine.
That is until some intrepid Europeans sponsored by potent kings and queens eager to grab more riches stumbled upon and accidentally “discovered“ it. The rest is history, the gift of smallpox and cholera the Europeans bestowed upon the unvaccinated prehistoric civilisations of America set the New World on the road to becoming what it is today.
The filling for the pies adapted to whatever was available on the continent (forest fruit or specific fruit).
To this day, the English fill the pies with meats, mostly. In 2018 a large bakery chain that makes pasties at industrial scale and sells them in many shops around the country was the first to announce a billion-pound profit.
Our pie went a long way from a pharaoh’s table to making someone a billionaire.
I just can’t help a little history dig! Now, the recipe:
Sweet Cheese Pies
- Two large bowls
- Small bowl
- Rolling Pin
- Baking tray/parchment
- Large spoon
- 700 g plain flour (2 ½ cups)
- 2 eggs
- 1 tbsp coconut sugar
- 1 tsp dried yeast
- 400 ml milk (1 ½ cup)
- 10 tbsp melted coconut oil
- lemon zest
- a pinch of salt
For the filling
- 500 g cheese – homemade or similar to cottage cheese (not salty!) (2 pots)
- 3 egg yolks (save the whites for later use)
- a handful of raisins
- orange zest
- rum oil essence
- 1 tbsp semolina (optional/if needed)
- Making the dough is similar to ciabatta bread; the main difference is that for the pies, we use milk and sugar. Also, the rising time is a lot shorter for this dough.
- Mildly heat the milk and melt the coconut oil. Mix the wet ingredients and, while still warm, pour the mix over the dried yeast combined with sugar.
- Allow a few minutes to activate the yeast, then sieve the flour over and box it until you obtain a firm but easy to manipulate dough. Let it rise for about three-quarters of an hour (or until it doubles in quantity).
- Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Place the cheese in a large bowl (the cheese has to be dry; remove any excess liquid before use). Add the egg yolks, sugar, raisins, orange zest and rum essence. Mix well until you obtain an even composition.
- If you believe it is too soft, add the semolina (increase the quantity if necessary; it will absorb the excess humidity.) The filling has to be balanced, not too soft, but not too hard either.
- Preheat the oven(180°/356°F/gas mark 4) and place a parchment sheet in the baking tray.
- Using a roller pin, spread half of the dough on the flowered worktop. Cut the dough sheet in squares of about 10-15 cm/5-6 inches. With a spoon, place a dollop of the cheese filling in the middle of each square.
- Gently pull out each corner of the dough and fold it to the middle until you cover the entire filling. I always make sure to pinch the edges softly and glue them together so that the cheese does not spread out in the oven. Also, compress the middle of the pie to help distribute the cheese evenly inside the pocket.
- Beat the egg whites with a little bit of sugar. Use a brush to splodge the top of each pie. The purpose of this step is to create a shiny and sweet film.
- Alternatively, use only the eggwhites for coating and sprinkle powder sugar when the pies are ready to obtain a snow effect.
- Bake for 10-15 minutes – or until the pies turn golden.
- Allow to cool before serving.
Make yourself a nice cup of coffee to have with a pie; you deserve it after all this work!