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It’s not every day you find yourself in Turkey with a group of women enthusiastically willing to teach you how to make börek from scratch. These women—my boyfriend’s sisters—have been making börek for years and roll pastry dough quicker than my eyes can follow. It’s all made by look and feel, muscle memory. Recipe? Measuring implements? Superfluous.

So on the last day of my two-week stay in Turkey, Bülent’s sisters patiently showed us the art of a thirty-one-layer walnut pastry (or, cevizli börek) that their family has made for years. I was told this isn’t a pastry you can buy in shops but more of a family recipe. Sweet and savory börek can be found everywhere in Turkey but this particular kind—imagine baklava but with walnuts not pistachios and no gooey honey, so it’s drier—I never once saw in a bakery.

This is a delicious not-too-sweet pastry but takes a good three hours to make. Like all good pastry, it requires patience and practice to master. I wondered aloud about the possibility of making a vegan version and was met with disapproving and skeptical glances, but I’d like to try it the next time I have the occasion to make this fairly labor-intensive dish. (See photo below, dancing after the pastry finally goes in the oven!)

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Cevizli Börek (Walnut Pastry)

2 eggs
1 c whole milk
1 c vegetable oil
1 tbsp baking powder
4 1/2 – 5 c all-purpose flour plus 1/2 cup for rolling out the dough
Pinch of salt
2/3 cup wheat starch (can substitute corn starch or potato starch)
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
white sugar, for sprinkling (about 1/2 cup)
1 c walnuts, chopped very fine

Equipment
1 normal-sized pie rolling pin
1 thin, long rolling pin (sometimes called a pasta or French rolling pin)

1. Combine the eggs, milk, oil, baking powder, 4 cups of flour, and salt in a bowl. Whisk the ingredients together until they form a dough then, using your hands, knead like bread dough, flipping and turning for about three minutes. Continue adding small amounts of flour until it achieves the desired consistency of a dry, smooth dough that does not stick to your hands. “Until it’s soft like an earlobe,” I was told. Let sit, covered, 10 minutes.

2. Next you want to form small round dumplings from the mound of dough. First, combine the 2/3 cup wheat starch and 1/2 cup flour into a small bowl and set aside; you will use this starch mixture on your hands and on the dough when rolling it out. One by one, pinch off a small amount of dough (about the size of a golf ball) and knead, using the starch mixture, with your fingers to get any lumps or creases out. You should be left with a smooth round ball of dough. Continue making these small round balls until there is no dough left; you need 31 for the recipe, but may end up with more like 35-40.

3. Using the normal thicker rolling pin, roll out each one of the 31 balls into a thin, flat, round layer (like a small pizza), each approx. 7 inches in diameter. Continue to use the starch mixture while rolling out the dough to prevent sticking. When you finish rolling out one layer, sprinkle some of the starch mixture on top. You want to end up with six stacks of this rolled out dough; five stacks consisting of 5 layers and one stack consisting of 6 layers. (= 31)

4. Once you have your six layered stacks you will now roll each of these into a bigger, thinner layer, the size of a pizza pie, using the longer, thinner rolling pin. You do this by applying very gentle but consistent pressure. (See second photo below). First roll out the six-layer round; this will be the bottom layer of the börek. Transfer to the bottom of a buttered round or rectangular baking dish. Then sprinkle melted butter (about 2 tbsp) and a small amount of sugar (2-3 tbsp) on top; continue with the layers like this (always adding the melted butter and sugar in between each layer), so that the six-layer version forms the base, followed by the rest of the stacks of five. In the middle (after three layers) you will add the layer of crushed walnuts in addition to the butter and sugar. There is only this one layer of walnuts.

5. After the final layer, cut the dough into small squares (about 2 x 2 inches), then drizzle the remaining butter on top; place in a preheated 350-degree F oven. It takes about 40 minutes to cook until the top is a golden bronze and the pastry just begins to get crackly or crispy, but not brown. Remove from the oven, let cool a bit before removing from pan. Can be served warm or room temperature. Will keep for days; store like bread (in plastic, or covered with cloth), but do not refrigerate.

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