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This kalitsounia recipe is for much loved Cretan cheese pies found all over the island of Crete. While there are different kinds of Cretan pies, this recipe focuses on the ones from the region of Chania. These delectable Chania kalitsounia cheese pies are phyllo pastry treats filled with Cretan cheese, herbs and fried or baked to golden perfection.
What is Kalitsounia or Kαλιτσούνια?
Kalitsounia are traditional Cretan pies found all over the island. They are traditionally eaten as an appetizer, snack or drizzled with Cretan honey for dessert.
These loveable Cretan pies come in different shapes with various fillings. They can be semicircular or crescent shaped or presented in a square or rectangular form.
The filling can range from sweet to savory depending on which region you are in on the island.
Similarly, the way these Cretan pies are prepared also varies. In the old days in the villages, these little cheese pies were fried in olive oil.
This continues to be the traditional way of cooking kalitsounia cheese pies and the preparation method we recommend in this recipe.
Baking these delightful Cretan cheese pies is another popular way of cooking kalitsounia. Especially, if you plan on making a lot of kalitsounia pies to freeze and keep some for later. Also, the version of kalitsounia stuffed with spinach is better baked in the oven.
Different Versions of Cretan Kalitsounia Pies
- Lihnarakia, the sweet version of kalitsounia, Cretan pies: In Heraklion, the capital of Crete, the sweet version of kalitsounia are particularly popular. They have a unique star shape and are filled with a creamy soft traditional mizithra cheese with a cookie-like crust. Found in bakeries all over the city, they are absolutely delicious and addictive.
- Kalitsounia, Cretan spinach pie: Another traditional version of kalitsounia are those filled with fresh spinach and cheese. We enjoyed this savory version in Chania where herbs and onions are added to spinach and then baked rather than fried. If you want to make the spinach version you can add feta cheese, green onion, white onion and fennel to the spinach. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
History of Cretan Kalitsounia
Kalitsounia, the small Cretan local specialty pies are found all over the island in both sweet and savory versions.
The origins of these distinctive Cretan pies are unclear as every region of Crete has its distinct way of making them.
Traditional kalitsounia pies are made following village recipes which emphasize the use of local Cretan products.
In the case of Cretan cheese pies, locally available cheese, herbs and flour are combined to make these wonderfully delicious treats.
Regardless of how the Cretan cheese pies came to be, they are an iconic Cretan food that must be savored.
Discovering Kalitsounia in Crete
One of the first things that caught our attention while visiting bakeries in Crete were the Cretan kalitsounia pies.
At almost every bakery we visited, these little pies were displayed prominently by the cashier covered in a glass dome.
Our first stop in Crete was in Heraklion, the island’s capital city. Tempted by their unique star shape while buying bread, we bought some kalitsounia for dessert.
The sweet cheese pies wrapped within a golden brown delicious crust captivated our taste buds. From then on, they became our go-to local dessert in Iraklio.
Later, when we moved to Chania region, we were surprised to find the Cretan pies bearing the same name, in a savory version.
The first few we tried were the Cretan cheese version and shortly thereafter the Cretan spinach pie versions.
Delighted to discover the savory versions both fried and oven baked we quickly became addicted to these lovable Cretan pies.
With this simple kalitsounia recipe, we hope to give you a taste of magical Crete. A delicious way to make these traditional Cretan cheese pies at home.
Kalitsounia Recipe – How To Make Cretan Cheese Pies at Home
These Cretan cheese pies are incredibly easy to make at home. The key to authentic Cretan kalitsounia is the use of high quality Greek or Cretan ingredients and fresh vegetables.
For Kalitsounia Dough
- All Purpose Flour
- High quality Crete extra virgin olive oil
- Lemon juice or Cretan tsikoudia or Greek Raki
- Salt to taste
For Kalitsounia filling
For Kalitsounia toppings
- Cretan honey
- Egg yolk (optional for baked pies)
- Black and white sesame seeds (optional for baked pies)
For Cooking the Kalitsounia
- High quality Crete extra virgin olive oil
How To Make The Kalitsounia Dough
Many Greek recipes call for the use of phyllo dough or filo pastry. Depending on how much time you have, you can either buy phyllo dough or make it from scratch.
We share here our recipe to make phyllo dough from scratch using only 5 ingredients.
Use Greek organic phyllo dough – If you don’t want the hassle of making phyllo dough, you can have some delivered to your home. The Fillo Factory makes organic fillo dough for all your delicious Greek recipes.
Use an Adjustable Rolling Pin – Once you make the phyllo using our recipe above, use this adjustable rolling pin to evenly flatten your dough. The adjustable rings make it simple to roll the dough to your desired thickness.
Make Dough With Marcato Atlas Pasta Machine – Considered the “Ferrari of pasta machines”, this world famous pasta machine from Italy can make your kalitsounia dough and much more.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST RECIPE: Use your leftover phyllo dough to make another Cretan classic The Boureki Recipe From Chania, Crete
Kalitsounia Recipe Tips
Mizithra Cheese and Alternatives
Mizithra, a local cheese, is typically used to make kalitsounia Cretan pies in Chania, Crete. It has a slightly sour taste with a consistency similar to ricotta cheese.
You can order mizithra cheese from Amazon and you can have it delivered to your home.
If you cannot find mizithra cheese for the Cretan cheese pies, use a mix of both ricotta and feta cheese in equal proportions.
Folding The Kalitsounia Dough
There is a technique for folding the edges of the kalitsounia Cretan cheese pies. To seal them like a local Cretan, use a pastry wheel for an even design. Alternatively, you can also use a fork to press the dough and seal it before frying.
Baked Kalitsounia Versus Fried Kalitsounia Cretan Pies
During our stay in Chania, Crete, we learned that kalitsounia Cretan pies were traditionally fried in the villages.
Frying kalitsounia in extra virgin olive oil still continues to be a popular way of preparing these Cretan specialty treats. Particularly, when you want to cook a few and have them ready quickly.
Kalitsounia cheese pies baked in the oven are also widespread throughout Chania. The baked Cretan pies are great if you are making larger quantities.
In Crete, many families bake several batches and freeze them. When they have guests, they simply pull them out of the fridge frozen and bake them directly for a tasty welcome treat.
Cretan Honey For Your Kalitsounia Cheese Pies
One of the most delicious ways of eating Cretan kalitsounia cheese pies is with Cretan honey drizzled on them.
This is a typical snack or dessert eaten mostly at home. Cretan honey also known as thyme honey is famous worldwide for its aromatic flavors.
The combination of the honey floral aromas on fresh fried cheese pies is absolutely heavenly.
Once you make this kalitsounia recipe, you have to try them with honey.
Kalitsounia Step by Step Instructions
Prepare the Cretan Cheese Pie Mix
Place the cheese in a bowl and crack one egg into the cheese mixture. Mix well using a fork or spoon. Once the egg and cheese are blended together add a pinch of spearmint.
Cut and Seal The Kalitsounia Cheese Pies
After rolling out the dough, use a cookie cutter or small round tupperware about 4 inches in diameter to cut out the circles. Scoop up one tablespoon of the cheese mixture and place it in the center of the circles. Use a pastry wheel or fork to seal the edges of the cheese pies kalitsounia.
Fry The Cretan Cheese Pies
Once all the kalitsounia Cretan pies are stuffed and sealed, fry them in Greek extra virgin olive oil. Once the pies turn golden brown, remove them from the frying pan. Place them on a paper towel and let the oil drain as you cook your next batch.
- 2 ½ cups All Purpose Flour
- ⅔ cup water
- 5 tbsp extra virgin Cretan olive oil
- 1 tbsp lemon juice or Tsikoudia/Raki
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ lbs Mizithra Cheese or Ricotta cheese
- ¼ lbs Feta cheese
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsp mint fresh, chopped finely
- Cretan honey
- 1 egg yolk optional for baked pies
- Black and white sesame seeds optional for baked pies
For Cooking the Kalitsounia
- In a large bowl, place mizithra and feta cheese or a combination of ricotta and feta cheese. Add one egg and mix together using a fork or spoon.
- Add finely chopped mint to the mixture and mix thoroughly making sure the mint is well integrated with the cheese and eggs. Set aside.
- On a clean floured surface, roll out your phyllo dough using a rolling pin.
- Using the 4-inch cookie cutter, cut dough circles and leave them on a lightly floured surface.
- As you cut each dough circle, you will have some left over. Add it to the dough and roll it out again until you make about 18 to 22 dough circles.
- Take about 1 tablespoon of the cheese mixture and place it in the middle of each dough circle.
- Fold the dough over into a half-moon or crescent shape and seal the edges using a cookie cutter or fork.
- Heat extra virgin olive oil in a deep saucepan on high heat.
- Deep fry the kalitsounia cheese pies in batches, ensuring to turn them over periodically.
- Once both sides are golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes, carefully remove them and place on an absorbent paper towel to drain.
- To serve, let the Cretan cheese pie cool and then drizzle honey and enjoy.
- If you are baking your kalitsounia, preheat the oven to 350° F / 180 °C.
- Place the kalitsounia on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Beat 1 egg yolk in a small bowl and using a pastry brush, spread the egg on each cheese pie for a golden finish.
- Sprinkle with a mix of black and white sesame seeds.
- Place the baking tray in the oven and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, until lightly browned.
- Once ready, remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
- Enjoy warm with a drizzle of Cretan honey.
- If baking the cheese pies kalitsounia cheese, piece a few holes in the dough before baking to release the steam.
- In addition to honey, you can also sprinkle honey on the cooked kalitsounia Cretan pies.
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Rosemary is the editor-in-chief and strategist at Authentic Food Quest.
Traveling slow since 2015 with her partner, Claire, she has explored the cuisine in 45 countries and more than 240+ culinary cities.
Her writing about local food specialties has been featured in Lonely Planet, Business Insider, Honest Cooking, Food Insider, and Huffington Post.
As a food and travel writer, Rosemary has co-authored three books, including one in collaboration with Costa Brava Tourism.
Rosemary is an avid runner when she’s not eating and exploring new destinations. She has run ten marathons and counting.
Before Authentic Food Quest, Rosemary held senior-level strategy positions in advertising.
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