Sawsan Abu Farha
Fatayer jebneh, or cheese pies, are popular Arabic pastries. You find them in bakeries, school cafeterias, cafés, and pastry shops. They are a great way to start the day or a wonderful companion for the afternoon tea. These cheese pastries are great portable snacks or impressive pastry appetizers if you make them small enough.
Fatayer el jebneh are typically boat-shaped, but you can shape the dough any way you are comfortable with; I sometimes shape them the same way as the Lebanese meat pies and other times I make them into triangles or circles. They are tasty in any shape, so have fun with it.
The cheese used for the stuffing is usually akkawi cheese mixed with a little kashkaval or Cheddar cheese, but you can use any salty cheese you like. You can add a variety of flavorings, too; cilantro, nigella seeds, or dried mint add another dimension of flavor, but if you are a fan of plain cheese flavor, feel free to use a plain cheese stuffing.
To make the perfect cheese pastry you need a combination of a dough that will hold its shape after baking, good quality cheese, and the flavoring you like.
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Proof the yeast by mixing it with the sugar and water in a cup. (The yeast should foam and bubble; if it doesn’t, replace it with a new packet.) In a bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder until combined.
Add the oil and then rub it into the flour mix with your fingertips. Add the yogurt and the water-yeast mixture and knead the dough until it forms a smooth soft ball that doesn’t stick to your hands. Lift the dough and slam it into the table 7-10 times during kneading. (This will give your baked goods a fluffy interior — a tip I learned from a bakery owner.)
Coat a bowl with a little olive oil, place the dough in it, and cover the dough with a clean towel or plastic wrap. Leave it in a warm place until it doubles in size. (If you are short on time, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and place the rack in the middle. Turn the oven off. Place a clean, dry towel on the rack and place the bowl with the covered dough on the towel and leave it in the oven. It will double in size in 10-15 minutes.)
Cut the dough into egg-sized balls and cover them with a clean towel. Let rest for 10 minutes. Roll each dough ball into an elongated oval about 1/8-inch thick. In a bowl, combine the remaining ingredients to form the filling. Place about 2-3 tablespoons of the filling in the center of each oval.
Fold one end of the dough lengthwise halfway over the filling. Fold over the opposite side to meet and tuck underneath. There should be one pointy end now; press with your fingertips to seal.
Do the same with the opposite side, leaving a small opening in the center. Gently press the top folds to adhere the dough to the cheese (this helps to prevent the pastry boats from opening up when you bake them). Let rest for 10-15 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Brush the pastries with some olive oil to give them a beautiful golden color when they bake. Bake on the middle rack until the bottoms are golden brown, about 7-10 minutes. Turn the oven to broil, and then place under the broiler until the tops are golden brown, about 2-3 minutes.