It's true, phyllo dough and puff pastry do have a lot in common. Both yield crispy-crunchy textured pastries and are featured in baked treats both sweet and savory. Adding to the confusion, if you're buying pre-made varieties, they're located right next to each other in the supermarket's frozen aisle.
What is phyllo dough?
Also referred to as filo, this type of dough translates as "leaf" in its native Greek. It's a type of paper-thin unleavened dough that is typically stacked several sheets high and adhered together with oil or melted butter before being baked.
How phyllo dough is made
Making phyllo dough is not for the faint of heart! While the ingredients are simple — flour, water, oil, and occasionally egg yolk — the process is somewhat arduous.
The dough needs to be progressively rolled and stretched into a very large, thin sheet on a floured surface. It requires patience, energy, and a large table space. Machines can also be used to hasten the process. Quite frankly, even professional bakers frequently use the pre-made stuff!
How to use phyllo dough
Phyllo dough is perhaps most famously used to make baklava, a type of pastry made with alternating layers of phyllo dough, honey and nuts. However, phyllo dough can be used for many other types of pastries. It can be layered, pressed into cup shapes, or wrapped around fillings.
What is puff pastry?
Also referred to as pâte feuilletée in French, puff pastry is a type of laminated dough. It's a light, flaky pastry made with plenty of butter that's folded and refolded many times. Once baked, the moisture in the dough turns into steam, making the dough expand and rise as it bakes. Puff pastry can expand to many times its original thickness.
How puff pastry is made
Puff pastry has two elements that come together to form a rich dough. A big slab of butter (or another solid fat) is placed in a dough (also called a détrempe), which it's then wrapped around the butter like an envelope. Then, the dough rolled out and refolded, creating layers of butter and dough. The process is repeated over and over until the dough is cohesive. It's this repetition that makes it magically rise.
How to use puff pastry
Puff pastry is often used to make tender, flaky pastries such as turnovers or palmiers . It can also be pressed into cups or baked in sheets and then cut and layered with creamy fillings, as in the case of Napoleon (also known as mille feuille) pastries.
So, what is the difference?
- Both phyllo dough and puff pastry are unleavened. However, puff pastry's lamination allows it to rise in the oven.
- Phyllo dough is made by rolling and stretching the dough into a paper-thin sheet; puff pastry is made by folding and re-folding dough and butter together until they become cohesive.
- Phyllo dough contains a very small amount of fat but is often stacked with melted butter or oil; puff pastry contains a fairly high ratio of fat right in the dough.
Can puff pastry and phyllo dough be used interchangeably?
The short answer is no. If you tried to substitute puff pastry for phyllo dough in a baklava recipe, for instance, it would have a very different character.
However, there are some cases in which these two types of pastry can play similar roles. For example, both phyllo dough and puff pastry can be pressed into the cups of a muffin tin, filled with sweet or savory fillings, then baked, with delicious results.