The perfect pastry exists. It doesn’t ooze custard, it doesn’t have one million layers. It’s not a fusion of two already established and decent desserts and you can’t queue around the corner for one. Instead, it’s dough within another dough, there’s cheese and other things and it’s made only once a year by your Yiayia hailing from the village.
I speak with zero genetic bias that this is the greatest morsel in history. To describe its flavour as heavenly is a severe understatement. It’s not a treat, it’s a delicacy! It’s the divine bread I yearn for 24/7, I speak of the two-dough, tri-cheese, sesame seed encrusted Cypriot annual delight that are flaounes. If you know, you know. And if you don’t, my sincere condolences – but I’m here to help.
Flaounes, affectionately called floons within my immediate family, are a hand-held savoury bread with a cheese dough filling made only once a year before Orthodox Easter in Cyprus, traditionally celebrating the end of Lent. There’s a strong emphasis on once a year here as their transience makes them all the more exquisite. I guess you could call me a massive floon hoon. They should be as iconic as the red eggs we smash.
When I arrive to my Yiayia and Bapou’s house on baking day there are already two huge buckets in the kitchen – one filled with a yeasted, bubbly shortcrust-ish pastry dough with mastic and mahleb, and another with the flaouna filling of three grated cheeses (haloumi, romano and a variety from Paphos made especially for Easter), eggs, sultanas and mint. The ingredients read like pantry leftovers, but please bear with me.
First, the shortcrust-ish pastry is pressed a few times through a pasta machine before being passed to Yiayia. She flattens the dough further with her rolling pin before trimming off the rounded edges. The pastry rectangle is then divided into three or four with her rolling cutter and some cheese dough is poised on each shortcrust square. The edges are furled over, leaving some of the filling exposed, and the corners are sealed and crimped with a single press of a fork. The flaounes will cop an egg wash, a sprinkling of sesame seeds and are then baked in a hot oven tray after tray, batch after batch.
They emerge with the Midas touch, gold and swole. The filling bulges and caramelises around the top. That heavenly centre, so obscene, becomes aerated and soft despite the many kilograms of cheese present. Are Cypriot bakers alchemists? The structural integrity of the thing is also obscene – every fold, furl and crease in the outer pastry remains unbroken after cooking, holding it all together, firm and thin. How on Earth? Its flecks of mint and sweet, once-plump-but-now-blistered sultanas make this kinda juicy and fresh, which to me is what differentiates the flaouna from all else.
We have lunch while the accumulation of flaounes cool on a trundle table wheeled out for such an occasion. Sometimes it’s Bapou’s charcoal barbecued souvlaki or chicken, this year it’s his coriander seed steeped olives, Yiayia’s bread, braised octopus and haloumi. Afterwards the flaounes are divided into freezer bags amongst the family. When I receive mine it’s like leaving with a bag of diamonds.
Flaounes never last long, and to savour the very last one of your frozen stash truly marks the end of an era of the current year. If my adoration sounds exclusionary, my apologies – find me post-Orthodox Easter and I’ll untie my prized freezer bag with you for a defrost and a debrief. My offer may not result in a queue around the corner, but I’m certain you too will bow to the beige and become a raging floon hoon after experiencing this flawless double-dough package that is the perfect pastry from Cyprus.