Okay, this is it. I’ve revised the glossary entry based on my new and improved understanding of boyos. This replaces my post of January 7, which you won’t find any more.
BOYO (BOY-ōō) is the Ladino word for bun – spelled bollo in modern Spanish. In Sephardic cookery it is a generic term applied to a broad range of savory & sweet baked goods, be they doughy, crunchy, chewy, flaky and so forth. Some examples include boyos de vino (biscocho cookies made with wine); boyos de rayo (flaky cheese biscuits) and just plain boyos, which are savory pastries filled with spinach, or cheese, or spinach & cheese (yes, there are more kinds of boyos).
Boyiko is the diminutive of boyo. The literal translation is ‘small boyo’, but it can just as easily imply ‘without filling.’ Either way it signifies an abbreviated form of boyo.
It’s the use of the word ‘bun’ that has intrigued me, since cookies (boyos de vino) and biscuits (boyos de rayo) are not buns, obviously. To understand why these, too, would fall under the bun category, I looked to the word itself and to technique for an explanation. And therein lay the answer.
All of these wildly different boyos share a specific technique when made according to tradition. After a pastry is first either folded and filled or rolled into a small ball, it is then mashed down lightly with the heel of the hand prior to baking, forming a small cavity or dent. It is the dent itself that turns out to be the origin of the pastry name, as the word ‘bollo’ has a second meaning: dent. In Spain today (if not elsewhere in the Spanish-speaking world), this usage is more colloquial, having been replaced by the more lofty-sounding ‘abollatura’.
The dent serves a purpose. In the case of non-filled boyos or boyikos, it is a quick and effective means of making a reasonably flat cookie without a rolling pin, and in the case of filled boyos, pressing the dough seals the pastry shut. It’s that simple. You want to make boyos of any kind? Flatten them with your hand before you bake them. I’m retiring my rolling pin.
My thanks to Michael, Zoe and my Aunt Rady, whose recollections of hand-pressing the dough of three radically different pastries helped me get to the bottom of boyos! There’s much, much more to say on the subject, but I’ll leave that for another day.
You have no idea how much I love this work.
11 responses to “Boyos / Bollos (glossary)”
Hi – I just found this blog via Linda’s excellent Boreka Diary, and have asked about this very subject. My nunna, who came from Iannina, used to bake these all the time when we were kids. Sometimes she referred to them as what sounded to me like burekyas, but most of the time, she called them – and again, this is the way I heard it pronounced – something that sounded like ‘bee-yeek-oohs.’ Have you ever heard it pronounced that way? Thanks in advance for any light you can shed on this?
Greek girl – this is easy! The words you’re trying to remember are ‘boo-reh-KEE-yohs’ and ‘boy-YEE-koos” – i.e. burekiyos and boyikos. For the sake of orientation, in modern Spanish (as opposed to Ladino) these would be spelled ‘burequillos’ and ‘bollicos’. These are diminutives, meaning no more than ‘little burekas’ and ‘little boyos’, respectively. The various diminutive endings – -iyo, -iko, -ito – are pretty much interchangeable. As for the pastries, burekas and boyos are not the same thing. Burekas are made with flaky shortbread dough, albeit made with oil, and the shape is a half circle. They are turnovers. Boyos have a different shape – square or rectangular, and the dough, which may or may not contain yeast, is very pliable, yielding either a strudel-type dough or, when made with yeast, one that is more like bread. They are buns. ‘Boyikos’ can simply be a diminutive way of saying boyos or it can refer to another pastry entirely – a wafer, actually – that has no filling but that gets its name from the way the dough is pressed into shape. Here’s the link to my recipe for boyos de rayu (grated cheese boyos), a/k/a boyikos. And if you do a search within this blog you’ll find various posts (and many, many comments) about boyos. It’s a hot topic 🙂
Thanks so much, Janet. Between this brilliant blog of yours and Linda’s wonderful Boreka Diary, which I discovered just last week, I am in sephardic food nostalgic heaven!
I’m certain that my nunna did interchange these two terms all the time – most of the time she called them ‘bee-YEE-koos,’ but also ‘boo-RAKE-yas.’ As kids, we called them ‘bee-YEE-koos’ (it sounded more like a word kids would use, I guess).
Whichever way she decided to refer to them, they were always the same shape – the turnover/half-circle shape, that my Irish husband says reminds him very much of Cornish pasties (he’s right – they do, shape-wise).
She never made them in a square or triangle shape (that’d be something akin to spanikopita, I guess, na?).
I’ve a couple of other questions for you, which I’ll get to in another, separate post, but for now, I just wanted to reply to Rose’s post, which I found earlier but now can’t get back to, so I’ll tack it onto this one.
Hi Rose – I just read your post, and a smile came to my face when I read that your husband’s family are from Iannina. That’s where my my family (on my mother’s side) comes from. My mother’s family name is Matza (sometimes the spelling was changed to/interchanged with Mazza). Wouldn’t it be amazing if your husband’s family knew my mum’s family?
I’ve never been to Iannina, but have promised myself that I will one day.
My mothers family were also from Joanina. My great-grandmother Sara Maza and her husband Meir Gani came to Jerudalem from Yoanina in the late 18 century. My granmother name was Esterula and she also was born in Yoanina. In Israel we have the Mazas family that are my mothers cousins.
Hi Sima! When I read your reply post just now, I simultaneously smiled but also got the chills. My nuna’s name was Sarah, too – Sarah Matza! Her maiden name was Joseph (Josephs as the alternate spelling/variation, I’ve discovered), and my papu’s name was Benjamin Matza (sometimes alternately spelled Mazza). They both were born in Ioannina. I remember them with much love and affection – especially my nuna and her cooking and baking (the bourekias/boyikoos and the kloothya/koulouria – even though so much time and so many years have passed since they passed away. Small world, is the world of Sephardim, na?
Thanks Sima, for your reply. And Happy Hanukkah, by the way!
Actually, the Ioannina Jewish community we’re not Sepharadim, but rather Romaniote. The Sephardim came to Greece much later.
(I’m another Matza descendant from Shemo Matza – Meir Gani’s brother in law.)
Yes, YM – you’re correct. For years, if not decades, my mother’s side of the family always referred to us as Sephardim, but, only recently, and thanks to a wonderful cookbook called, appropriately, ‘The Cookbook of the Jews of Greece,’ the author did say that the Jews of Ioannina were Romaniote, and not Sephardim. I had an uncle Meir – Meir Matza, who lived in Queens, many years ago.
Interesting thing… The Spanish”bollo” is obvouisly derived from the same base root as the English “ball”, which ultimately derives from the Greek “βολλη”.
Have you looked at the Indo European language tree? It’s fascinating, and illustrates why there is so much shared vocabulary among such disparate languages as English, Greek, and Spanish. They are on three distinct branches, but all share a common root language, propo Indo European.
Your observation brings to mind another point I find so interesting. There were Roman colonies in Iberia early in the last milennium, and Greek colonies before that. Spanish is a Latin language, evolved from the populous Romans who I believe vastly outnumbered the indigenous Iberians, but it shares certain distinctive pronunciations with Greek that aren’t found in the other Romance (Latin) languages.
Thanks for your comment!
My grandparents, born in Turkey but mainly lived in Rhodes before settling in Seattle. My mom learned from her mom how to make these Bollos. She would make a bread dough and then roll it into small balls. She would then coat them in oil and then flatten them like a pancake with her hands. Once flattened, and still oiled, she would stuff take fresh cut spinach and parmesan cheese and put this in the center of this flattened dough and pull the ends over and put them on a flat cookie sheet upside down, sprinkle with more parmesan cheese and a pat butter and bake them. They were wonderful immediately out of the oven and served with a salad. She said her mom sometimes substituted the spinach parmesan mixture with mashed potatoes or maybe a meat. We preferred the spinach and Parmesan.
Yes, Karin! My great aunt made her boyos (bollos is modern Spanish spelling, not Ladino) essentially as you describe, though her dough was homemade phyllo dough that she stretched by hand. Thank you for your detailed description.