Many culinary traditions use some form of thin, crisp, leaflike dough in their baking. The strudel dough of central Europe, brik or warka of North Africa, and phyllo pastry of Greece and Turkey are all close cousins, and they're used in similar ways to wrap sweet and savory fillings. Phyllo is usually sold frozen. Once it's thawed and filled, you may safely freeze the resulting pastries for later use.
Phyllo dough is traditionally made by mixing up a plain wheat dough, then rolling it as thin as possible. In the final stage, two or more bakers slide their hands underneath the dough and lift it, gently stretching the dough as they lower it back to the table. Eventually the dough becomes thin enough, as many bakers say, to "read your paper through the dough." At that point, it must be used immediately or cut into sheets for freezing. Commercial phyllo dough is usually sold in pre-cut frozen sheets, which must be thawed before they're used. Always thaw phyllo overnight in your refrigerator, because quick-thawing methods cause the sheets to stick together.
Working with Phyllo
As long as you remember a few simple rules, phyllo is easy to work with. Always keep the dough sheets covered when they're not in use. Otherwise, they'll dry out, becoming brittle and unusable. Spray or brush the layers with fat to keep them from sticking when they're baked. Melted butter is the traditional choice, but you can also use olive oil, vegetable oil or pan spray. Many cooks lightly sprinkle crumbs or finely crushed nuts between the layers as well, which helps the finished pastries remain light and crisp when baked.
Fillings and Freezing
You may assemble phyllo pastries in many ways. Line full-sized pans and casserole dishes with five to 10 layered sheets of phyllo, add a filling, then cover your filling with the same number of sheets. Strudels typically use three to five layers, depending on their size. Roll smaller, individual-sized pastries into cigar shapes or fold them into triangles. Keep the fillings cold to prevent the sheets from sticking together. If the pastries are for later use, freeze them immediately in a single layer on a baking sheet. Once they're frozen, bag the pastries or place them in an airtight freezer container for longer storage.
Thawing, Baking, Refreezing
Most phyllo pastries can go straight from the freezer to the oven. Just brush the tops with oil or melted butter to keep them from burning, and bake them as directed in your original recipe. This is especially important with wet fillings, which would make the dough soggy if thawed. Thaw dryer fillings, such as cheese mixtures or smoked fish, before baking, if desired. Thaw pastries in the refrigerator overnight, so they remain at a food-safe temperature. Safely refreeze unused pastries for another day.
- The Professional Pastry Chef; Bo Friberg
- Baking 911: Phyllo, Fillo, or Filo Pastry Dough
- The Kitchn: Techniques -- How to Work with Phyllo Dough
- Photo Credit Ablestock.com/AbleStock.com/Getty Images