Puff pastry is definitely special: layer upon layer of dough and butter creating flaky pastry that makes croissants, napoleons and palmiers so delicious. But homemade puff pastry is tricky and time consuming to make and commercial puff pastry, while easy to use, can be difficult to find in some areas. Luckily, you can substitute either phyllo dough or regular pie pastry for many of the applications where you'd normally use puff pastry.
Phyllo Is Fine
Phyllo dough, meaning "leaf" in Greek, has similar thin and flaky layers of pastry as does puff pastry, but it's made with only flour and water, with melted butter brushed on between layers. Phyllo is available in most grocery stores, but has very little flavor even with the butter used between layers. Both desserts and savory dishes made with phyllo need additional flavorful ingredients such as the honey, nuts and spice in Greek baklava, or the tangy feta that accompanies the spinach in spanakopita.
Handle with Care
Because phyllo dough is so thin, you need to keep the layers under a damp dish towel while peeling off sheets one by one when creating pastry shells for sweet or savory fillings. Build additional layers of pastry along the sides of tarts or shells to create high edges, just as you would with puff pastry. To minimize phyllo's drying out and curling in the oven, sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of sugar between each layer when making desserts -- when melted in the oven's heat, the sugar glues the layers together.
Pie Pastry Perfection
Pie pastry is far easier to make than puff pastry because it only needs to be rolled out once as opposed to the multiple chilling and rolling process used for puff pastry Although it has a more dense texture than puff pastry, pie crust provides a very good substitute for puff pastry tarts, shells and small pieces of dough for building napoleons or small doughy cookies and appetizers. You can make pie pastries for sweet or savory fillings simply by adding or eliminating sugar.
Playing With the Dough
With pie crusts available in the frozen section of grocery stores, you don't have to make your own and roll them out if you don't want to. If you let the crusts come to room temperature, you can easily build shells by baking the pastry draped over muffin cups or oven-proof ramekins, or you can cut sheets for napoleons. Shape unbaked pie crusts into rectangular for shapes for tarts, much as you would with puff pastry.
- The Deluxe Food Lover's Companion; Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst
- How to Cook Everything Vegetarian; Mark Bittman
- Baking Illustrated; Editors of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine
- Photo Credit Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images