What do you call a Sephardic butter pastry (besides divine)?

My grandmother was born in Turkey and used to make bourekas and montees, which were essentially the same but shaped differently. The bourekas were turnovers filled with potato and cheese or rice or meat and onions, or spinaca. The montees used the same dough (oil, water, flour), but were made like spiral spanakopita. I’ve never found any info on montees anywhere on the web, and everyone I could ask is gone. Have you heard of them and can you tell me the origin of the name?
Thanks very much

Sure, Len!

First, let’s get you back on track with the spelling. “Montee” should be mantí, a pastry better known as mantikos.

Though your grandmother made her mantí from an oil dough, the name refers to its original star ingredient: butter. The word comes from manteca. In modern Spanish usage, “manteca” on its own brings to mind lard – emulsified pig fat – but the formal meaning indicates any emulsified fat derived from animals or plants. In the past, the specific fat was understood from context; under kosher law the consumption of fat from cow, sheep, and goat meats is forbidden, hence in a Sephardic kitchen, manteca would only mean butter.

Diminutive-sounding mantikos are small, and specifically made with butter, thus the name; they’re strictly a dairy pastry. Like your grandmother’s they’re filled with spinach and cheese.

The dough can vary widely. Some cooks make bread-like mantikos, while others make them light and flaky. The latter is closer to its roots in Spanish hojaldre dough – puff pastry, known in Iberia at least since medieval times, and still a staple of modern Spanish and Portuguese bakeries. From your description, it sounds like this is closer to your grandmother’s dough.

Pastry shapes vary for many reasons. In the most practical terms, a unique shape offers an immediate visual cue whether a pastry contains meat or dairy, a critical piece of information if you keep kosher and don’t want to mix foods. Understandably, continuity is important in a kosher environment; once you pick a shape and ingredient, you stick to them so everyone at the table is always clear as to what’s what.

Choosing the spiral shape to indicate “butter pastry” was either by your grandmother’s own design or that of her elders, ancestors, or immediate community. I’m guessing from her calling them mantí instead of mantikos that they were on the large side, more like bulemas, which are made from a light textured bread dough containing oil. She or someone before her reverted to using oil, but not before the butter reference stuck in relation to that shape. In our family we’ve got something similar going on with boyos.

I should point out that the words “mánti” and “mántikos” also exist in Greek, but with different accentuation. They have radically different meanings from the Spanish, connected with divination. I’ll grant you well made mantikos can taste divine, but that’s all about the butter.

Thanks for your question!





Filed under Glossary, Your Questions Answered

5 responses to “What do you call a Sephardic butter pastry (besides divine)?

  1. Jackie Sauter

    My nauna was also born in Turkey. Her borecus were made with stuffed filo dough, in long rolls that were rolled like a snail and baked in a pan. The fillings she used were cheese and egg, potato, spinach, onion, and potato. She also made a round savory pastry called masadecus, usually stuffed with potato and onion or cheese and egg. This was not made with filo, but with an oil, flour, salt and water dough, mixed in a bowl, much like a gougere. I wonder about the word masadecus..could it have originally been mantedecus?

    • Janet

      Jackie, I’ve found a mantiko recipe with a yeasty bread dough, more like boyos, and eaten a Greek one that was triangular and made with puff pastry (buttered or larded filo), and I think you’re right about your nonna’s gougere pastry being her version of mantiko, as gougere is made with butter (and cheese).

      Did the word “masadiku” morph the way you propose, from “mantediku”? (I’m using standard Ladino spelling for continuity). It’s not beyond the realm of possibility, and is an interesting thought.

      While “mantiko” (pronounced mantiku) makes reference to an ingredient, masadiku describes a shape: “masa” (dough) + “-iku” (small), i.e. small loaves. Independent of one another, each has its logic.

      In Ladino there is a pattern of consonant reversal found in certain words. There is a traditional (Spanish) cookie called “mantecado”, which is lard-based. Just like mantiku, the name comes from the root “manteca”, with “-ado” its participle ending. It has nothing else in common with our stuffed savory pastry, but it’s not crazy to think someone (or many) who spoke Ladino might have begun saying mantediku instead of mantecado, and that mantediku evolved to mantiko. Interesting!

    • Jackie Sauter

      Thanks, Janet. My nauna’s recipe for masadekus is simple — heat water and oil (no butter). Then off the heat add flour and salt and stir until soft dough forms and cool.. Use your hands to make flat circles, about 4 inches in diameter, Fill with a spoonful or two of of egg and cheese or potato filling. Foll over like a half-moon. Then an egg wash and into the oven to bake until brown. My children loved this when they were small and still do. I always thought of it as a short cut kind of borekus. The same filling but no messing with filo. My nauna made both every week. Of course she made her own filo from scratch.I think your explanation of masadeku evolving from masa makes sense. Thanks again for the dialogue on a topic dear to our hearts.

  2. Robert Matlin

    Thank you for bringing back my childhood memories of my Turkish grandmother. You were spot on

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