A recipe for Banitsa (Баница, Bulgarian Cheese Pie)! A creamy cheese yogurt mixture is wrapped in phyllo and baked until golden.
Banitsa (Banica, Banitza) is a Bulgarian pie filled with a mixture of crumbled cheese, thick yogurt, and eggs. After arranging in the pan, it is baked until golden and served with yogurt, Boza (fermented malt drink), or Ayran/Airan (Yogurt Drink).
I arranged the phyllo in a circular coil pattern to create a large pie with a beautiful presentation perfect for celebrations and feeding a crowd.
In Bulgaria, Banitsa is commonly made on Christmas and New Year’s Eve with good luck charms (kusmeti). The charms may be small pieces of dogwood branches with a certain number of buds, coins, or handwritten fortunes wrapped in foil.
Assembling the Banitsa
I rolled up the filling in individual phyllo sheets and coiled them in a greased 12 inch (30.5 centimeter) pan before baking. The sheets of filo can also be layered in the pan with the cheese filling in the center in a similar manner to this Kıymalı Tepsi Böreği (Turkish Phyllo Pastry with Beef). If you assemble it this way, brush butter between each layer of phyllo and optionally crinkle the sheets to add some texture.
I began coiling the filo rolls at the edge of the pan and worked my way towards the center. Some recipes begin in the opposite direction by coiling in the center of the prepared pan and working around to the edges.
I also saw a few differing ways of spreading the cheese mixture over the phyllo sheets. Some combine the egg, yogurt, and cheese together and spread across the whole sheet or in a line across one edge before rolling up. Other recipes keep the crumbled cheese separate and sprinkle over the egg and yogurt-brushed sheets.
If you are assembling your Banitsa in a springform pan, place the pan on a rimmed baking sheet in the oven to catch any butter that might seep through the bottom.
A Few Banitsa Tips
If using frozen phyllo, thaw before using. Either place in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for an hour or two.
Make sure everything is prepared before removing the phyllo from the package. It dries out quickly. Cover any phyllo you aren’t currently using with a lightly damp towel. Work carefully, but a small tear here or there isn’t a big issue.
Brush very gently with the butter and yogurt mixture to help keep the phyllo from tearing.
The baking soda reacts with the acidity of the yogurt to create a bit of lightness in the filling.
After removing from the oven, cover the pan with a towel. Allow the Banitsa to rest at room temperature around 10-20 minutes before serving.
Some recipes use sunflower oil in place of the butter.
There are many Banitsa variations with other fillings:
Sirene (сирене) is a Bulgarian semi-hard cheese stored in brine. It has a crumbly texture and is delicious in a variety of recipes from salad to this pastry. I used a sheep-based Sirene, but it can also be made with cow’s, goat milk, or a combination. If not available, swap for the best quality feta possible. If substituting with a low-salt cheese, you may need to add about 1/2 teaspoon salt to the filling.
I used Bulgarian yogurt (кисело мляко) for the filling. If unavailable, substitute with Greek yogurt. If the yogurt is too thick to spread over the sheets, dilute the filling with a little water.
Banitsa can be made with a homemade dough rolled into thin, translucent sheets or commercially prepared phyllo sheets (which is what I used).
For those in the Los Angeles area, I have been able to find Bulgarian Sirene, yogurt, and phyllo at Jon’s Fresh Marketplace in Torrance, California.
This recipe was originally posted in December 2013 and updated November 2021.
Banitsa (Bulgarian Cheese Pie) Recipe
Adapted from Debbie Koenig
Banitsa (Bulgarian Cheese Pie)
- 4 large eggs
- 2 cups (450 grams) Bulgarian yogurt or other thick yogurt such as Greek
- 12 ounces (340 grams) Sirene or Feta cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 pound (450 grams) phyllo sheets thawed
- 3/4 cup (170 grams) unsalted butter melted
- Additional yogurt for serving
- Preheat oven to 375˚F (190˚C). Grease a 12 inch (30.5 centimeter) baking pan or springform pan with butter.
- In a large bowl, beat together the eggs and yogurt until smooth.
- Crumble in the Sirene cheese, followed by the baking soda and whisk together.
- Unroll the thawed phyllo sheets and cover with a towel. Place one sheet on work surface and gently brush with melted butter.
- Add the cheese yogurt mixture in a thin line across the long side nearest you or gently brush across the buttered sheet.
- Tightly roll up the phyllo sheet to the other long side. Place seam side down around the edge of the buttered baking dish.
- Repeat with the remaining phyllo sheets, continuing to wrap them around the pan towards the center in a coiled pattern.
- Brush the top of the Banitsa with butter.
- Bake in the preheated oven until the top is golden brown, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- Cover the dish with a towel and allow to cool 10-20 minutes at room temperature before serving with yogurt, boza, or ayran.