The popularity of ethnic specialties in the bakery remains strong. Offering these unique products excites customers who frequent the bakery and gives them something to talk about with others. When produced, merchandised, marketed and promoted correctly, the traditional pastries of Greece will have customers praising your bakery and paying a premium for the historical sweets.
Although we in the United States call these desserts, the Greeks refer to them as sweets. They are generally not eaten after a meal as in other western countries. The Greeks rarely eat a dessert after a meal; if they do it is most likely to be whichever fruit is in season.
They will keep these desserts and bring them out during the day, along with a Greek coffee and a glass of iced water, especially when there is a visitor. This way they can savor and enjoy them completely on their own, away from the fullness of a meal, as they are in themselves very filling and a truly sensational taste.
What sets the Greek desserts apart is their eastern influence. Whereas western desserts are more sponge and cream based, the Greek sweets are sugar based.
The filo pastry, which is paper thin sheets of pastry, layered upon each other to create a multi-layered effect generally make up the basis of most Greek desserts. With many nuts such as walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts and almonds being in abundance in Greece, it is no surprise to see these nuts used widely in their desserts.
For sweetness, the main ingredient used is honey, and lots of it. As you bite into a piece of baklava, honey often drips down your hand. Simple fried, golden donut puffs called Loukoumades get honey drizzled over the top of them. Even a simple dish of Greek yogurt is usually covered in honey.
In Greece you will find sweet shops, called Zacharoplasteion, dedicated just to making these sweets. People will buy from here to have at home. If you’re invited to a dinner party or somebody’s birthday you can go to one of these sweet shops and order either an elaborate cake or a selection of honey drenched pastries, then the shop assistant will pack them into a decorative cake box and tie an elaborate ribbon around the box with a beautiful bow.
Use this modern Greek custom a basis for your retail bakery here in the States. Use signage and promotional materials that will engage customers in a conversation and tell them about your authentic and different Greek sweets. Talk to them about the tradition and let them sample the products. This method will work well when trying to enlighten customers about new products.
A Few to Start With
While baklava is most likely the most popular Greek sweet and a sure seller, there are a few that might be a little more interesting to a more adventurous customer.
Diples are a Greek dessert made of thin sheet-like dough. The dough is rolled into long, thin strips, fried and folded in hot oil, sprinkled with chopped nuts and cinnamon and then dipped in warm honey. Diples can be made in different shapes, but are most commonly bow ties and spirals. Diples are served at weddings and at New Year's celebrations.
Kataifi is made with a special type of pastry called kataifi or kadaifi. The pastry is like angel hair pasta and when rolled up resembles shredded wheat. It is often referred to as shredded wheat dessert. A nutty center is rolled inside the thread like strands of pastry, baked, and then soaked in a sweet syrup. Sweet syrup is then poured over which keep them from drying out and preserves them. Some traditional Greek recipes use only almonds, but you could use a mixture of almonds, walnuts and pistachios as well.
Loukoumades are a pastry made of deep fried dough soaked in sugar syrup or honey and sometimes sprinkled with sesame and cinnamon. Legend has it that in ancient Greece, these deep fried dough balls were served to the winners of the Greek Olympics. The Greek poet Callimachus was the first to state that these deep fried dough balls were soaked in honey and then served to the winners as "honey tokens."
A Brief History of Baklava
Known for being Greek, every ethnic group whose ancestry goes back to the Middle East has a claim of their own on this pastry. It is widely believed however, that the Assyrians at around 8th century B.C. were the first people who put together a few layers of thin bread dough, with chopped nuts in between those layers, added some honey and baked it in their primitive wood burning ovens.
The Greek seamen and merchants traveling east to Mesopotamia soon discovered the delights of Baklava. It mesmerized their taste buds. They brought the recipe to Athens. The Greeks' major contribution to the development of this pastry is the creation of a dough technique that made it possible to roll it as thin as a leaf, compared to the rough, bread-like texture of the Assyrian dough. In fact, the name "Phyllo (filo or fillo)" was coined by Greeks, which means "leaf" in the Greek language.