Phyllo, filo or fillo — this crispy, thin, and flakey dough is delicious no matter what you call it!
What is phyllo dough?
Phyllo is a very thin, almost translucent, sheet of dough. We have the Greeks to thank for this pastry wonder, although it's also frequently used by many other cultures in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. It can be used in sweet or savory applications and pops up in recipes for every course. As far as doughs go, this one is quite versatile!
Making homemade phyllo dough is possible, but it's incredibly time-consuming. For most people, including professionals, pre-made phyllo dough does the trick just fine. You'll find it in the freezer section alongside other doughs and desserts in most supermarkets.
Tips & tricks for working with phyllo dough
Keep it frozen, thaw it slowly
Remember to thaw frozen phyllo dough in the fridge at least a day before you want to use it. It's so thin and fragile, quick defrost methods will likely ruin the dough.
Maintain the moisture
Phyllo dough dries out fast! Always keep the plastic wrapping that came in the packaging under the dough, and top it with a layer of plastic wrap and a damp kitchen towel. This ensures that your dough will remain flexible while you work with it.
Build up the layers
Phyllo dough is so thin that you need to use multiple layers to create a substantial pastry. But you can't just stack sheet upon sheet — it's best to layer phyllo dough with fat and flavor.
Phyllo is completely unflavored out of the box and can be flavored in endless ways. A great savory pairing would be olive oil sprinkled with ground black pepper and Parmesan cheese. A sweet phyllo recipe might include melted butter, sugar and cinnamon between the layers.
Bake until GBD: golden brown delicious!
Phyllo's allure comes from its addictive crunch. Not taking the browning far enough can leave your dough soft and soggy.
Add topping at the last minute
Don't top your dough too soon! Creamy fillings and toppings will start to wilt your dough almost instantly. Wait to assemble most phyllo projects until right before serving.
Use phyllo as a pastry substitute
Swap phyllo in where you'd use other heavier doughs for a lighter version of your favorite appetizers and desserts. Pie crusts, napoleon layers, tart shells and more can all be lightened up with the use of phyllo dough.
How to bake with phyllo dough
To demonstrate a few techniques for baking and serving phyllo dough, I'll walk you through two quick and easy phyllo desserts: Napoleons and custard cups.
Place a layer of phyllo dough onto a piece of parchment paper. Brush the dough with melted butter. It's easiest to start in the center and brush towards the edges. Sprinkle with sugar (if you were making a savory pastry, you could sprinkle with salt and pepper).
Lay another piece of phyllo on top of the butter and sugar. Use the palms of your hands to press the pieces of phyllo together. Brush this layer with butter and dust again with sugar. Repeat three more times, so that you've used five pieces of phyllo total.
Brush the last layer with egg wash and dust again with sugar.
For the Napoleon
Use a sharp knife to cut rectangles from the dough. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
For custard cups
Use a sharp knife to cut squares from the dough. Lay a square over the opening of a mini muffin pan. Gently press the dough into the pan to create a cup. Bend back the corners of the dough to open the cup up.
Bake at 375 F for 6-8 minutes, or until the phyllo dough is golden brown. This happens pretty quickly, so keep an eye on your oven.
Assemble the Napoleon
Top a piece of phyllo with whipped cream. Place fruit around the outer edges. Top that layer with another piece of dough and repeat with more cream and fruit. Finish with a final piece of dough. Dust with powdered sugar.
Assemble the cups
Fill the cups with chocolate custard and top with whipped cream. Drizzle on chocolate sauce before sprinkling with sliced almonds.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in April 2015 and was updated in February 2018.