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A Beginner's Guide to Making Phyllo Pastries & Pies

Part 2: Phyllo Basics

By

Photo of Greek Spinach Pie with Cheese

Easy Spinach Pie with Cheese

Photo © Jim Stanfield

The Five Rules of Packaged Phyllo

  1. Never handle phyllo with wet hands.
  2. Bake phyllo pies and pastries at approximately 350°F (175°C) on the rack just below the middle of the oven.
  3. Defrost properly following package and/or recipe directions.
  4. While working, keep unused phyllo covered to prevent drying.
  5. Don't throw out damaged, torn, or unused phyllo!

Now, the details:

  • When making a recipe that calls for 1 package (1 pound) of phyllo, always buy two, just in case.
  • When using frozen phyllo, thaw completely in the refrigerator for 24 hours and bring to room temperature before using or the dough can be gummy (if thawed too quickly outside the refrigerator) or crack (if still partially frozen).
  • Prepare all other recipe ingredients before opening the phyllo package, and have waxed paper and a cool damp towel ready to cover it.
  • Always work on a flat dry surface, and make sure your hands are dry. Getting the phyllo wet (with water) will make it gummy and sticky, and impossible to manage.
  • Gently open and unfold phyllo. If any pieces stick together and cannot be gently separated, the usable part can be cut away, if large enough.
  • Small breaks or cracks in phyllo sheets are normal.
  • If a recipe calls for a certain size of cut dough, use a ruler.
  • Phyllo sheets can be cut with a scissors, shears, pizza wheel, or pastry cutter.
  • When brushing with butter or oil, or spraying with a butter-flavored cooking spray, start at the edges and work in. The edges dry out the fastest. And don't use too much - just a light coating, otherwise the end result is greasy.
  • If you have several pastry brushes, use a soft wider one (2 1/2 - 3 inches) for sheets, and a smaller one for small triangles or rolls. Otherwise, a soft 1 1/2 to 2 inch wide brush works well on both sheets and small pastries or pies.
  • If the recipe for a pastry needs a perfect top layer and the dough has not cooperated totally so far, just select a perfect sheet, brush it carefully with butter or oil (per recipe directions), and use it as the outer layer or wrapping.
  • When cutting phyllo pan pies into pieces before baking, make the first cut through the top layers of phyllo with a razor blade. It will cut through more cleanly, leaving nice edges. Follow up with a knife if the recipe calls for cutting all the way through to the bottom before baking.
  • Phyllo pastries should always be cooked in pans with a flat bottom.
  • Never try to reheat phyllo pastries or pies in the microwave. If they've been refrigerated, either serve cold (if appropriate) or let them come to room temperature.
  • If phyllo sheets get torn or don't defrost properly so they stick together at the edges, salvage what you can. Pieces can be used to make fabulous dishes like Leftover Phyllo Cheese Pie. For all it's delicacy, phyllo is very forgiving!

Next: First Recipe: Easy Spinach Pie
This recipe is one of the best ways to use phyllo for the first time. Half the sheets in the box go on the bottom, then the filling, and the other half of the phyllo goes on top. The recipe is available with step-by-step photos to help.

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