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Discover Croatian sweet cheese pie – forerunner of the modern cheesecake

Cheese pie

by Andrea Pisac

Pita od sira

‘peeta ‘awd ‘seera

This ancient Croatian dessert has all the flavours of the classic cheesecake. But since its American relative arrived to Croatia, many of us forgot our grandmas’ recipe. Creamy, zesty, flaky, the old cheese pie is ready to be rediscovered.

True to the Croatian idea of a pie, this creamy darling has both the bottom and the top shortcrust layer and it’s cut into squares, not slices.

The raisins in the cheese filling are optional. If you like them, be prepared to fall for this traditional combination. Otherwise, you’re free to leave them out.

Desserts in continental Croatia abound with cottage cheese and sour cream. The texture of our cottage cheese is similar to ricotta but its fat count is at least 25%. There is also more sharpness to it. If you need to substitute it, go for the combination of ricotta, cream cheese and some full-fat Greek yoghurt or crème fraîche.

Croatian cheese pie shows how versatile our cottage cheese is. We use it in both sweet and savoury dishes. And because it’s tangier than ricotta or mascarpone, it makes a great match with lemon zest and juice.

The creaminess of the cheese accentuates the Croatian version of shortcrust pastry. We make it with the addition of egg yolks and sour cream, so it’s both flaky and velvety. It keeps well in the fridge. And whenever I know there’s leftover cheese pie, I wake up early and have it for breakfast.

Ingredients:

For approximately 20 pieces, cake pan 27cm x 23cm [10.5×9 in.]

SHORTCRUST PASTRY:

350 g [2 ¾ cup] all-purpose flour

100 g [¾ cup] powdered sugar

170 g [¾ cup] butter

2 egg yolks

2 tbsp sour cream

Zest of half a lemon

1 tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

FILLING:

500 g [2 ¼ cup] cottage cheese

150 g [¾ cup] sugar

Juice of one lemon

1 tbsp all-purpose flour

2 egg whites beaten

100 g [⅔ cup] plumped raisins

Powdered sugar for dusting

Preparation:

Step 1 

Cut the butter into cubes and let sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes so it’s easier to work with.

Whisk baking powder and salt into the flour to distribute evenly. Rub in the butter cubes. Keep running pieces of butter between your thumbs and fingers until you get a crumbly texture.

Don’t do it for very long because this will melt the butter completely.

Making the flakey shortcut

Step 2

Add powdered sugar, lemon zest, egg yolks and sour cream. Always start with 2 tablespoons of cream, but if the dough doesn’t come together, use a bit more cream. Combine the dough in the bowl.

I always use powdered sugar. Granulated sugar takes more time to dissolve and if you knead the dough too long, it loses its flakiness.

Transfer the dough to the kitchen surface and give it a few kneads.

Kneading the dough

Step 3

Divide the dough in half and form disks. Wrap them in cling film and chill for at least 1 hour.

Step 4

Grease and flour the cake pan. Roll out one half of the dough. Keep pushing the edges in to create a rectangular shape so it fits snuggly in the cake pan.

Pie square shape

Step 5

Wrap the dough around the rolling pin and transfer it to the cake pan.

Prick with a fork several times so it doesn’t inflate in the oven. Blind bake this layer for 10 minutes at 180 °C [350 °F].

Set aside to cool.

Step 6

For the filling, cream the cottage cheese with a fork. Add in sugar, lemon juice, 1 tbsp of flour and plumped raisins.

To plump the raising quickly, soak them in hot or boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain them and they’re ready to go in.

Beat the egg whites to soft peaks and gently fold them into the filling.

Adding the cheese filing

Spread the cheese filling on the bottom layer of the pie.

Step 7

Roll out the other half of the dough. Again, keep pushing the dough into the shape of the pan.

Wrap it around the rolling pin and gently unfold it to cover the filling.

Step 8

Prick the dough with a fork again. Bake for 30 minutes at 180 °C [350 °F]. The pie should turn a light golden colour.

Let the pie cool before cutting it. If you cut it straight away, you’ll break the shortcrust.

Dust with powdered sugar and enjoy! The pie will stay delicious for the next couple of days.

Cheese pie

This recipe is from the cookbook Croatian Desserts – 50 Recipes To Make At Home. The cookbook, which features 50 authentic desserts from all over Croatia made simple with easy-to-make recipes, makes the perfect Christmas or souvenir gift. 

Croatian Desserts – 50 Recipes To Make At Home is only $17.95 or get the Cookbook+Masterclass Combo for $21.50. You can purchase by clicking HERE.

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