Lemon Semolina Custard in Phyllo

1 8-inch round pastry

The key to making this flaky, custard-filled pie is layering and flavoring the thin sheets of phyllo with great care.


  • 4 cups milk

  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar

  • 1 cup (2 sticks), plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

  • Zest from 1 lemon

  • ¾ cup fine semolina (preferably Greek)

  • 3 large eggs

  • ¼ cup olive oil

  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

  • 9 sheets phyllo

  • 3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar


  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, 1 cup granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons butter, and lemon zest. Bring to a simmer over low heat. Whisk in semolina, and cook, stirring, until the mixture is thick, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat, and whisk in eggs, one at a time. Return saucepan to heat, and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 to 40 seconds, to cook the eggs. Remove custard from heat, and let cool to room temperature.

  2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a small saucepan, melt remaining 2 sticks butter with olive oil; use some of this mixture to brush an 8-inch round nonstick springform baking pan. In a small bowl, combine remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon cinnamon.

  3. Stack phyllo on a work surface, cover with parchment paper, and top with a damp kitchen towel. Working with one sheet of phyllo at a time, place one of the corners into the center of the pan and gently press the dough so that it fits tightly in the pan. Lay the corner of the second sheet of phyllo into the center of the pan, slightly overlapping the first sheet of phyllo. Press the second sheet tightly into the pan. Lay a third sheet of phyllo in the same manner, covering the remainder of the pan (one layer of dough is now completed). Using a pastry brush, brush the phyllo with a generous amount of the butter mixture. Lightly sprinkle with the cinnamon-sugar mixture.

  4. Place three more sheets of phyllo into the pan in the same manner, brushing with the butter mixture and sprinkling with the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Repeat process again with the remaining 3 sheets of phyllo (you will now have completed three layers). Fill phyllo-lined pan with custard; spread evenly.

  5. Working with one layer at a time, fold phyllo sheets toward the center of the pan. Brush generously with the butter mixture and sprinkle with the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Repeat folding, buttering, and sprinkling until all layers have been folded toward the center. Do not sprinkle the top layer as the cinnamon-sugar mixture may burn and darken the pastry. Prick all over with a fork, and bake, on a Silpat-lined baking sheet, until golden brown, about 1 hour.

  6. Combine remaining tablespoon of cinnamon with the confectioners' sugar, and sprinkle over the surface of the phyllo when removed from oven. Let rest 5 to 10 minutes before slicing. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cook's Notes

Chef James Botsacos, of Molyvos restaurant in New York City, recommends using three sheets of #7 phyllo (a thicker variety) when building each layer. Once the first layer is in place, lightly brush it with butter, and cover with a sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar.

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