On a humid, overcast afternoon in late June, I jogged up our outdoor stairs which led, path-like, to my mother-in-law’s house next door. That day she had organized a treat and, as I sped up the stairs, I exhaled my excitement and nerves. Some time before, she had bought a new mixer and asked if I wouldn’t mind sharing a few tips on using it. We could practice, she said, by baking her Cypriot grandmother’s recipe for Halloumopita, a savory cake made with Halloumi cheese and mint. “Would you like to come and try it?” She had asked, blinking.
Of course I would!
Halloumi, if you’re new to it, is a brined Cypriot cheese made from goat’s and sheep’s milk. It’s sometimes spiced with a little mint and, because the curd is slightly cooked before packaging, the cheese has a high tolerance for heat. This makes Halloumi ideal for grilling or frying since it crisps on the outside but stays chewy within. It’s also a tasty addition to many Greek baked goods.
I’d tasted Spyros’s great-grandmother’s recipe for capirakia, melba crackers crusted with a baked Halloumi-mint topping. They are something of a legend in the family, served warm on summer evenings with glasses of iced white wine. I had not yet sampled the Halloumopita, but imagined it would be like the capirakia, in cake form. While I promised my mother-in-law I’d do my best to explain the mixer, I believed the real lesson might not come from me that day.
After my shaky mixer tutorial (I had forgotten to read about the food processor attachment and spent a sweaty 20 minutes trying to identify its various parts, then operate it), my mother-in-law, brother-in-law’s girlfriend and I got to work making the Halloumopita. My mother-in-law translated the hand-written Greek recipe and measured the ingredients while my brother-in-law’s girlfriend and I tried our best to help—grating the cheese and checking that mixer worked properly.
We sat at my mother-in-law’s kitchen table, chatting and eating cheese sandwiches while the cake baked. I realized it had been quite some time since I had cooked with other women, something that I had missed since I had left home. When the recipe had seemed unclear, we consulted with each other. In the final stages of stirring, we learned my mother-in-law’s trick for flavoring savory cakes. I discovered more, enjoyed the process more than I would have, had I made Halloumopita alone.
I made Halloumopita again a few weeks later—with very few modifications— as a breakfast cake for Spyros and me. We ate thick slices with cups of coffee on a Saturday morning. It was a hearty, savory start to the day, one that sustained us through a morning of errands. We liked it so much, I made it again the following week. Although these cakes, made on my own, were tasty and different from the original recipe, they didn’t feel as much like ‘treats’ as the first Halloumopita had.
*Halloumopita is nice for picnics, brunch, and breakfast. I bake mine using whole-wheat flour but you may find the texture a little dense. If you like a softer cake, you could replace half of the whole wheat flour with all-purpose. You could even use only all-purpose flour, if you like.
**Adapted from Christina Panteleimonitis
½ cup olive oil
1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon of kosher salt
2 teaspoons dried mint
1 ¼ cup grated Halloumi
¼ cup grated parmesan
¼ cup crumbled feta
2-3 tablespoons whole milk
- In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs with the olive oil until well-combined. Gradually add the flour mixture, stirring well and scrapping the bowl from time to time.
- Gently stir in the cheeses and dried mint. Moisten the mixture with 2-3 tablespoons milk.
- Pour the batter into a buttered and floured 11cm x 30cm (4.5 in. x 12 in) loaf pan, muffin tins, or a small loaf pan.
- Bake at 200oC (375oF) for 25-35 minutes, or until the crust is golden and a tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for about 15 minutes, then remove onto wire racks and cool completely. Keep the cake in the refrigerator after it cools. Heat slightly in the microwave to serve.