How to Make Galaktoboureko, with Debbie Matenopoulos

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This Hallmark Channel star wants to share her family's recipe for galaktoboureko, a Greek custard dessert.

You might know Debbie Matenopoulos from your TV screen. She’s been interviewing and hanging out with celebrities everywhere from MTV to The Insider and as a cohost on The View.

Now, she’s a cohost of Hallmark Channel’s Home & Family, where she shares her love of all things cooking.

“Throughout my entire career on television, there have been two recipes my colleagues continuously asked me to make,” Debbie says. “Everyone is obsessed with my spanakopita and galaktoboureko.”

The recipe galaktoboureko, a rich Greek dessert, is so special to her that when she returned to The View to share her cookbook It’s All Greek to Me, Debbie decided to make it for the hosts. Now, she’s excited to share it with Taste of Home readers.

“It’s just like a warm hug,” she says. “It fills your belly with such like deliciousness and warmth.”

We’re sold! Debbie serves her galaktoboureko with a cup of Turkish coffee (but espresso works too, she promises). “The strength of the coffee and the bitterness of it…is a nice juxtaposition to the sweetness of galaktoboureko.”

What Is Galaktoboureko?

Galaktoboureko is a traditional Greek custard dessert baked in sweet flaky phyllo dough and soaked in a citrus syrup.

“It is by far, in my opinion, the most delicious and not-as-celebrated-as-I-wish-it-were Greek dessert,” Debbie says. She points out that people think of kourabiedes or baklava when they think of Greek sweets, but galaktoboureko is a “hidden little treasure” because it’s more comforting than other confections.

It’s also versatile, since it can be served warm or cold. Debbie prefers it straight from the oven when the custard is velvety and the phyllo dough melts in your mouth. But you can also enjoy it cold with a cup of coffee in the morning and it will be like a breakfast pastry, with the custard a little more set.

“It’s so easy to reheat, too,” Debbie says: Just make a tent out of foil so that it doesn’t touch the top of the pastry, and then heat it in the oven at 325°F and “it’ll be warm and creamy.”

How Do You Pronounce Galaktoboureko?

Maybe galaktoboureko hasn’t reached the popularity of baklava because it looks so difficult to pronounce!

When saying it out loud, think about each syllable: ga-la-toe bou-re-ko. Debbie’s tip for starting out on the right track is to think of saying it like “galactic.”

How Can Galaktoboureko Be Stored?

The best way to store it is covered in the pan that it was baked in and placed in the refrigerator for up to one week. Because of the creamy custard layer, galaktoboureko does not freeze well.

Tips for Making Galaktoboureko

Debbie’s top tip for making this Greek dessert is: “Don’t walk away!”

When making the filling, it goes from being a milk to becoming custard pretty quickly, so if you walk away you might scald it on the bottom, she says.

It’s always tempting to add your own flavors to a dessert. Debbie has seen galaktoboureko drizzled with chocolate syrup or even combined with baklava, but she doesn’t endorse any twists on the classic.

“I’m a purist and I really prefer going with the original tried-and-true,” she says. “This is a recipe that was created over 300 years ago in Greece. So why try to reinvent the wheel?”

Galaktoboureko Recipe

Here is the classic galaktoboureko recipe from It’s All Greek to Me by Debbie Matenopoulos, 2014, BenBella Books.

Ingredients

For the Custard

  • 6 cups milk
  • 1 cup fine semolina flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

For the Phyllo

  • 1 (1-pound) package phyllo dough sheets (13×18 inches), thawed
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

For the Syrup

  • 2-1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1″ wide slice lemon peel, 2″ long
  • 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Directions

Step 1: Prep the pan

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9 by 13-inch baking dish.

Step 2: Heat the milk

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer over medium-high heat, watching closely so that it does not boil over. Slowly stir in the semolina, and keep stirring until the mixture thickens. Stir in the vanilla, cook 1 minute more, and remove from heat.

Step 3: Make the custard

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the eggs together with the sugar until well combined. To temper the eggs, slowly add about 1 cup of the semolina mixture to the egg mixture, whisking vigorously to avoid scrambling the eggs. When well mixed, slowly add the tempered egg mixture back into the hot semolina mixture, again stirring vigorously to avoid scrambling the eggs. Add butter, and stir until it is evenly incorporated. Set the custard aside, but stir every so often so that a skin does not develop on top.

Step 4: Roll out the phyllo

Roll the phyllo dough out on a flat surface, working quickly and keeping it covered to prevent it from drying out. Place 1 phyllo sheet into the baking dish at a time, centering it in the pan and letting the edges hang over the sides. Brush each sheet of phyllo with a little of the melted butter, but do not brush the overhanging edges. Continue in this manner until you have used 9 phyllo dough sheets.

Step 5: Assemble the galaktoboureko

Spread the custard evenly over the 9 layers of phyllo dough. Fold the overhanging phyllo dough over the filling, and then continue to layer the phyllo dough on top, again brushing each sheet with the melted butter, until you have used all of the dough. Trim the top layers of phyllo to fit the baking dish. Brush the top liberally with the melted butter, taking care to seal the top layers closed with it. Sprinkle the top very lightly with about a tablespoon of water.

Step 5: Bake

With a very sharp knife, score the top 4 layers of the phyllo into 16 to 20 pieces, taking care not to cut all the way through into the custard. Bake, uncovered, for 55 to 60 minutes, or until flaky and golden brown.

Step 6: Make the syrup

While the galaktoboureko is baking, make the syrup. In a medium saucepan, stir the sugar and water together, and add the lemon peel. Set over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, and cook for 5 minutes. Skim off any foam that floats to the top. After 5 minutes, stir in the lemon juice, and cook for 1 minute more. Remove from heat, allow to cool to room temperature and remove the lemon peel.

When the galaktoboureko comes out of the oven, immediately ladle the room-temperature syrup over the top. Cool for 45 minutes, and then cut all the way through.

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Mandy Naglich
Mandy is a food and beverage writer with bylines at WNYC, Munchies, Mic and October. She's a Certified Cicerone and award-winning homebrewer living, writing and cooking in New York City.