For the novice cook, tackling a recipe such as Burek or Zelnik can be a daunting task. For starters, just what the heck is Burek or Zelnik? What makes one different from the other? The filling and the way the dough is shaped seems to be the differing factor. We used a filling of sauerkraut and cottage cheese to stuff the dough used in this Burek technique. Its a wonderful, subtle filling with delicate umami flavor profile that always leaves you wanting just one more bite. Also, the filling, which is mainly cabbage, is what gives Zelnik its name! Zelnik literally translates to “cabbage” in Macedonian. Now, lets quickly discuss dough.
Some doughs are rolled into a long snake, then carefully placed in a round pan:
Others are zig zagged into rectangular trays:
We will be folding our dough into a neat, layered package, like this:
You really want to be making your dough from scratch. The dough for Burek (or Zelnik, or Pita, or Strudel, depending on your filling and technique which we will go into more detail about in future posts) tends to require more work, less muscle, and more patience than your basic pizza dough. Some key elements being letting the dough rest properly and methodically working that small disc of flour, water and salt into what essentially resembles a opaque sheet. The Burek technique video we linked above is a great representation of this. Watch it, then watch it again. To make this recipe, you will need a clean, large laminate or stone countertop to prep the dough. Ready to get started?
The Burek or Bust Zelnik Recipe
- 500 g plain unbleached flour (approx 4 cups)
- 1 tsp salt
- 300 ml water (approx 1.2 cups)
- vegetable oil
- 1 or 2 sticks salted butter, melted
- 3 cups sauerkraut (rinsed and squeezed of moisture)
- 2 cups cottage cheese (drained of all liquid)
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- salt and pepper to taste
Place the flour & salt into a large mixing bowl (or standing mixer if you choose). Gradually add the water a little at a time, mixing until the dough comes together. This is very much a feel as you go process. You may find you don’t need all of the water.
Knead the dough for about 5 minutes until soft and elastic. Divide into four and flatten into discs about and inch thick.
Take a bowl or pot big enough to hold all four pieces of dough when you stack them on top of one another.
Pour a little vegetable oil into the bowl, place one piece of pastry into it, pour a little more oil over the it and repeat until all four are in the bowl. Pour enough vegetable oil over the top to cover the stack of dough. Set aside to rest.
While the dough rests, fry the sauerkraut in a large skillet to remove any remaining moisture. Remove from heat and add paprika and cottage cheese. Set aside to cool. Once cooled, beat the two eggs and add to cooled Zelnik mixture. Combine well.
Preheat oven to 350 F (176.6 C)
Now, to prep the dough…
You need to prep your countertop by spreading a thin layer of vegetable oil all over it.
1. Take one disc of pastry from the oil, scrape off any excess oil, then place it onto your oiled countertop. With oiled hands, flatten the disc from the inside to outside until it is about 5 mm thick.
2. Then place your fingers under the edge, gently grab, lift and stretch the dough outwards (again, watch the video for technique!).
3. Working your way around all of the edges, continue to GENTLY pull and work the dough to an incredibly opaque membrane. The dough is very elastic, but can tear easily so remember…be gentle.
4. Continue to do this, working around the dough, until you have worked it into a large, thin sheet which you can see through.
5. Go around the edges of the dough and slice or pull off the excess doughy edges.
6. Take one side of the large disc and fold it towards (and just over) the center. Work your way around the disc, lifting and folding four more times to form a rough pentagon. This is where you start building your layers for the Burek/Zelnik shape. REMEMBER NOT TO PRESS DOWN OR PAT DOWN THE DOUGH! This will reduce the flaky layers and turn your Zelnik into a hockey puck!
Repeat steps 1-6 but this time place your first folded dough into the next sheet. Scatter a handful of Zelnik filling around the inner portions of the dough pentagon and fold the edges lightly over the pentagon.
Take the melted butter and scatter spoonfuls over each layer as you go.
Make a new sheet of dough and repeat the steps, placing the package of Zelnik filled dough into the next sheet, folding over the cut off edges and so on.
Once you’re finished, gently move the Zelnik to a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until a crispy brown crust forms.
Rest for at least an hour.
Slice and serve.