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What Is a Phyllo?

Phyllo is used to make sweet and savory dishes in Middle Eastern cuisine.
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  • Written By: Celeste Heiter
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  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2014
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Phyllo is a fine pastry dough used in many types of cuisine. It is made from fine wheat flour mixed with water and oil. Egg yolks, vinegar or anise-flavored raki may also be added to the mixture for certain dishes. The unleavened dough is then rolled into paper-thin sheets and dusted with flour. Phyllo dough is typically used in multiple layers, either as a wrapper for various fillings or as a component of a layered dish.

The word “phyllo” means “leaf” in Greek and is sometimes spelled filo or fillo. In Turkish, it is known as yufka. Phyllo is a component in cuisines throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East, where it is used in both sweet and savory dishes.

The layered dessert known as baklava is common to many Middle Eastern cuisines. Spanikopita, a spinach and cheese pastry wrapped in layers of phyllo, is a popular Greek dish. In Turkey, a similar pastry called börek may be filled with meats, cheeses and vegetables. In Egypt, these savory pastries are called gollash.

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Phyllo is also used in Eastern European cuisine. Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia all have versions of a savory pastry called burek. In Albania, the same type of pastry is called byrek. In Bulgaria, the dough is called kori za banitsa, and the pastries from which it is made are simply called banitsa. The use of phyllo dough also extends as far east as India, where it is used to make a sweet pastry called pootharekulu.

Making phyllo dough can be a difficult and time-consuming task. The commercially-processed version is considered more convenient and economical. Packaged phyllo dough is available in the frozen food section of many supermarkets. Freshly-made phyllo dough is also available in specialty markets.

Handling the dough is a delicate process. It must be kept covered with a damp cloth to keep it from drying out. It must also be handled carefully to prevent tearing. The finished result is best when each layer is brushed with butter. The pastries may also be brushed with egg yolk before baking for a golden-brown glaze.

Phyllo dough should not be confused with puff pastry. Puff pastry is made by rolling butter or oil between the layers for a moist, flaky texture. Phyllo dough is more crisp and delicate, like fine sheets of paper. Phyllo dough and puff pastry, although similar, have different uses and are not typically interchangeable.

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stolaf23
Post 6

My neighbors are great cooks and often make things with phyllo. They even make it themselves, which is way more complicated than I usually want to be with my cooking, but I love sampling theirs creations. I hope to eventually learn to use storebought phyllo, though.

ceilingcat
Post 5

I have never been able to successfully cook anything with phyllo dough. I always end up messing it up somehow. I’ve even found a way to mess up the store bought kind! I tried and failed so many times finally I just gave up!

However, I pretty much love everything I've ever had that was made with phyllo dough. There is this restaurant I get takeout from sometimes that makes the best spanakopita I have ever had. They serve it as an entree and I think they put a little bit of garlic in the mix too. I really wish I could find a way to make it at home!

ysmina
Post 4

There is a new kind of phyllo dough out that comes in little shells. I am so glad they produced these because they are perfect for making tarts.

I used to have such a hard time making these shells before from regular phyllo dough. It's a challenge because you have to cut up little pieces and place them in little tart pans. Anyone who's handled phyllo before will know how thin and delicate they are. If you don't prepare them right away, they start to dry out when they are exposed to air and crumble really easily. So I was never very successful at making shells with them.

It's so easy to cook with these ready made shells. I just put in the fillings and put it in the oven. I found a new recipe for an egg and sausage filling. I'm going to try this with phyllo shells because I think it would be a great breakfast food.

SteamLouis
Post 3

I love phyllo! My rommate and I got two packages of it last week and made baklava with it. It was much easier than I expected and we just followed the recipe that was on the box.

We put layers of phyllo dough and layers of finely chopped walnuts in between and baked in the oven until it was crispy brown. While that was baking we made a syrup with water, sugar and honey and poured it over the phyllo when it came out of the oven.

The result is a heavenly dessert called baklava! Homemade baklava tastes much better and it's much cheaper than buying it at the restaurant. Despite having a whole tray of it, we ate the whole thing in a few days. We're going to wait a couple of weeks until we make it again or we'll gain a lot of weight!

jholcomb
Post 2

@MrsWinslow - I admit it can be tricky to work with, but it's not as hard as you might think and it's really worthwhile. I make these phyllo mini-quiches for parties. They're basically mini-muffin cups lined with phyllo, then filled with egg, cheese, and other deliciousness.

The phyllo crust is just so flaky. Everyone tells me how much better they taste than the frozen mini-quiches that so many people use. If you cook at all, you should really give phyllo a try sometime!

MrsWinslow
Post 1

Phyllo is one of those things that to me, it's really interesting what different things you can do with it. Spanikopita is just delicious, and it's served (at least in this country) as a veggie appetizer. But then you can use phyllo to make baklava. So very, very delicious!

I've never tried to make phyllo at home or even used frozen phyllo. It's one of those things that it's so good when I get it out at a restaurant, why would I try to duplicate it at home?

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