I This past weekend, I decided to channel my Greek great grandmother. I decided, it was time I tackled one of the most important pastry doughs of my heritage. I decided, it was time to learn how to make and work with filo/phyllo dough. No matter how you spell it, filo or phyllo; it boils down to one fact, there is greatness in Greekness. Anyone who has ever bitten into a sweet and crispy bite of baklava or savored a rich and fragrant piece of spanakopita knows of what I speak. Anyone who has danced with joy in the moonlight as they sip ouzo over lively conversation or taken 20 minutes to say goodbye to loved ones will also confirm with a resounding OPA!
Of the numerous pastry doughs I have made from puff to pate sucree, nothing has mattered more to me to perfect. I first attempted homemade filo dough about two years ago and I have to admit, it was a challenge. I understood the basic principles of assembling the dough and had a good sense of the equipment required to roll the dough. I had heard the story my mother, Ellen, told me of how my great grandmother had a special table in her basement in San Francisco where her yaya (grandma) would roll sheet after sheet of filo dough, while she played on the bottom shelf of the table. I watched a few YouTube videos for guidance and I sprinkled in a healthy amount of swearing for luck.
Why would this experience of making filo dough be different from the first time? The answer is simple and obvious, I had the experience of a measure of failure and I have visited Greece since the last time I made the dough. During that visit, I was able to taste many dishes made with fresh filo dough and I got to discuss with my cousins how they and their mothers prepared and rolled the dough. There are a few key elements to working with filo dough:
1. A good recipe. I used one I found at genius kitchen (https://www.geniuskitchen.com/recipe/homemade-phyllo-pastry-71214) Like most grandmothers, mine did not write a recipe down so I had to start from scratch.
2. Patience and practice are required.
3. Use a long, 1-inch dowel to roll the dough, not a rolling pin.
4. Use corn flour, not all-purpose flour when rolling the dough.
4. Allow the dough to rest.
5. Use the dough as you roll the dough. (I made two types of Greek dishes as I rolled each sheet of filo. I made Spanikopita and Tiropita.)
5. Do not rush the process. Making homemade filo dough is work, especially for a novice.
6. In all honesty, unless you are of Greek heritage, as I am, find a good brand of store-bought filo dough and use that. (The taste and texture of fresh, homemade filo dough is far different from what is found commercially and as I mentioned, making homemade filo dough is work albeit, rewarding work, but work just the same.)
Avid home cook and passionate instructor