As I watch my mother carefully fold each layer of fillo pastry, methodically and rhythmically, from one corner to the next, to form what will become flaky, cheesy triangular parcels of deliciousness, it occurs to me that her fingers would have folded thousands of tiropites in her time. Caterina is in mum's kitchen with us and I can't help but notice her fixated gaze over mum's aged yet nimble hands working so quickly and effortlessly.
Mum has been making tiropites for the last 40 years. Same method. Same recipe. Same brand of fillo pastry. "I've only ever used Antoniou fillo, that's all we ever used when we had the restaurant", mum explains. My parents ran a Greek restaurant in Sydney's Balmain for many years, and fillo pastry starred in many of the restaurant's dishes. "There is no shame in using ready made fillo when the quality of the product is so great". Mum is from a region in Greece that specialises in making pita, and she is a rockstar at making the thicker Greek style fillo by hand. However when it comes to thinner-than-paper fillo pastry, she is happy to leave it to the experts.
Caterina and I had the absolute pleasure of visiting the Antoniou fillo pastry factory recently, and what a treat it was! When you have been using a product for so long, there is something so fulfilling about seeing how that product is actually made. As we entered the factory floor, with a haze of flour in the air, and a sea of scattered flour beneath our feet, we almost felt at one with the process. Watching the amalgamation of flour and water swiftly stretch into sheets of paper thin pastry was as therapeutic as watching my mother rhythmically fold that very pastry into little triangular parcels. While much of the traditional, painstakingly laborious hand rolling fillo-making process has now been mechanised with custom built machinery, all the pastry folding, cutting and packaging is meticulously done by hand. As Nick, son-in-law of Chris and Marina Antoniou, the original founders of this fillo-making establishment explains, "There are some things that a machine just can't do".
The Antoniou family business has been operating since 1960, and while technological advances have allowed for more efficient processes, it is obvious why they are leaders in their game, now exporting to many countries around the world. Family. That's their trade secret.
Over a cup of coffee and a piece of spanakopita (freshly made on the premises, using the famous Antoniou fillo pastry, of course), sitting with two generations of the extended Antoniou family is like sitting with old friends. Warm with conversation, and giving of their time, Christine and her father Nick are a delight to chat with. We could have happily chatted with them all day. While Nick explains how the business began, and the changes he has seen in the years that he has been a part of the family, Christine speaks with admiration about her grandparents who started the business, and the excitement she feels about continuing their legacy. Nick and Christine are only two of the many family members that work passionately at the Antoniou headquarters. When we asked Nick how he felt about daughter Christine, and her other cousins working in the family business, you could see the pride in his face, "They are the future".
If the last 60 years are any indication, then the family team at Antoniou pastry have a very bright future indeed. Embracing the changing demands of the food world and remaining ace at their trade, while continuing to build on the familial foundations that the business was built on, will continue to remain their winning recipe for success.
Proud father Nick with daughter Christine
We left the factory with a new found appreciation for the humble packet of fillo pastry that we so easily pop into our shopping trolleys. We were inspired to develop a few recipes using Antoniou's fillo pastry and the beautiful strands of Kataifi pastry, which we will share with you over the coming months. In the meantime, here's the recipe for mum's tiropites.
The buttery, crunchy golden pastry forms the perfect shell for the creamy, salty cheese filling. When you pop one in your mouth, we guarantee there will be another three or four to follow. Unlike most recipes that use one or two cheeses, mum’s recipe uses four (or five or six, if you have other cheese varieties lying around). And the addition of baking powder - that's mum's tiropita trade secret.
They make the perfect appetizer, finger food for a party, addition to a mezedes platter, snack after school, or even a great dinner when served with a side salad. The wonderful thing about these is that they can be frozen for months. We always make a large batch and keep them tucked away in the freezer, ready to pull out and bake for when unexpected guests pop in, or for when we haven’t had time to prepare dinner.
These gorgeous parcels can be time consuming to make and fiddly to fold, however they are well worth the effort. With a large glass of wine by your side… the rhythmic pastry filling and folding becomes rather therapeutic after a while!
Makes: 40 triangles
- 600g ricotta cheese
- 250g feta cheese (A firm Greek feta is preferable)
- 150g grated tasty cheddar cheese
- ½ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup thickened cream
- 1 heaped tsp baking powder
- Cracked pepper for seasoning
- 1 x 375g packet Antoniou chilled fillo pastry
- 250g salted butter
- Place the cheeses, eggs, cream, baking powder and cracked pepper in a large bowl. If you do have other cheeses lying around, feel free to add them to the mixture. Most of the harder cheeses like Romano, Gran Padano, Peccorino, work well. Adding ¼ cup of any of these will add to the complexity of the cheese flavour. (Avoid blue, brie and camembert cheeses)
- Using your hands, mix all the ingredients together until well combined.
- Melt the butter in a saucepan, or in a bowl in the microwave. The butter will be used to brush the pastry when folding the triangles, and will be used to brush over the triangles before placing them in the oven. It is normal for the butter to reharden while making the triangles. If this happens, pop it back on the stove or in the microwave to melt again.
- Lay out the fillo pastry onto your work bench. Using a sharp knife, cut the pastry vertically to create 4 even strips.
- Lightly brush the fillo pastry with melted butter
- Place a heaped tablespoon of the cheese mixture along the bottom edge of each pastry strip
- Now the fun part – folding! The aim is to create equilateral triangles (triangles with 3 even sides). When you fold, you need to pick up two sheets of pastry (picking up only one sheet will create floppy tiropites). Starting from the bottom left hand corner of each strip, lift the corner of the pastry and fold over to the right hand side of the pastry, creating a triangle. Take the bottom right hand corner point of the pastry and fold it upwards to the left hand side, enclosing the triangle. Repeat this right to left process until you reach the top.
- With each fold, ensure that the points of the triangle seal the cheese mixture in. This will ensure that the cheese mixture does not spill out of the pastry. Be careful not to press down the centre of the triangles, you want to be light with your fingers so the parcels remain full and fluffy.
- Be patient, you will get the knack of this after making a few. And if they are not perfect, it doesn’t really matter. They taste just as good if they look a little rustic and lop-sided!
- Pre heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius
- Liberally lather a baking tray with the melted butter. Add the triangles to the tray, leaving at least half a centimetre gap between the triangles (as they will enlarge slightly when baking). Brush the top of the triangles with plenty of melted butter, ensuring all the pastry is covered with butter (don't skimp on butter here. Using enough butter is essential in making them super golden).
- Place the tiropites in the middle level of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the top of the pastry turns golden, and the triangles have risen into golden puffs.
- Tiropites freeze very well. For freezing, place a sinlge layer of tiropites in a sealable plastic container. Place a layer of cling wrap or baking paper between each layer, to ensure they don’t stick to each other. To bake, repeat steps 10-12. There is no need to thaw the tiropites before baking.
Food photography, story and recipe creation by Effi Tsoukatos & Caterina Sterrantino for the Sydney Food Sisters