Giorgos Hatziparaskos, an 86-year-old baker from Crete, is one of the last people in Greece who still creates intricate, the country’s iconic multi-layered phyllo dough from hand.
Featured in a video by Business Insider, Hatziparaskos is shown crafting some of Greece’s beloved delicacies by hand alongside his only employees — his wife Katerina and his son Paraskevas.
Hatziparaskos opened his bakery in 1960, long before the advent of large-scale, industrial baked goods, which have replaced traditional bakeries in much of Greece and around the world.
While many other small, family bakeries closed after the rise of cheaper, mass-produced products, Hatziparaskos shrewdly decided to highlight his bakery as a tourist attraction to the massive number of travelers that visit Greece each year in order to boost income.
He opened the doors of his traditional bakery in Rethymno, Crete, to lovers of sweets from around the world, allowing them to peek into the traditional pastry-making practices that are rarely seen in the country anymore.
When making phyllo dough, used in countless Greek recipes including baklava, Hatziparaskos first combines his ingredients in a large mixer, and then portions them out into smaller pieces. Then, he flattens the dough, and throws the long, thin sheet onto a flour-covered table.
In an artful display, the skilled baker then twirls the impossibly-thin dough in the air, and allows it to form a large air bubble as it drops lightly onto the table. The bubble is not just an impressive move to wow the tourists visiting the bakery — it’s necessary to make the middle of the phyllo dough extra thin.
The dough is then stretched so thinly that you could read through it, and a piece of linen is placed over the dough to soak up any excess moisture. The whole process is repeated until many layers of dough have been stretched and dried out.
Then, the family works with precise, dance-like choreography to fold the many sheets of dough, dusting each layer with flour, and eventually cutting them so they can be refrigerated until they are sold.
Although the Hatziparaskos family sells their dough, much of the their income comes from selling sweets made from their phyllo, not selling the dough itself.
In the past, restaurants and hotels purchased massive quantities of hand-made phyllo to be used in their menus. Now, they all purchase factory-produced phyllo dough, as it is much cheaper than tradionally-made dough, and many more sheets can be produced in a day by machine than by hand.
In addition to phyllo, Hatziparaskos also makes kataifi, a unique pastry made of very thin strips of dough that is used in traditional Greek sweets such as ekmek kataifi. Hatziparaskos makes the spaghetti-like pastry the traditional way — by carefully placing lines of raw dough on a rotating, heated wheel until they are baked through.
Although the workshop has been a mainstay in the town of Rethymno for decades, the family business has suffered a great loss due to the reduction in tourism to the country because of Covid-19.
Once bustling with tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of the family making their traditional products, the bakery sadly had very few visitors in the 2020 tourist season. Here’s hoping the summer of 2021 brings more people to the town of Rethymno to see this lost art for themselves.