Phyllo pastry was introduced to Europe by the Turks, who made it as far as the gates of Vienna before their armies were turned back for good. Their influence is seen in the much-loved strudels of Austria and Hungary, which are wrapped in dough made by a similar technique. The dough is most widely used in the Mediterranean, where the Turkish influence was more powerful and lasted longer. Phyllo is well suited to finger foods, but it also makes a flaky and durable crust for sweet or savory pies.
Things You'll Need
1 box phyllo pastry
Pie pan, or baking dish
Plastic film wrap
Pan spray or vegetable oil (optional)
Bread or cake crumbs, or ground nuts (optional)
Sweet or savory filling
Beaten egg (optional)
Open the box of phyllo and unwrap the sheets of pastry. Lift out the first sheet, and cover the rest with a piece of plastic film wrap to keep them from drying out.
Place the first sheet of pastry in the bottom of the pie pan or baking dish. Brush it lightly with melted butter, covering the entire surface. Sprinkle lightly with crumbs or ground nuts, if desired. Vegetable oil or pan spray -- which reduces the calories but also the flavor of the finished product -- may be used in place of butter.
Repeat until the desired number of layers is reached, usually five or six for a small pie or 10 to 15 for a large pie. If you are using crumbs, sprinkle them lightly between every second or third layer. Finish with butter, to provide a moisture barrier between the filling and the dough.
Fill the pie pan or baking dish with your choice of sweet or savory filling. Spread the filling, if desired, to make an even surface. The pie will have a more attractive appearance if it is slightly mounded in the middle.
Add a top crust by following the same method used for the bottom crust. Use water or a beaten egg to seal the top crust to the bottom crust. Trim any excess dough from the edges of the pan. Brush the top of the pie with beaten egg, if desired, for a deep golden finish. Some recipes call for the top crust to be slashed with a sharp knife, to allow steam to vent.
Bake as directed in your recipe, or until the filling is hot and the dough is crisp and golden. Remove from the oven and serve either hot or cold, as appropriate. Phyllo will tend to lose its crispness after a few hours but may be refreshed by a few minutes in a hot oven.
Always keep the unused portion of the dough covered, otherwise it will dry out and become brittle very quickly.
Phyllo is generally sold frozen, and it is best thawed in the refrigerator for 24 hours. It may be thawed in an hour or so at room temperature, but there is a greater likelihood of the layers sticking together.
The butter between the layers acts as waterproofing, to keep the layers from becoming soggy and sticking together. The optional crumbs or ground nuts also help keep the layers separated and crisp.
Wrap unused phyllo tightly, and use or discard within a few days.