If we could eat baklava, finikia and spanakopita every day, we might not be so passionate about the annual Easter Greek pastry sale. But because it comes only once a year, we practically count the days until we can eat our fill of phyllo layered with nuts, honey and butter.
Since 1964, members at the Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society have baked dozens of loaves of sweet bread, hundreds of trays of baklava and spanakopita, and thousands of finikia and kourambiethes.
The first year of the bake sale, the women netted $350 from the sale of sweet pastries. Last year, the group made $10,000. Each year, the organization starts with a zero balance, and the money that comes from the bake sale is distributed to charities including Baby Health, Military Missions, God's Pantry and Camp Horsin' Around.
About 23 active members share the load of organizing, making and selling the Greek specialties. Although the bake sale continues to grow in popularity, the work force is dwindling.
"We try to teach the young people, but they're so busy," Katina Douglas said.
Each year, the group tries to add something new to the lineup. This year, it's napolitana and galaktoboureko.
Napolitana is being made by Sonia Bratu of Romania, who is visiting her daughter Dr. Aurelia Radulescu, a pediatrician at Kentucky Clinic. Bratu layers sheets of wafers with a walnut butter egg cream to make napolitana.
Douglas is making galaktoboureko, a custard wrapped in phyllo and drizzled with honey syrup. She learned to make the Greek specialties from her mother, her husband and her mother-in-law. Douglas grew up in a small community near Hazard, where her mother and father ran a grocery store. The family moved to Lexington in 1957, after a devastating flood.
In 1963, she married Major Douglas and began her life in the restaurant business. They owned the Blue Ox Restaurant on Leestown Road; Brandy's Kitchen, at Main and Limestone, which served good home cooking like fried chicken and stew; and Grecian Gardens, which was above Brandy's Kitchen and Phillips Shoe Store.
Grecian Gardens, open from 1975 to 1977, served authentic Greek food. The Grecian restaurant was something that Major Douglas had always wanted to do.
"There was a lot of remodeling that had to be done, and we did it. We had a Greek cook, and when he went back to Greece, my mother-in-law made her specialties," Katina Douglas said. "I loved the atmosphere, the patrons and the Greek music."
After her husband died, Douglas closed the restaurant and worked in the cafeteria at Bryan Station High School to support her young sons, Nick and Chris. She now works at the county attorney's office.
Still, decades later, Douglas can whip up a pan of moussaka as quickly as some people can grill a burger. She only has to mention that she's making a spinach pie or a pan of pastistio, and son Chris is on his way. Her grandchildren, Kali, 11, and Major, 8, also love her Greek specialties.
Many of her traditional recipes are from her mother-in-law, the late Evdoxia Douglas. It was at Evdoxia's house that the family always ate dinner after church on Sunday. But Katina Douglas also has Greek roots on her side of the family.
"My mother cooked Greek foods, but at the time I was growing up, I didn't pay much attention to what she cooked," Douglas said. "I think about my mom's recipes, and although she didn't write them down, I try to duplicate them as much as I can."
Here are recipes for some authentic Greek specialties that are available at the pastry sale.
4 cups milk
¾ cup semolina
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter, clarified, melted and warm, divided
1 teaspoon lemon rind, grated, or 1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ pound phyllo
Syrup (recipe follows)
In a deep saucepan, heat milk and semolina, stirring constantly until it reaches the boiling point. Remove from heat; cool 5 minutes. In a bowl, beat eggs and sugar until fluffy; add to semolina mixture. Add ½ cup melted butter and lemon rind; blend well.
Place 8 phyllo sheets in a buttered 13- by 9-inch baking pan, brushing each sheet generously with remaining 1/2 cup butter. Allow phyllo to extend up sides of pan. Spread filling evenly over phyllo; fold overhanging phyllo over the filling and brush with butter. Cover with 8 buttered phyllo sheets, which have been trimmed to fit pan. With a sharp knife, score only through the top phyllo layers, making 4 equal rows lengthwise. Sprinkle a few drops of cold water over pastry. Bake at 350 degrees. Drizzle cold syrup over hot pastry. Return to oven for 5 minutes; let stand 2 hours before serving. Cut into diamonds or squares. Galaktoboureko is best served the day it is made. Refrigerate any leftovers.
Makes 24 pieces.
2½ cups sugar
1½ cups water
3 thin lemon slices
1 stick cinnamon
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer for 10 minutes.
1 pound unsalted butter
4 tablespoons vegetable shortening
11⁄3 cups vegetable oil
½ cup sugar
2⁄3 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ounce bourbon
8½ cups sifted all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¾ cup finely chopped walnuts, optional
Syrup and nut topping (recipes follow)
Cream butter and shortening together in a large bowl. Slowly add oil. Add eggs and beat thoroughly. Add sugar, orange juice, vanilla and bourbon, beating well after each addition. Sift together flour, baking powder and spices; slowly add to batter along with walnuts, if using. Knead slightly. Pinch off pieces of dough and shape into rounds or ovals about ½ -inch thick.
Bake on greased baking sheet at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly browned on the bottom. Cool slightly. With a slotted spoon, dip cooled cookies into hot syrup until well saturated; sprinkle with nut topping.
Makes 8 dozen to 9 dozen.
3 cups sugar
1½ cups water
½ cup honey
In a saucepan, boil sugar and water for 5 minutes. Stir in honey and simmer gently about 15 minutes.
1 cup ground walnuts
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup powdered sugar
Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Mix well and sprinkle over finikia.
Karethopeta (walnut spice cake)
½ cup butter
1 cup sugar
8 eggs, separated
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
3 cups flour
4 cups chopped walnuts
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
Syrup (recipe follows)
Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add egg yolks, and beat with a mixer until very light. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites and cream of tartar into a stiff meringue. Fold carefully into egg yolk-sugar mixture. Combine dry ingredients and fold into mixture. Pour into a greased 10- by 15-inch pan and sprinkle with a few chopped nuts. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 30 minutes, or until done. Cool cake, cut into diamond-shaped pieces and pour syrup over top. Let stand at least 2 hours before serving.
1 cup sugar
½ cup water
1 cup honey
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon rum (or lemon juice)
Boil sugar and water in a saucepan for 10 minutes. Add honey, cinnamon and rum, and mix well.