Get Fearless with Phyllo
By Chloe Dowley
Light, crisp, and delicious, anything made with phyllo dough is sure to please, but has a reputation for being difficult to work with. This guide will teach you to become fearless with phyllo, adding a little puff into your baking repertoire.
I Say Phyllo, You Say Fillo... Or is it Filo?
Anyone who's tried a piece of baklava can attest to the magical qualities that phyllo dough brings to a dish. This special dough, also known as fillo or filo, and sometimes confused with puff pastry, is most often used in the pastries and filled pies typical of Greek food. Whatever you call it, phyllo dough has a reputation for being both delicious and temperamental. While incredibly tasty, the thin and delicate nature of phyllo dough can scare off even seasoned cooks. Fortunately, with proper storage and handling, working with phyllo can be manageable and fun, with delectable results.
Buying and Storing Phyllo Dough
You're most likely to find phyllo dough in the frozen foods section of your local grocery store. Because it's a specialty ingredient, some smaller stores don't even carry it, so be sure to stock up before you plan a Greek food-fest. While you may be tempted to substitute puff pastry for phyllo dough, it's not a good idea because the two are noticeably different.
When you work with phyllo, advance preparation is key because you must allow it to thaw for a full 24 hours in the refrigerator before you can begin. Then allow the phyllo to come to room temperature before working with it, which helps ensure that the dough is pliable.
Handle Phyllo Dough Like a Pro
Regardless of the phyllo dough recipe you choose to prepare, following a few simple guidelines can help keep you on track.
Thaw Your Dough!
Thanks to new refrigerated phyllo dough products, you don't have to wait for your dough to thaw. If you're working with a frozen dough, however, follow these helpful tips for thawing it:
- Allow fillo to thaw in box at room temperature at least 5 hours.
- Do not open until all other ingredients are assembled and you are ready to work.
- Carefully unroll fillo sheets on a smooth, dry surface.
- Remove any fillo you don't need for your recipe, re-roll, wrap in plastic and set aside.
Before you open the package of phyllo, make sure you've done the following:
- Completed preparations for the pie or pastry filling.
- Melted butter or poured oil into a shallow bowl to brush each layer of dough (remember to brush from the center to edges).
- Readied the baking pan, pastry brush, and any other necessary tools.
- Cleaned a workspace where the phyllo leaves can be unwrapped.
- Prepared a piece of plastic wrap and moistened a dishtowel, which you'll use to cover the dough as you work to keep it from drying out and cracking.
Working With Phyllo
Immediately cover phyllo with plastic wrap, then a damp towel to prevent the sheets from drying out. Avoid leaving the sheets uncovered for more than one minute at a time. Because sheets of phyllo are delicate, don't be surprised if a few of them rip as you pull them off the stack. Torn sheets are still useable in some recipes, so don't throw them away. Also keep in mind that gummed up or cracked edges can be trimmed off to save the rest of the dough.
Give It a Bit of Shape
Part of the fun of phyllo is its art. You can fold phyllo dough into a variety of different shapes, from cones and tubes to pouches to strudels. We recommend checking out Athens Foods' guide to shaping phyllo dough for pro tips.
The Zen of Phyllo Dough
Whatever shape or filling you choose, never forget that the number 1 rule of working with phyllo is patience. Work slowly (but not too slow-you don't want the sheets to dry out!) and carefully until you become more comfortable handling the dough. Take your time and remember, like any skill in the kitchen, practice makes perfect!
Greek Food and Beyond
Whether you're making a savory spinach pie, a light appetizer with goat cheese and olives, or a flaky, fruit-filled dessert, phyllo dough adds a special flavor and texture to your meal. Reading about phyllo can help you learn the basics, but the best way to master the art of cooking with this special dough is to try it yourself. Fortunately, with an ingredient this tasty, you should have no trouble finding taste-testers eager to sample the results.
About the Author
Chlo� Dowley is a freelance writer specializing in culinary topics. She lives on a farm in rural Maine where she tries to embody the principles of Slow Living, while keeping up with her 18 month-old son.