A traditional Greek gold-orange cake made with crumbled phyllo dough. Remarkably interesting to make. Moist and custardy, somehow similar to a canelé, with the scents of orange and cinnamon. Serve hot or cold, it's real pleasure.
In her book Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts, Aglia Kremezi said this Greek cake went viral a few years ago and made its way in all the bakeries around Greece. However, bakers could not say where the recipe comes from. This seems curious to me since I already started going through old greek cookbooks to find out more about this super interesting cake. Her husband (funnily) offered an explanation 'A novice, a probably frustrated cook who couldn't manage to make a decent pie, ended up with torn-up phyllo pieces and decided to dump them into the batter'.
My adopted version uses less sugar (and oil too) than any recipes I found online and in cookbooks. I might say I've made it a bit healthier without lacking in deliciousness. It actually came out more interesting than what I have recently had in Crete; when serving cold, it has a chewy crust with an inner texture of thick pastry cream, closer to custard and canelé. When serving hot, it still is custardy but more airy and fluffy and I'd say it's mandatory to have a coffee with it.
400 g phyllo dough
200 g yogurt (use a high % fat vegan yogurt or, for a vegetarian version use at least 2% fat yogurt or greek yogurt)
100 g olive oil/vegetable oil
300 ml freshly squeezed orange juice
zest from 1 orange
2 tsp vanilla extract
20 g baking powder
400 g water
400 g sugar (I used whole cane sugar)
zest from 1 orange
1 stick cinnamon
First, make your syrup by boiling the water with sugar, cinnamon, and orange zest. When it starts boiling, cook for 1-2 minutes then put aside and leave to cool.
Second, dry the phyllo sheets by placing them on a dry surface and leave for at least 20 minutes to air dry. They should be dry enough to crumble in your hands into small flakes. Alternatively, you can place the sheets, one by one, and slightly folded in a tray and cook them at 150°C for a few minutes until hard but not brown. You can keep the oven on and set it to 180°C.
Tear the sheets of the phyllo dough into small pieces, using your hands, and place them in a big bowl.
Make the yogurt batter that will coat your phyllo flakes by mixing the yogurt with oil, orange juice, orange zest, vanilla, and salt. Keep the baking powder.
If your oven has reached 180°C, you can add the baking powder to the mixture and stir quickly. It will react with the orange citric acid and will rise in size.
Quickly pour half over the flakes, mix with a spatula so they are evenly coated then add the rest, mix and make sure they are well coated and there are no big clumps sticking together.
Pour the flake mixture into a generously greased rectangular pan and place it in the oven. Cook for 40 minutes (20 minutes at 180°C and 20 minutes at 150°C)
Take out from the oven and pour some of the syrup right away with a cup. Wait for it to be absorbed and then pour more.
Portokalopita will keep well for up to 5 days refrigerated in an airtight container.
NOTE: I didn't add all the syrup (400 g water+400gwater) because I found it too sweet for my taste. However, traditionally this cake requires even more sugar (for a 400 g phyllo dough, traditional recipes call for at least 600 g sugar; my recipe only calls for 400 g and it's up to you how much syrup you want to add).
In the end, I used around 300 g sugar (syrup), and that works best for me: it is still really sweet, but it's not as sweet as a proper Turkish or Greek dessert i.e Baklava, Kadaif.
I kept the syrup in a cup so my partner added more on his plate when serving - he's a big fan of syrupy desserts.