Phyllo, or filo, is a dough, used in the Greek kitchen to create the most delicious sweet and savory pitas, the Greek pies. There is nothing more tasty than a pie with traditional Greek phyllo. However, the dough is not easy to make. It requires both time and skill, but the taste in the end is totally worth the effort!
What is phyllo?
Phyllo, in Greek, means leaf. And this is what makes phyllo complicated to make. The dough is made up from multiple thin leafs or layers, each individually opened by hand. Luckily, not all phyllo needs to be as perfectly thin as the phyllo that is famous all over the world. There are many different types of phyllo dough. And the classic, traditional Greek phyllo is actually much thicker than you would expect.
What makes this thick traditional Greek phyllo more tasty compared to, for example, pre-made dough, is what happens between the layers. A mix of butter and oil between every layer makes the phyllo both crunchy and creamy.
There are a variety of phyllo dough recipes out there, but not many of them meet the taste of Yiayia’s traditional Greek phyllo. So what are her secrets for the perfect dough?
- Although Greeks use mostly olive oil, Yiayia uses a mix of sunflower oil and butter for her dough. Since the pie is baked in the oven at a temperature between 180 – 200 degrees Celsius (350 – 400 degrees Fahrenheit), the sunflower oil is better at frying the dough. This is because the smoking point of olive oil is around 160 degrees.
- Yiayia always says, the secret is in the amount of layers! This counts for traditional Greek moussaka, pastitsio, but also phyllo. According to her, a good dough contains at least 10 layers of leafs.
- Don’t let the dough get dry! Many recipes tell you to make dry phyllo leafs. They say this will result in the most crunchy dough. Yiayia, however, works with a slightly wet dough for her traditional Greek phyllo. Her dough gets crunchy by the use of oil and butter to fry the leafs. Trust me, this really improves the taste.
- Yiayia doesn’t make the independent phyllo leafs as big as the pie she is going to use them for. Instead, she makes a package of smaller leafs, which she cools down and stretches out at once. I am not sure if this adds to the taste, but it does make the process slightly easier.
Did this article trigger your curiosity about the Greek culture? Leave your email below and discover the Real Greeks!
For a large pie of 40 centimeters in diameter.
If you own a smaller over dish, I recommend still using the ingredients below, but divide the dough for 2 pies. You can keep it in the freezer for months before using it.
- For the dough
1.75 glasses of water
2 tablespoons of sunflower oil
1 tablespoon of white vinigar
1 big tablespoon of salt, yiayia takes a whole handfull
around 21 tablespoons (500 grams) of flower
- For making the phyllo
350 grams of butter
3 tablespoons of sunflower oil
extra flour to open the dough
an extra bowl and plate
How to make traditional Greek phyllo
Time needed: 3 hours
- Add wet ingredients and salt to the bowl
- Slowly add the flour
Add the flower, tablespoon by tablespoon while mixing it in with your other hand.
- Start kneading the dough
When the dough is still wet but starts to unstick, it is time to start kneading. The goal is to make a dough that just not sticks to your hands. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes to reach this point. If you notice after five minutes that the dough too wet, add an extra tablespoon of flower. If it is too dry, add a tablespoon of water. Your dough should look like this after 10 minutes
- Cover and let it rise
When the dough is ready, cover it with a tablecloth and leave it to rise. The minimal time is 30 minutes, and maximum 3 hours. This is the time you can use to prepare a filling, or just relax.
- Make the butter mixture
Before you start making the leafs for the phyllo, you need to prepare the mixture that you will use in between the leafs. Melt the butter in a bowl and mix in the sunflower oil. Leave the pastry brush in this mixture.
- Divide the dough
This is the time to use your math skills, and before you start, sprinkle a lot of flower on your countertop.
For one pie, you need two phyllo doughs, both consisting of at least 10 leafs. If you make one large pie, first divide the dough in two, and if you make two smaller pies, divide the dough in four. Important is that the dough does not dry out, so take the one part that you are going to use and leave the rest in the bowl covered with a tablecloth.
- Make the leafs
Divide the part of the dough in, at least, 10 small balls. They should have an even size, except for two slightly larger ones. These balls will become the bottom and top leafs.
Make sure there is enough flour on your counter as well as your rolling pin. Take one ball of dough and put it in the middle of the counter. Start opening it with the rolling pin, while flipping it after you roll 2 to 3 times. The dough should be about the size of a small plate when you finish.
- Combine the leafs
Take the opened dough and shake it a bit to remove excess flower. Put it on the plate and sprinkle with a rich amount of the butter mixture. Use the pastry brush to spread it evenly. According to yiayia, you can not put too much of the mixture.
- Tuck in and wrap in foil
Continue the step above for all the balls. With the last one, you do not put the butter mixture on top. Make this leaf slightly bigger than the previous ones, and tuck it in, underneath the bottom leaf to create one package of dough. This is a phyllo.
Pick it up from the plate and put it upside down on a piece of cling film. Check if the dough is properly tucked in, wrap the foil around and store in the fridge.
- Repeat this for each dough
Repeat step 7 to 9 for each part of the dough. Until you have two (1 pie), or four (2 pies) packages of dough in foil.
- Let the dough cool down
In order to use the dough in a pie, it needs to cool down. If you are in a hurry to make a pita, leave the dough in the fridge for at least half an hour. But better is to put them in the freezer until frozen, and move them to the fridge 12 hours before use. If you made dough for two pitas, it is advisable to store the packages two by two in the freezer.
- Ready to use
When the dough is either cold or unfrozen, it is ready to be used. The phyllo should now be smaller than the dish you use to make your pie in. Take it in your hands, and slowly let it stretch to the proper size, grabbing a different corner of the dough every few seconds.
When working with phyllo, the bottom part should only cover the bottom of your dish. You use the top part to close the pie, tucking it in underneath the bottom.
- Cut the top, and sprinkle oil
The phyllo can be used with any sweet as well as savory filling of your taste. Just make sure the filling is never too wet, this will decrease the crunchiness of the phyllo.
The top layer of pita should be slightly cut is smaller pieces for the best result. Don’t cut through the whole dough but instead just through the top leafs of the phyllo.
After cutting, sprinkle some sunflower oil on top of the pie.
- Cook in the oven
The pie should be cooked on 180 degrees for an hour. But keep checking in between if the phyllo does not get too dark or stays too light. After thirty minutes you might have to change the temperature to 200 degrees if it seems like the phyllo does not get golden.
- Try to enjoy this recipe.
It takes a lot of time to prepare a tasty phyllo. The taste, however, is really worth the effort. Make this recipe with friends, children, or your partner and enjoy the traditional process of making Greek phyllo!
- Never redo a leaf
When the dough brakes while opening, don’t start over. Instead, use these parts in the middle of the phyllo. Starting over will make the dough too dry, due to the flour you use to open it. You can always use the butter mixture to glue some parts together.
- Don’t be a perfectionist
You will be making 20 to 40 leafs of dough here! They don’t all have to be perfectly round, thin, and big. Use your hands to shape them, or fold bigger leafs with some butter in between.
- Don’t use a mixer
Of course it would be much easier to make a machine knead the dough for you. However, doing this by hand makes for a much better result.You’re looking for a non-sticky but still very elastic and wet dough. Only your hands can tell you when you meet these conditions.
Use the phyllo in the following recipes:
Greek pitas, or pies, come in various shapes and tastes. From a quick snack that fits in your hands, to an oven dish that feeds the whole family. As a sweet dessert or a savory lunch. The most famous Greek…