Greek Orange Pie ( Portokalopita )

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‘Tis the season of fresh oranges, and the markets are full of many different varieties.  Each year, I try out my Orange Pie recipe.  I think the picture of this years version looks like a piece of art.  No filter either!  It was right out of the oven, and the honey orange syrup and not yet started to soak in.

Each year I make it, I make it a little bit differently, and each time I make it, I am trying to recreate at some point, the Portokalopita (Orange Pie) I liked most.  I’ve had fluffy, like a cake – custardy, like a pie, and sort of crispy  – like the type of donut called a cruller.  In every case, regardless of the texture, it is made with phyllo dough, and then drenched in a honey orange syrup.

The first time I tried the pie, was on the island of Milos, in Greece.  This island may only be about 60 square miles, but it’s fascinating history and varied terrain begs for hours of exploration.  Each day we would get up early, pack some snacks, and head out on the scooter to discover secluded beaches, ancient ruins, pirate caves, and, of course, food.  Map in hand, with sunhats, sunscreen, and swimsuits, we’d head off the paved road to see what we could see.

This was my favorite version, and it looks like they probably cooked it on a sheet pan.  Those wonderful dark freckles are bits of chocolate.  I’m not much of a chocolate and orange combination fan, but I started to become one after a slice of this sunset on a plate.  It was served warm which means they popped it in the oven and it got a good crisp along the edges. This is the one I call the crispy version.

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In this video, you can get an idea of what it is like to hop on a scooter and go motoring along the island. We saw a beach, way down below us, and decided to find out if it was possible to reach it.  Although the video is shaky, you can see the Mediterranean, and the winding road that zig zags back and forth and up and down the hills.  There is no way to get from one hill to the other without spiraling down, and then back up again.  For such a small island, the sheer diversity of it’s natural beauty and ancient history could take weeks to discover.

Some say that it was on this island that Paul was shipwrecked and shook the asp off his hand and into the fire. Other islands claim the same thing, but it is here that the oldest Christian catacombs were discovered, and it is here that the only known Greek Island asp from ancient times still resides.  These catacombs were originally created at the end of the first century to be used as a cemetery.  Later they were used as a safe hiding place when the Romans were persecuting Christians.  FYI – most of the graffiti in this picture is fairly recent.

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The recipe today is for a custard version of the portokalopita.  I used 3 different kinds of oranges: Cara Cara, Mandarin, and Blood.  Why?  Because I was lucky enough to find so many different types! Otherwise I just use what I can get. I did not boil the oranges for this recipe, but instead used the juice and zest.  It still had a wonderful orange flavor which complimented the custard texture nicely.

Orange Pie (Portokalopita)

Makes an 8 X 8 pan

About 1/2 package phyllo dough, dried and torn into strips

3 eggs

3/4 C Yogurt

1/4 C honey

1 1/2 t olive oil

1/4 t cinnamon

1/4 t vanilla extract

1/3 C fresh squeezed orange juice

pinch of salt

zest of medium sized orange

Thin slices of orange (make sure they are sliced very thin so they cook and the rind is edible.)

For the Syrup topping:

1/2 C honey

1/4 C water

1/4 C fresh squeezed orange juice

Orange halves (use the ones that you juiced)

wee little pinch of salt

optional: Cinnamon stick and vanilla bean pod (beans removed)

Preheat oven to 350 F and lightly coat an 8X8 baking pan with olive oil or butter, and place 1/2 of the dried strips of phyllo dough in the pan.

In a mixing bowl, beat or whisk all ingredients except phyllo dough until fully incorporated.  Pour 1/2 the mixture over the layer of phyllo strips.  Place remaining phyllo on top, and pour remaining custard mixture over the top.  Let sit while you make the syrup.

Put all syrup ingredients in a pan, and heat to boiling.  Boil for 6-8 minutes, then allow to cool down while you cook the pie.

Put pie in oven and cook for about 30 minutes.  It should pull away from the edges.  Pour about 1/4 C (or less!) of the syrup over the top right when you pull it out of the oven  Save the rest of the orange syrup for adding to drinks or pouring over french toast or waffles.

Let sit for at least 2 hours so it soaks up as much as the syrup as possible!  This tastes really good the next day, and can be served at room temperature, cold, or warmed up in the oven.  Also good with ice cream!

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