My life was easier when I knew just one kind of homemade poğaça, infamous Turkish cheese turnovers. Like any Turkish kid (in my case – adopted one), I was convinced that what your mother does is the golden standard by which you measure food made by the others. This was until I tried poğaça that Aysel Hanim prepares at her little bakery Serger in Moda: hers was large, short and airy at the same time, with dill mixed in the dough and a tiny bit of pungent ezine cheese hidden inside. First I got hooked myself, and then I made all my guests keen on that poğaça. Over the past summer, I developed an early morning routine: I would stop by Serger on the way to the ferry and get a mandatory poğaça to share it with my culinary walk participants at the breakfast we indulged at a local cay ocaği (shop brewing and selling tea all day long).
After a month of so I understood why I had become so addicted to Aysel Hanim’s poğaca so much that no other type would satisfy me anymore. I occurred to me that it tasted like the flat cakes my Russian grandma used to make. Many of you may know how excited I get when finding reincarnations of the foods I am familiar with in the unexpected cultural settings. I called my mom and asked her what she remembered of the flat cakes. She said she never had a recipe but was sure that grandma used lard for the cakes.
My mind rushed. I thought of an article I read in the Guardian reporting on a test of various scone recipes, and the one containing lard appeared to be superior. I also remembered how the other day I made Irish soda bread, and it tasted a lot like that poğaça. So I thought, however unlikely it sounds, Brits might have a good clue about poğaca-like pastry, and I used a scone recipe to kick off my poğaça experiments. Needless to say, I ruled out the lard and replaced buttermilk with yogurt: could you imagine a Turkish savory pastry without any yogurt involved? Just like with scones you need to keep your butter very cold, and by no means you overwork the dough. The result did not appear so short as the Serger’s. The baking soda ensured dramatic rise, which, I discovered, was not necessarily a good thing for poğaca: the cheese melted inside the risen pastry. Plus, that overpowering soda flavor did not fit Turkish poğaça. I remembered how my Russian ex-boss used to say with a well-trained British accent “Nothing will embarrass us”, and I continued my poğaça musings.
The next try was with baking powder rather than soda and more fat. I got the taste pretty close by not the appearance. The dough was so short that the top of the pastry looked too rustic and not as smooth as the benchmark’s. So it was obvious that the egg was needed to fix it and make the dough smoother. My first attempt of adding egg brought me very close to my mother-in-law’s poğaça – nice and soft inside, a completely undesired outcome in this case. Egg seemed needed, but how much egg was needed? At that point, I started doubting everything including my very intent to produce the perfect poğaça. I had many questions bothering me day and night. For instance, could it be that the smoothness had nothing to do with the egg but the resting time in the fridge? It is often recommended refrigerating the butter-loaded pastry dough for at least 30 minutes or, if possible, overnight to let the gluten develop, flour absorb the liquids and the butter stay very cold before the baking meaning that when that melts it will create little pockets of steam resulting in the flakier dough. I tried that instead of the eggs, and while resting the dough in the fridge improved the smoothness it still called for eggs. Eventually, I nailed down the egg quantity.
But then what I still could not figure out was the oven temperature and the baking time. Whatever I did the poğaça still came a tad raw inside. Until the temperature went up to 200C and the baking time reached 45 min, and I had eureka moment that I should curb my anticipation and let poğaça cool before breaking it. The patience paid off, and I was indulging the Serger’s style poğaça made at home.
About the same time as I kicked off the poğaça experiments I started painstakingly documenting my everyday cooking endeavors on Evernote: it’s a fascinating and extremely useful way to review what you’ve been up to at the kitchen at a particular time and keep track of all the recipe revisions. So here are the stats: this poğaça version is the 8th (and what I like to think as final – at least for the time being) version and I have baked it at least a dozen times, very much to the delight of my visiting sister (God give all the cooks such an appreciative eater as my sister). The baking geek in me was eventually satisfied. And because I know myself I can safe assume that very soon I might start doubting the perfection of the recipe again and launch a new round of experiments. This is why it’s a good time to share this heart-winning recipe with you.
Poğaça (Turkish Cheese Turnovers)
Makes 8 large turnovers
The secret of this turnovers is simple: use very cold butter, knead lightly only until the dough comes together and shape gently. Go for quality rather than quantity with the cheese – crumbly, pungent varieties work best.
400 g all-purpose flour
8 g baking powder
4.5 g table salt
100 g unsalted butter, frozen and coarsely grated
90 g sunflower oil
160 g thick yogurt
1/2 large egg, lightly whisked
3 tbsp dill, finely chopped
40 g soft crumbly goat cheese, for filling
1/2 large egg, for brushing
Make dough: Sieve the flour, salt and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Rub the cold grated butter into the flour mix until there are no lumps left and the texture of the mix resembles coarse meal. Then dump the rest of the ingredients in the dough and mix gently – just enough to combine all the ingredients. The dough should feel very soft, yet you must be able to scrape down the sides and bottom of your mixing bowl with the dough. Place on the coldest shelf of the fridge for 30 min at least (overnight, in the best-case scenario).
Shape turnovers: Preheat the oven t0 200C/390F. Roll the dough into a neat log and with a bench crapper divide into 9 equal pieces. Flatten each piece into a 1 cm thick oval with your finger tips gently and place a big pinch of the crumbled cheese to the middle. Fold the dough over the cheese to make a neat half-circle. Press along the ends to ensure they are sealed well (else, the cheese will escape when baking). Place the ready turnover on a baking tray lined with the parchment paper. Proceed with the rest of the turnovers. Brush with the reserved egg and bake for 45 minutes. Cool down before serving. These cheese turnovers are best on the day they were baked.