Recipe Review

I Tried These Savory Cheese-Filled Hand Pies and I Can’t Get Enough of Them

published Sep 18, 2022
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I Tried Fatayer — Handheld Cheese Pies
Credit: Rachel Reiss

To me, there are few foods in this world that create a more perfect pairing than bread and cheese. Something about warm, toasty dough and salty, gooey cheese makes for a crave-worthy combo.

Perhaps the best part of this culinary love story, though, is that the possibilities are endless. Many cultures have their own iteration of this complementary duo that stretches beyond the familiar bounds of grilled cheese and pizza, and encompasses a range of pillowy, savory, carb-y goodness. There’s the Brazilian pão de queijo, Greek tiropita, and Indian paneer paratha — just to name a few. It was a video of the Middle Eastern fatayer, however, that inspired me to expand my bread and cheese repertoire and try my hand at these classic cheese pies. 

Fatayer are enjoyed as a typical breakfast, snack, or mezze (appetizer spread) and are a staple of Levantine cuisine. The base, similar to a standard pizza dough, creates a simple vessel for savory flavors. Most commonly, they’re filled with a mixture of cheese, spinach, or meat, and may be likened to other filled pastries across the Arab world and Mediterranean (think: the Turkish bourek or Georgian khachapuri). And thanks to content creator and Palestinian home cook Mxriyam — who shared her version of a simple cheese fatayer, which she calls part of a “cherished childhood memory” — I now have a way to enjoy the cultural treat as many times as I’d like from the comfort of my home.

Get the recipe: Cheese Pies

How to Make Cheese Pies

The dough is prepared using the two-step sponge-and-dough method, in which the ingredients for the yeasted dough are first mixed together before the remaining flour is added. This produces a more flavorful bread, with a lighter, fluffier texture.

To create the sponge, mix together your yeast, sugar, warm water, and some of the flour in a bowl. Cover with a damp paper towel, and let sit for 10 minutes. 

After 10 minutes, add the remaining flour, along with salt and olive oil to your sponge. Combine all ingredients and transfer the dough onto a lightly oiled work surface, kneading for 8 to 10 minutes. Do not add extra flour to the dough — you’ll compromise the beautiful, airy texture. If the dough sticks, simply add more oil to the surface.

Credit: Rachel Reiss

Once the dough comes together, you’ll want to separate it into 10 balls and cover with a damp towel for another 10 minutes. Then, roll out each dough ball to 1/2-inch thickness and sprinkle some of the shredded mozzarella around the edges, leaving plenty aside for the filling. After folding the edges over to make your stuffed crust, pinch both ends of the circle, creating an oval shape.

Transfer the shaped dough onto a lined baking sheet. The crust is then brushed with egg wash, and the center gets a dousing of garlic butter before the mixture of feta, parsley, and mozzarella is piled on. The pies are baked in a 425°F preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, before resting for a couple of minutes afterwards. If you still enjoy them while they’re warm, you may score the ultimate cheese pull.

My Honest Review of Cheese Pies

Bread baking is not my forte, but I found this recipe to be surprisingly simple from the technique to the ingredients used. These fatayer offered everything I could want in a carby, cheesy delight, and the parsley added an herby freshness that brightened up all the flavors. I could only imagine how delightful these would be with the addition of more color and flavor — say, a savory spinach filling or the addition of some Middle Eastern spices.

For the quantity of dough this recipe made, my 10 fatayer ended up on the smaller side; I’d probably make 7 to 8 more sizable pies next time instead. Overall, the dough retained a nice, airy quality and would crisp up easily in the toaster oven or air fryer. 

3 Tips for Making Cheese Pies

  1. Don’t overfill the fatayer. While a cheese-stuffed crust and cheese-stuffed center is a tempting plea to go overboard, overstuffing will lead to a gooey, messy disaster when baking.
  2. Keep the water warm. When making the sponge, the water must be warm to activate the yeast. Otherwise, the dough won’t rise.
  3. Don’t overcrowd the baking sheet. Overcrowding will cause the fatayer to bake unevenly. If space is limited, it is best to make several batches.

Get the recipe: Cheese Pies