Boyoz: puff pastry from Izmir of Sephardic origin

Whenever you tell someone you are going to Izmir, the first thing that comes to mind is definitely “boyoz”. This iconic patisserie associated with Izmir is actually a symbol of the province’s diverse cultural history. It was brought five centuries ago by Sephardi Jews from distant lands to Izmir, which was previously called Smyrna and the quintessential port city of the Ottoman Empire.

The story begins with the arrival of Sephardic Jews, expelled from Spain in 1492, in the Ottoman Empire. A refuge offered by Sultan Bayezid II, many found their way to Izmir and settled there, adding to the rich cultural mix of the city, which in the 17th century was home not only to Turks, but also to Armenians, Greeks and Levantine Europeans.

The name boyoz is derived from “bollos”, which means “buns” or “scones” in Spanish, because the two Ls are pronounced like Ys. It is a simple, small and round dough made with thin layers of dough. The original recipe is based on flour and sesame oil, and a few other ingredients; it does not contain yeast and can therefore be eaten during Passover, the day commemorating the liberation of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. As there are many types of pastries introduced by Jewish immigrants, boyoz is a unique melting pot for locals to put their spin on.

A good option for breakfast, boyoz and tea. (Photo Shutterstock)

Boyozcu Avram Usta is rumored to be the first person to make boyoz in Izmir. Upon his death, they were sold as “Avram Usta’s boyoz”. In the 19th century, the Jewish population of İzmir was centered around Havra Sokaği (Synagogue Street) in Kemeraltı, the city’s historic market district, and Jewish families began making boyoz at home.

Later, wealthier families moved to Karataş and Göztepe neighborhoods in Izmir and bakeries started producing the pastry. Until recently, all the bakers in Izmir who made boyoz were run by Jewish bakers. Today, many pastries in Izmir are sold under the name “boyoz” but are not made according to the traditional recipe: instead of sesame oil, most bakeries now use sunflower oil . People don’t know that the traditional version made with sesame oil has almost completely disappeared.

The pastry has since received a geographical indication with the name “Izmir boyozu”. The hot trays and street vendors of Izmir are full of boyoz. It may be inconvenient to eat it because of its crispy layers, but it’s worth it in the end. Generally, the locals prefer to eat it accompanied by boiled eggs. Here is the boyoz recipe that can spice up your Sunday breakfast.

Ingredients

  • 4 glasses of flour
  • 1/5 glass of lukewarm water
  • 1 teaspoon full of salt
  • 1 teaspoon full of fruit molasses

To be divided between:

  • 6 tablespoons full of sesame oil/butter

The ingredients are mixed and kneaded well by hand to form a dough, which is then left to rest for about two hours. The dough can undergo additional kneading and can be set aside for several hours. Once the dough is well formed and smooth, cut it into small balls then soak the balls in a pan filled with sesame oil for an hour.

Remove the balls from the oil and roll them into paper-thin rounds the size of a small saucer. You can fold them into a bun shape and bake them plain or form them around your filling of choice, spinach or cheese are great options. Then place the buns on a baking sheet and transfer them to the oven. Cook them at high temperature until they are golden brown.

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Edward K. Thompson