Frozen phyllo dough is a great time saver: you can create appetizers, pastries and desserts without having to make the dough. Traditionally, phyllo dough is made by stretching a flour-and-water dough very slowly and carefully across a cloth-covered table until the dough is so thin that the tablecloth can be seen through the dough!
Frozen phyllo works very well, but it must be handled carefully. Just remove it from the freezer 24 hours before you want to use it and allow it to thaw in the refrigerator.
Phyllo is always used in multiple layers, giving it its characteristic crackly, flaky texture. The tissue-like sheets are stacked, with butter brushed on each layer to add flavor and crispness. Don’t worry if the sheets tear a little. To save time, you can use cooking spray between the layers to create the same flaky effect. You will want to keep the stack of unbuttered dough sheets covered with a slightly dampened dish towel at all times, because phyllo dries out very quickly.
Tip: Always butter the top layer of pastry before baking in a hot oven to create a nice golden-brown top.
Phyllo pastries come in many different shapes and sizes. You can use phyllo to create large or appetizer-size strudels, triangles, beggars’ purses, turnovers, or full-size dishes that are cut before serving (like baklava or spinach pie). The final shape of the pastry determines how many sheets of phyllo you need to start out with. For example, a pastry with a lot of folds, like a triangle, needs fewer sheets to start out with because they get layered as they are folded. Typically, phyllo dishes should have a finished thickness of 3 to 10 sheets per layer. (A one-pound box of phyllo contains about 20 sheets.)
Tip: Phyllo pastries can often be very brittle when baked. We recommend using a serrated knife to cut the finished dish to prevent all of the filling from squishing out.
Almost anything can fill phyllo pastries. Appetizer pastries are delicious filled with thick fillings based on cheeses like goat cheese, feta or cream cheese. Most fillings, with the exception of some fruit fillings, should be completely cooked before stuffing the phyllo. Traditionally, phyllo dishes hail from the Mediterranean, so all types of Near Eastern and Greek filling ideas work well (think spanakopita and baklava) but you can try other combinations and create your own phyllo specialties. (Asian phyllo spring rolls, Hungarian apple strudel, Latin American empanadas, etc.)
Tip: Make them ahead of time! Freeze the finished pastries (unbaked) in a single layer on a sheet tray, then bake (without thawing) whenever you need a quick hors d’oeuvre!
The three most common ways to form phyllo dough are stacked and layered as we would for baklava or spinach pie, formed into triangles as we would for spanakopita or formed as we would for meat, chicken or fruit pies.
Baklava (Layering Phyllo Dough)
Baklava is one of the most famous examples of layering phyllo dough. This exotic and delicious dessert is a fun way to try your hand at layering phyllo dough.
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Yields: 32 pieces
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Bake Time: 1 hour
For the syrup:
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup honey
2 cups water
4 whole cloves
For the filling:
1 pound walnuts
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 tablespoons sugar
1 package phyllo dough, thawed in the refrigerator
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
Step 1: Prepare Syrup
Combine sugar, honey, water, half of the lemon and cloves in a small saucepan. Bring ingredients to a boil, reduce heat to a low boil and simmer for approximately 20 minutes, until the syrup is thickened slightly and the bubbles get larger, approximately 1/3rd of an inch in circumference. Remove syrup from heat, remove and discard the cloves and half lemon. Squeeze the other half of the lemon into the syrup, being careful to avoid getting lemon seeds into the syrup.
Step 2: Prepare Filling
Place walnuts, cinnamon and sugar in the food processor fitted with a metal blade and chop finely. Alternatively purchase chopped walnuts and stir in sugar and cinnamon.
Step 3: Assemble
Layer the phyllo dough, 2 sheets at a time, in a buttered 9 x 13 rectangular baking dish, brushing with melted butter between each 2-sheet layer, until 10 sheets have been used. Refer to layer phyllo dough video above. Spread 1/3 walnut filling evenly over phyllo layers. Repeat this process utilizing all the walnut filling and phyllo dough, your final layer should be phyllo dough. Make sure to brush the top of the baklava with butter before slicing.
Step 4: Cut and Bake
With a serrated knife, cut the baklava into 32 individual pieces and bake at 325 for 1 hour until golden brown.
Step 5: Finish with Syrup
After removing baklava from the oven, pour cooled syrup evenly over the surface. I personally think baklava is best the next day but you should at least allow the syrup to soak in and baklava to cool before serving. Cover with plastic wrap and store at room temperature.
Spanakopita (Phyllo Formed into Triangles)
Spanakopita is spinach-filled phyllo, formed into a triangle. Once you perfect the folding technique this technique can be used to create both sweet and savory appetizers, desserts and entrées, the sky is the limit to what they can be filled with.
Yield: 24 pieces
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook time: 25 minutes
For the filling:
2 tablespoons butter
1 large shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
9 ounces of frozen spinach thawed and drained
4 ounces crumbled feta
Salt and pepper to taste
12 sheets phyllo dough, approximately ½ box phyllo dough, thawed in refrigerator
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
Step 1: Make filling
Heat sauté pan over moderate heat, add 2 tablespoons butter, minced shallot and garlic and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes until shallots are translucent and aromatic. Turn off the heat and stir in chopped spinach, feta cheese and season with salt and pepper. Let filling cool for a few minutes.
Step 2: Form Triangles
Lay 1 sheet of phyllo dough down and brush lightly with melted butter. Place another sheet of phyllo dough on top. Vertically cut the two sheets of phyllo dough into 4 strips.
Place approximately 1 1/2 tablespoons of filling at the base of each strip of phyllo dough. Fold the phyllo dough over the top of the filling, forming a triangle. Continue folding the phyllo dough in the same fashion until you reach the end of the dough.
Repeat forming the remainder of the spanakopita until filling is used.
This recipe is designed for appetizer portions but it is easy to form the spanakopita into large triangles and serve as a light entrée. This recipe would yield 4 to 6 large triangles. You would cut the sheets of phyllo dough in half lengthwise instead of quarters and fold in the same fashion.
Step 3: Bake
Place spanakopita onto a parchment lined sheet tray and brush each piece with melted butter. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown and crispy.
Bastilla (Forming Pies)
Bastilla is traditionally made with warka dough but the ease of using store bought phyllo dough makes this exotic Moroccan dish much more approachable.
Prep Time: 1 ½ hours
Cook Time: 1 hour
For the filling:
3 tablespoons butter
1 medium red onion, sliced
1 tablespoon ginger, grated
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon saffron
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons salt, if your chicken stock is unsalted, you may need more
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, ground
2 cups chicken stock
2 pounds of cooked chicken, shredded (a roasted chicken from the supermarket works great for this)
1/2 cup dates, chopped
1/4 cup minced cilantro
1/4 cup ground almonds or almond flour
10 to 12 sheets phyllo dough, approximately ½ box
4 tablespoons unsalted butter melted
1/4 cup powdered sugar
Step 1: Prepare Filling
Heat a large skillet over a moderate heat, add butter and onions, sauté until translucent, approximately 5 minutes. Add ginger, garlic and sauté until aromatic, approximately 1 minute. Add all spices and sauté until aromatic, approximately 3 minutes. Add chicken stock and shredded chicken, cook until heated through. Whisk eggs in a separate bowl and stir into the filling along with dates and almond flour. Heat just until eggs cook and filling is still moist but not wet. Turn off the heat and let filling rest while you form phyllo.
Step 2: Assembly
Brush an 8- or 9-inch cake pan with melted butter. Lay 1 sheet of phyllo down unto the pan, pressing lightly to adhere phyllo to pan and brush phyllo with butter. Alternate the phyllo sheets to cover the entire pan, brushing each sheet of phyllo with butter as you go. This should take approximately 6 to 8 sheets of phyllo.
Place the filling into the phyllo lined pan and fold the overhanging phyllo dough over the filling. Brush overhand with butter.
On a sheet tray, place an individual sheet of phyllo and brush with butter. Place one more sheet on top of that and brush with butter. Take another sheet of phyllo and place it crosswise over the two prepared sheets, place one more sheet on top and brush with butter.
Invert the contents of the pan onto the phyllo lined pan. Gather the overhanging phyllo dough around the pie and brush with butter.
Step 3: Bake and Serve
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place bastilla in oven and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until it is golden brown. Let cool for 15 to 20 minutes and sprinkle a light layer of powdered sugar over the surface. Slice and serve
I hope you enjoyed learning a few ways to work with phyllo dough. These recipes may feel a little bit intimidating so feel free to take a simpler approach to practicing your phyllo dough skills. Purchase store-bought fillings instead, try a mince meat pie with phyllo, use an artichoke and spinach dip as a filling for your phyllo triangles, or layer your phyllo dough with refried beans, cheese and salsa. Then, when you are more comfortable you can try more advanced applications like this Burek, a meat-filled phyllo pie.
Think of phyllo dough as an easy prepared dough you can use instead of reaching for puff pastry or pre-made pie dough, it doesn’t need to be used in solely in these more traditional recipes. If you are interested in learning more about phyllo dough, join us for a virtual Phyllo Workshop this Saturday, July 24 at 2pm CST where you'll make three different sweet and savory pastries using phyllo dough:
- Spanakopita (Spinach and Feta Phyllo Triangles)
- Baklava (Layered Spiced Walnuts and Phyllo with Honey Syrup)
- Orange and Clove-Scented Phyllo Cake
Working with phyllo dough is also our challenge for our private Facebook group members. Join, make something with phyllo (perhaps in our virtual workshop on Saturday) and share your creations with other home cooks for inspiration.