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Galaktoboureko: A Classic Greek Dessert with an Autumn Flavored Twist

Tis the season for dessert and trust me, I promise not to disappoint.  This past weekend the hubby and I trekked off to our monthly supper club gathering where the theme centered around the Mediterranean flavors of Greece.  I was assigned the sweet ending for my contribution to the meal.

Now everybody knows and has had baklava at some point in their lives.  After all, it’s the most famous finisher known around the world in Greek cuisine.  I debated putting a batch of it together, but then I thought, why be predictable?  Life, and my upcoming Greek meal for that matter, deserves a little shake up to keep things interesting.

I hunted around the internet in search of inspiration, paying particular attention to my Greek friend Katrina’s blog; Culinary Flavors and stumbled upon galaktoboureko.  If you haven’t heard of this before you’re probably saying galaktobo-what?  I know I did.  But let me assure you, the premise of the dessert is much easier than it’s name implies.  Traditional galaktoboureko is simply a semolina based custard sandwiched between two layers of phyllo dough that is baked and subsequently soaked with a sugar syrup; typically citrus in nature.

Let me just state for the record that I put in a gallant effort to find semolina flour visiting three separate stores, including our local Greek grocery which as it turns out, closed down when I wasn’t paying attention.  At the end of it all I came up empty handed and with time running out, I had to scrap my hunt and settle for good ol’ all purpose.  The good news is that this dessert still tastes amazing with or without the semolina.  I’ve called for the former simply because that’s what I ended up using, but if you can track down some semolina and want to give a more authentic flavor to your dish, please do so.  Just be sure you share a piece with this dessert loving girl before it’s all said and done.

To make the custard you’ll start out by first adding to a sauce pan some milk, cream, flour, sugar and salt.  Cook it all up on medium heat, using a whisk to stir together until the mixture begins to thicken.

Once thick, remove from the heat and let sit for five or so minutes to cool.  While waiting, you’ll grab up a handful of eggs and a splash of vanilla along with a touch more sugar and whip it into a protein filled frenzy.

Now we’re going to temper the eggs which is a fancy way of saying we’re going to bring them up to the temperature of the milk mixture slowly so we’re left with a smooth, creamy dessert and not a scrambled breakfast time mess.  I apologize in advance that I didn’t get a picture of the action, but between whisking with one hand and pouring with the other, I ran out of fingers to push the camera clicker doo-hickey-majigg-a-ma-bobber.

Basically you’ll want to grab a 1/2 measuring cup or similar sized container, collect up a glug of the cooling liquid and slowly pour it into the beaten eggs all the while whisking with your other hand to ensure it’s incorporated evenly and without any resulting scrambled egg cooking.  Now take your tempered egg mixture and slowly pour it back into the milk mixture whisking  the milk mixture as you go.  You should have a beautiful basic custard base at this point.

But as you probably know, basic has never been my game so let’s “autumn it up” shall we?  Drop in a can of pumpkin and a little pumpkin pie spice.

Gently whisk the mixture until smooth and allow it to cool while you turn your attention to the phyllo dough.

I realize that people hear the word phyllo and they wanna run for the hills.  I get it.  It’s finicky, testy and a down right pain in the arse.  But just remember this… it’s so WORTH the trouble.  That buttery flaky goodness when all is said and done will make you forget any “wrong side of the tracks” encounter you had with said dough in the moment.  Trust me on this one.

Start out by melting a stick of butter and stirring in a few hearty squeezes of honey.  Brush the bottom of a 9×13 pan with said butter and then add your first phyllo sheet.  Spread butter over that and then repeat the process until you’ve done about six to eight sheets of dough.  Here’s my pan with the first sheet of finished phyllo.

Now pour the cooled custard over the top of the phyllo.  Spread it out evenly and then add another six to eight sheets over the top of that, making sure to brush each with butter after adding them on.

Toss the custard into the oven and let it cook for 35-40 minutes until the top is a lip licking golden brown.  Told ya it was worth the effort.

While the custard is baking, you’ll compile the final step of this “melt in your mouth” finisher and by far the highlight of the whole sweet filled shebang – the caramel sauce.   Begin by heating up a cup of sugar until it turns a liquidy golden brown.   And don’t forget… this stuff is hot like super glue on steroids.  It will dry to your skin and burn you instantly so be careful not to splash or play too much while you’re cooking.

Once the sugar is completely liquidized, pour in a cup of milk.  It will spit and foam and look very angry for a few minutes (kind of like my husband when I tell him we’re all out of Ghiradelli dark chocolate squares), but stick with it and soon all will be well with the world again.  You’ll need to stir it for another 5 to 10 minutes or so after everything calms down in order to reheat the sugar and fully incorporate it back into the milk.

At this point you’ll remove the caramel from the heat and add in a little butter followed by some vanilla, salt and a teaspoon of cinnamon.

Finish it all off by squeezing one large, fresh navel orange into the bucket and stirring until you reach a harmonious mixture of syrupy goodness.

The only step left in the process is to introduce the caramel to the custard.  So let’s do it.  Caramel meet custard, custard meet caramel.  I’d say it’s a match made in dessert heaven, wouldn’t you?

Let your finished masterpiece sit for at least an hour before serving so that the caramel syrup has time to sink into the custard and work it’s culinary magic.

And let me tell you, magic it most certainly is.   I could literally eat this treat with a fork straight out of the pan.  It’s a good thing I had my fellow supper clubbers to help share in the dirty work of total and utter dessert demolishment.    It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.  Thank goodness that someone is me.

Pumpkin Galaktoboureko with Salted Orange Caramel Syrup

Yield: One 9x13 Pan - About 15 Adult Sized Servings

Total Time: 1 hour 30 min


For the Custard:

3 Cups Milk
2 Cups Heavy Cream
1/2 Cup All Purpose Flour
1 Cup Sugar, Divided
1/2 tsp Salt
4 Eggs
2 tsp Vanilla
1 15 Oz. Can Pumpkin Puree
1 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice
1 Stick (8 Oz. or 1/2 Cup) Unsalted Butter, Melted
3 Tbsp Honey
16 Sheets Phyllo Dough

For the Caramel Sauce:

1 Cup White Sugar
3/4 Cup Milk
4 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
1 tsp Vanilla
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Kosher Salt
1 Navel Orange, Juiced (about 1/3 to 1/2 cups worth)


To make the custard, combine the milk, cream, flour, 3/4 cups of the sugar and salt in a large sauce pan.

Heat on medium until mixture begins to thicken. Once thick, remove from heat and let sit for five minutes.

In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs, the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and the vanilla.

Grab a 1/2c measuring cup and fill with the warm custard mixture.

Slowly pour into the eggs, whisking as you do it.

Once it's fully incorporated, take the egg mixture and slowly pour it back into the custard whisking the custard as you add until fully combined.

Finish off the custard by carefully whisking in the pumpkin and the spice. Set to the side.

After melting the stick of butter, squeeze the honey into it and swirl it around a few times to get it good and mixed.

Brush some of the butter mixture across the bottom of a 9x13" pan.

Add a layer of phyllo and brush the top with butter. Repeat this process until you have 8 layers of butter brushed dough.

Pour the pumpkin custard over the top and spread evenly.

Lay a phyllo sheet over the top and brush with butter. Continue process until you have 8 layers over the top of the custard.

Place the custard into a 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes or until the custard is cooked through and the phyllo is a beautiful golden brown.

While the custard is baking, grab up a large saucepan and heat up the sugar for the caramel.

Once the sugar is completely caramelized and liquidy, pour in the milk. Note that it will fizzle and spit a bit and your sugar will most likely harden back up from the quick drop in temperature. Simply continue to stir and heat for another 5 to 10 minutes until the sugar turns back to liquid and mixes completely with the milk.

Remove from the heat and add in the butter.

Once the butter is melted add in the vanilla, cinnamon and salt.

Finish by squeezing in the fresh orange juice.

Pour the caramel sauce over the cooked custard and let sit for at least an hour to give time for the syrup to soak in.

Serve with a dollop of whipped cream if desired. This dessert can be kept covered in the fridge for up to four days but is best eaten on the day it is made.