What is Filo Dough?

wiseGEEK Writer

Filo dough is a type of pastry dough used in many different Greek dishes. It may also be called puff pastry, for its light and fluffy texture, or be spelled phyllo. This dough is a combination of flour, cornstarch, water, and oil. Cooks who are good with pastry may find that making this dough may not be much of a challenge, but those who do not have the time or the "knack" may find it readily available in the freezer or refrigerator sections of must supermarkets.

Spinach, feta, and filo dough are the key ingredients in Greek spanakopita.
Spinach, feta, and filo dough are the key ingredients in Greek spanakopita.

Both sweet and savory pastries are made with filo dough in traditional Greek cooking. It is wrapped around spinach, onions, and goat cheese to make delectable spanakopita. Layered dough is used to make baklava, the crunchy desert, made of layers of filo with the addition of honey and either walnuts or pine nuts.

Baklava is made with layers of filo dough, honey, and walnuts.
Baklava is made with layers of filo dough, honey, and walnuts.

Other cultures have embraced the thin, flaky dough in their cooking. Today’s streusels are almost always composed of layers of this dough, and it may be used as the exterior for turnovers. The dough makes a good substitute for butter or lard crusts for those who are vegans and avoid any animal byproducts. Often, it is the preferred choice for covering Beef Wellington.

Greek baklava is soaked in honey.
Greek baklava is soaked in honey.

Some cooks feel challenged using even the premade versions of the dough. It does have a tendency to dry out very quickly when it is exposed to air, and when the dough becomes too warm, it can be difficult to roll. Most cookbooks suggest that cooks give themselves a lot of room when working with it. A big kitchen table, or a center island countertop may offer one the best chance of success.

When a cook removes a layer of filo dough for the beginning of layering or stuffing, the rest of the dough should be placed back in the refrigerator and recovered. A slightly damp cloth should be placed on top of the exposed dough to keep it from drying. Baklava, though it seems intricate, is actually one of the easiest ways to first use this product. The layered dish does not require working much with the dough except to transfer the layers to a baking dish.

Most filo dough is brushed with butter or margarine, though some chefs prefer to use egg whites. This brushing step is again necessary to keep the dough from drying out. When baked, it puffs into multiple tiny layers that many people find both attractive and quite enjoyable to eat. Once a cook is familiar with this product, there are any number of appetizers, main dishes and desserts to make with it.

Since pre-made dough comes frozen, it can be used to create frozen dishes that can be stored for a few weeks and cooked only as necessary. The ability to freeze the dough sometimes depends upon the recipe and ingredients used, as extra ingredients may not freeze well. Most traditional offerings, like spanakopita, do freeze well and will bake nicely when needed. By itself, filo can be kept for up to two months in the freezer, and will generally keep for at least two weeks in the refrigerator.

Cornstarch, which is used to make filo dough.
Cornstarch, which is used to make filo dough.

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Discussion Comments


Testy about the most trivial of things aren't we? To all the posters before me, chill out, people.


You should educate yourself before posting something so terrible! Filo and puff pastry are not the same thing, and filo has been used by many countries for many years. I am glad you have such pride in something you know nothing about.


Quit griping; it's just dough. Maybe the English got props for tea because they stop their world for tea time.


Filo dough is not ONLY used by Greeks. It is used in many Middle Eastern countries in deserts and appetizers.

The actual origins of these types of foods are "unknown," yet Greece gets all the recognition for it only because Greece is the most European country of all these Mediterranean countries and since food from Greece has been Americanized a lot more than Middle Eastern food has been Americanized.

In the case of tea, for example, tea comes from India, yet the English get all the credit just because they wanted to make money off of it. This is wrong and racist!

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