Rosewater, saffron, and cardamom come together in chef Nasim Alikhani’s take on Bougatsa, a traditional Greek pastry.


Ellen Silverman

Active Time:
40 mins
Total Time:
2 hrs 5 mins
12 servings

Our editors were smitten with this dessert from Nasim Alikhani, the chef and owner of Sofreh in New York City. She serves this dish for Nowruz, the Persian New Year, each spring. 

Decadent, creamy and made of layers of flaky phyllo and creamy custard baked together, Bougatsa is a traditional Greek pastry. For Alikhani, it’s a tribute to her Greek husband — she learned about this dessert from her in-laws. In place of the more traditional cinnamon, Alikhani flavors the dessert with saffron and rosewater, and tops the bougatsa with cardamom and crunchy salted pistachios in a nod to her Iranian roots. 

While Bougatsa is lovely served at room temperature, it is best when it is served warm. In preparation for a large gathering, Alikhani will bake the Bougatsa the morning of her party, then warm it back up in a 300°F oven for 10 minutes before garnishing and serving.


  • 1 cup salted butter (8 ounces), melted, divided

  • 1 (16-ounce) package frozen 14- x 18-inch phyllo pastry sheets (such as Kontos Fillo #4), thawed

  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 5 large eggs

  • 2 egg yolks

  • 1 2/3 cups heavy cream

  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk

  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon rosewater (such as Cortas)

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)

  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron powder

  • Powdered sugar, ground cardamom, and roughly chopped salted pistachios, for garnish


  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Brush bottom and sides of a nonstick 9- x 13-inch baking pan with about 1 tablespoon melted butter. Gently unfold and place phyllo sheets on a clean work surface; cover with a damp, clean kitchen towel to keep phyllo moist while you work.

  2. Place 1 phyllo sheet on a work surface. Brush phyllo with some of the melted butter, and top with a second sheet. Brush second phyllo sheet with some of the melted butter; top with a third phyllo sheet. Transfer to prepared baking pan, placing so phyllo fully covers bottom of pan and reaches partially up pan sides.

  3. Working with 1 sheet at a time, place phyllo sheet on work surface; lightly brush with some of the melted butter. Starting from one short end, fold the phyllo sheet accordion-style to create a long strip with 1 1/2-inch-wide pleats. Place folded phyllo strip lengthwise in baking pan, with pleats facing up. Repeat brushing and folding process with remaining phyllo sheets, placing strips side by side to fill baking pan. (Do not stack phyllo strips.)

  4. Using your fingers, gently open pleats of each phyllo strip. Drizzle phyllo evenly with remaining melted butter. Bake in preheated oven until phyllo is golden brown, about 25 minutes.

  5. Meanwhile, whisk together granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Add eggs and egg yolks, and whisk until completely incorporated and mixture is almost fluffy. Add cream, milk, rosewater, vanilla, cardamom (if using), and saffron powder; whisk until smooth.

  6. Remove baking pan from oven, and reduce oven temperature to 325°F.

  7. Slowly pour or ladle cream mixture over hot phyllo; let stand at room temperature 15 minutes. Return pan to oven, and bake at 325°F until custard is set and phyllo is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from oven, and let bougatsa cool slightly at room temperature 15 minutes. Garnish with powdered sugar, cardamom, pistachios, and rose petals. Slice bougatsa, and serve warm or at room temperature.


You can change the presentation of this recipe by making each phyllo sheet into a rose shape without changing the amount of phyllo or butter. If choosing the rose presentation, grease the pan with butter but don’t put phyllo in the bottom. Drizzle butter on each sheet, fold in half, drizzle more butter then fold in 3 segments. Finish by drizzling more butter before folding each one loosely into a rose shape. Leave some space in between each rose, then expand when custard is added.

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