Here pies are made with dough, dairy produce – mostly soft white cheeses (myzithra – a whey cheese made from either sheep’s or cow’s whey to which whole milk is sometimes added, xynomizithra – a soft, sour cheese, anthotyro – a soft, young cheese made with the residual whey left over after the production of graviera and the addition of whole milk, pichtogalo Chanion – a soft spreadable cheese made from sheep’s milk or from a combination of sheep’s and goat’s milk. Pichtogalo has a sour taste and a smooth texture and has been granted PDO status), wild herbs (fennel, etc.) and other aromatic herbs growing on the Cretan earth, such as mastic, cumin, bay leaves, cinnamon.
With these raw ingredients as basis, pies in Crete come in various shapes, e.g. shaped like a sealed or an open envelope, flower-shaped – just like the tsimpita in the Cyclades (tsimpita is a sweet made from sweet crust filled with fresh soft cheese; once filled, the edge of the crust is pinched using two hands. Tsimpito derives from the Greek verb “tsimpo” that means to pinch), half-moon shaped, etc. However, together with kaltsounia, Sfakiani pita is the most famous pie of them all.
A pie of local fame, Sfakiani pita originates from Sfakia. Pita stands for pie and Sfakiani is the adjective deriving from the word Sfakia, i.e. the name of a southern prefecture of Crete. This thin pie is something between a crepe and a pancake, filled with a delicious, soft, cheese.
In his excellent book “Kritiki Kouzina” (Cretan Cuisine), N. Psilakis states that while Prof. Defner was touring Crete back in 1919, when he tasted the Sfakiani pita, he exclaimed:
“What a heavenly delight this is! No king in the word has ever tasted such a delicious pie!”
1 cup flour
1 cup fresh myzithra cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ tablespoon salt
¼ cup water
½ raki shot
To make the pita:
Place the flour, olive oil, raki, salt and water in a large bowl. Knead to create a soft dough. Set the dough aside, cover with a towel and let rise for one hour.
Shape the dough into palm-sized balls and fill with a tablespoon of myzithra.
Allow to rest for a while as well. Then, take one ball of dough and roll it out with a rolling pin to a thin circular-shaped phyllo (thinly rolled out pastry) about 20 inches in diameter (ideally).
Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in non-stick skillet over medium heat. Place the phyllo and fry for 1 minute on each side until a little golden. Your sfakiani pita is ready! While still hot, drizzle with a generous amount of thyme honey – or sesame if you like- and serve. Sfakiani pitta tastes better when accompanied with cold raki!