Baklava bakers

Pete Drakatos cuts a pan of baklava before it's put in the oven. (Ivar Vong/For The Register-Guard)

Pete Drakatos cuts a pan of baklava before it’s put in the oven. (Ivar Vong/For The Register-Guard)

Serena Markstrom
The Register-Guard

Making the traditional Greek treat is longtime church project

By the end of the day Sunday, members of the St. George Greek Orthodox Church had made 1,700 pieces of baklava.

Orders are still coming in for the butter-rich treats, which the church has been selling for more than two decades as part of its annual Greek Pastry and Craft Fair.

“It’s blessed,” project leader Pete Drakatos said when asked why anyone would buy their homemade baklava over what’s available in stores.

Then he started laughing.

“Just kidding,” said Drakatos, 55. “It isn’t blessed.”

Drakatos did the majority of the preparation and had everything laid out for a big group of volunteers that assembled after the Sunday morning service. Most of the adults first had a quick cup of coffee, then 32 or so hands made quick work of the baking project.

 The recipe they used has been in Drakatos’ family for years, though he actually prefers baklava that is less sweet than the one the church produces for its pastry fair. The church does not cut corners to make its treats, using real butter and generous helpings of filling, he said.

Drakatos started out with 48 pounds of butter, and clarified it ahead of time so that his crew simply had to dip brushes in the clear, yellow liquid and spread it between about 50 layers of dough by the time a deep tray was filled.

Nine-year-old Alex Hutanu said he very much enjoyed the buttering portion of the project. He said he and his mother alternated duties and in the end made two trays, or 216 pieces.

“It felt good,” said Alex, of Eugene, still in his slacks and button-down shirt from church service.

“I like working.”

Drakatos is a stock broker by day, but at night he often comes to the church to simmer lemon peel and cinnamon in clover honey and water, to make the syrup that’s poured over the baked baklava.

After it comes out of the oven, it sets for two days before being ready to package.

Each worker started by placing a sheet of paper-thin phyllo dough in an empty tray, then painting on the butter. They repeated that for 11 more sheets of pastry dough before adding a layer of a mixture of walnuts, sugar and cinnamon that Drakatos also had made ahead of time.

Then it was five layers of dough and butter, another layer of nuts that was repeated until near the top of the tray, and finally 12 more layers of dough and butter.

“It’s a lot of butter,” Drakatos said.

The ingredients alone cost about $75 per tray, he said, and they make about double that selling them for $17 per dozen. He said baklava is not really all that difficult to make, but it does take a lot of preparation and many home cooks skip the hassle and buy from stores.

The bake sale is the church’s largest fundraiser of the year.

They also sell and accept pre-orders for traditional powdered-sugar butter cookies called kourambiethes; koulourakia cookie twists; cheese and phyllo hors d’oeuvres called tiropita; and stuffed grape leaves, dolmathes.

Maria Markopoulos, who leads the fundraising committee with Julie Lenkoff, said this year the church has put more effort into getting the word out about its events in hopes of introducing more people to the church.

“That’s exactly it,” said Lenkoff, 70.

“Nobody knows we’re here.”

Lenkoff is Russian, representing one of the many who came from Eastern Europe to practice their faith at the Greek Orthodox church, off Coburg Road on the outskirts of north Eugene.

The bake sales and spring festivals attract many who are curious about the church, and tours are available during those public events.

Markopoulos, 49, whose husband, Jerry, is the priest, said most of the members of the church are converts. The Markopoulos family has been at the church for seven years, coming from Portland.

She said the fundraising dollars go into the general fund, and their biggest goal is to build a Byzantine-style church on the property. About 50 families attend the church regularly, and membership is growing, she said.

The bake sale has gone on for almost all of the 25 years the church has been around, as far as anyone there can remember.

Baklava is not a seasonal treat, and church members do make it for other events throughout the year, but Christmas is when they sell the most.

Markopoulos said one great thing about baklava is that it freezes well, so when company comes they can pull it out and have homemade offerings with no extra work.

“Nothing is low-calorie, that’s for sure,” she said of their annual bake sale’s offerings.

“Baklava is very rich. Lots of honey.”