Phylo is an ingredient that is common in a lot of Greek foods such as baklava, spanakopita (spinach pie), and tiropita (cheese pie). In its uncooked form, the typical one pound package of phylo dough consists of multiple sheets of long, paper-thin dough. Some people take it for granted that they know how to work with phylo. So, when they write recipes, they often assume that people already know all the tricks associated with using phylo. That is not the case for everyone.
Here are some steps that will hopefully make working with phylo easier.
Defrost the One Pound Package of Phylo Dough
Your first step is to defrost the one pound package of phylo dough. It is usually found in the frozen food section at the grocery store. The trick to success with this step is to defrost phylo dough in the refrigerator and not on your counter. If you defrost it on your counter, the individual sheets of dough will stick together.
It Doesnít Matter if it Breaks
This took me several years to figure out. In the end, it does not matter if the phylo breaks as you are using it. As the phylo bakes, it gets crisp and flaky. Once your knife slices through the pita, baklava, or other dish, the pieces will break anyway. I spent a lot of time in the beginning making sure that the pieces stayed whole. This was a waste of time!
Butter is the Key to Success
The number one key to success when working with phylo is to use butter or olive oil in between sheets. However, butter is far superior to olive oil. The butter helps give the phylo its flaky texture and helps it to brown evenly. With each sheet of phylo that you lay down, use a pastry brush to spread on melted butter. Remember, you donít need to be perfect and cover every square inch. The edges and most of the center will suffice. At the end, pour the rest of the butter evenly over the top.
However, if you want to lighten the recipe, light butter works just as well as regular butter. But do not use butter substitute products or margarine. If you like to use olive oil, you can mix some olive oil into the melted butter.
Follow the Recipe
The recipe you are following will give instructions as to how much phylo to use, how much butter to use, etc. Make sure you follow it. These amounts were carefully counted as recipes were honed from generation to generation.
The number one thing that will help you when working with phylo dough is to practice. The first few times I used it were a little frustrating. Each time, you will get better and better.