“Greek lamb or baklava?” I asked 10-year old Demi Anaïs Koutsoudakis, affectionately known as Demi, and her little brother Maximo, aka eight-year-old Max. Without giving it a second thought, both enthusiastically agreed that Greek roasted leg of lamb is enjoyed most at their family gatherings, and it would undoubtedly form part of their Christmas lunch menu this year – however, syrupy baklava came fairly close in their festive foodie favourites.
Kids of Maira and John Koutsoudakis of the Life Group of Companies (internationally awarded interiors and architecture practice, and owners of the eponymous Life Grand Cafés), the family is rooted in their strong Greek heritage. They have learned many of their culinary skills from both their yiayias, Maira’s mom, Demi Tsouroulis, and John’s mom, Kallie Koutsoudakis – both of whose fathers owned successful artisan bakeries.
Today, the Koutsoudakis siblings have invited us into the comfort of their kitchen, to showcase their Mediterranean cooking skills with a Nutella brioche pizza served with baklava and vanilla pod ice cream, berries and chocolate shavings… any child’s happy place and for adults – pure indulgence!
Both children are quite familiar with the kitchen, as they are often found helping out in one of the kitchens of the Life Grand Cafés – Mom has always shared her love of food with her children. “I’ve adored food all my life – I mean, I’m Greek! We have olive oil flowing through our veins!” exclaims Maira.
It’s with this passion that you see both Demi and Max looking up to their mom, as even with her busy schedule as CEO of the group’s design studio and eight restaurants on the go, she relishes time spent cooking with her children. “We regularly host a pizza party at home and invite friends over. Demi and Max play vital roles at these gregarious gatherings – rolling out the dough, prepping the deli toppings and grating the cheese,” adds their mother.
Demi, quite the sous chef, easily rolls out the brioche pizza dough, flips it with a bit of extra flour on both her hands and shapes it into the perfect oval – a trick taught to her by the pizza chefs at the Life Grand Cafés. As they prepare the dish, Demi often checks on Max while they’re in the kitchen, advising when the melted chocolate is ready to be shaved as one of the pizza toppings, and how to hold the knife as he works it through the cooled chocolate – characteristics that are true to a loving big sister.
While the brioche pizza bases bake in the oven, which Mom keeps an eye on, Max teases Demi and they chase each other outside for a bit of playtime. Demi shows us her gymnastics skills and how she can easily pull herself up on one of the ropes hanging from a sturdy old oak tree in the centre of their lush family garden. Max does not shy away from sports either, as he tells me that when he is not playing with his Lego robotics in his room, he enjoys playing cricket with his friends on the rolling lawns of their garden.
With both kids attending Saheti School in Joburg’s eastern suburbs, they speak Greek fluently and with such ease – rather impressive that these little individuals are proudly carrying forward and embracing their rich Hellenic heritage.
Nutella brioche pizza served with baklava ice cream and berries
- 30ml (2 tbsp) milk, lukewarm
- 50g castor sugar
- 6g instant dry yeast
- 240g cake flour + extra, to roll
- big pinch salt
- 2 eggs
- 80g soft butter cubes
Baklava ice cream
- few handfuls store-bought baklava, crushed
- 500ml (2 cups) good-quality vanilla pod ice cream
- peanut brittle, crushed
- chocolate shavings (optional)
- fresh seasonal berries
For the brioche, combine the lukewarm milk and 5ml (1 tsp) of the castor sugar in a large jug. Add the yeast, but don’t mix into the milk mixture, as this slows down the fermentation process of the yeast. In a large bowl, combine the cake flour, salt, eggs and milk mixture and stir to combine, about 5 minutes.
Mix the soft butter cubes and remaining castor sugar together and add it to the flour mixture, little by little. Mix until a dough is formed. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and set aside to prove in a warm place, 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 180˚C and place a baking slide in the oven to heat up. Roll the dough out on a flour-dusted surface, to form 3 oblong pizza bases, using a little flour to aid rolling. Place one of the bases on a piece of baking paper and transfer to the hot baking slide in the oven. Bake the bases, one at a time, about 10 minutes.
While the bases bake, make the baklava ice cream by combining the crushed store-bought baklava with the vanilla ice cream. Allow to soften a little, stir through and return to the freezer until ready to serve.
Spread the Nutella to cover the pizza bases and serve with scoops of baklava ice cream, crushed peanut brittle and chocolate shavings, if desired, to top, and fresh berries to round it all off.
Demi's cooking tip: When rolling the brioche pizza dough, roll inwards, so as to achieve that perfect oval. Max's cooking tip: Be careful when cracking the eggs – giving each one a good knock, instead of several small knocks, against the side of the bowl will do the trick.