Phyllo (in Greek: φύλλο, pronounced FEE-lo), also spelled "filo," is most often used to describe wafer-thin sheets of dough that are used to make some of the most delicious pastries and savory pies in the world. However, phyllo has gotten a reputation as being hard to use, or too delicate, with the result that many people stay away from it and use, instead, puff pastry or strudel doughs that just don't give the best results.
A Little History
Baklava-type pastries are thought to have been created by the Assyrians around the 8th century B.C.E. Originally made with layers of bread dough, the recipe traveled across borders, throughout the Balkans, to Greece, the countries of Asia Minor and the Middle East, and as far west as Ancient Persia. The great Greek contribution to these pastries and pies was the technique for creating the wafer-thin dough we know today as phyllo, sometime around the 3rd century B.C.E.
- Commercially packaged frozen phyllo is low fat or fat-free (check package information).
- The best phyllo is fresh phyllo (never been frozen), but frozen works very well. Look for a short shelf-life because even frozen phyllo can hang around too long.
- Phyllo sheets can be used even if they're torn. They can be patched back together and because dishes using phyllo are made with buttered or oiled layers of the dough, patched holes or patched-together pieces are rarely, if ever, noticeable.
- Packaged phyllo comes in different shapes, like pastry cups, and in different forms, like kataifi dough, which is shredded phyllo.
- Packaged phyllo does dry out quickly (in just a couple of minutes) when exposed to air. Once opened to make a recipe, keeping it covered with a piece of waxed paper and a cool damp towel will keep it flexible.
- In many vegetable dishes using phyllo (like spinach pies), butter is not used. The phyllo sheets are brushed with oil.
- While many chefs say that only the best butter should be used when making sweet phyllo pastries, home cooks say that butter-flavored cooking spray (or a combination of a little butter and the spray) works just as well, and many traditional recipes for Greek sweets call for olive oil rather than butter.
Let's get started with the basics.
Next: Phyllo Basics
What you need to know in preparation for your first recipe with phyllo dough.