Phyllo dough is a crispy, flaky, paper-thin pastry that is frequently used in Greek cooking, notably in baklava. It’s crunchy and light and delicious, and it is one of the only half-way decent pastries that needs no butter at all…just a small amount of vegetable oil. Thus, it’s a much healthier option than a traditional butter based crust. I’m not knocking butter-based crusts…I love those, too. But phyllo holds a special place in heart.
Some people will tell you that working with phyllo is hard. The veracity of this assertion depends on how we define our terms. It is extremely difficult to manage phyllo without ripping it. I have yet to manage it. The thing that snotty experts do not tell you is this: it doesn’t matter if you mess up because any mistake that you make is easily fixable and the final product will still turn out fine. By contrast, if you make mistakes in a traditional pie dough, the entire crust will become tough and unappealing.
The following recipe is just something I invented to use up some leftover phyllo that I had after making phyllo-topped chicken pot pies (which I’m sure I’ll post about someday). The husband fell in love and has been requesting more ever since. The basic technique can be applied to any phyllo creation you desire.
To start with, you need to bring your phyllo to room temperature. If it’s frozen, first defrost it in the fridge and then allow it to come to room temperature. This is all a pain, but it will help the dough be less sticky.
Next, we acquire our other materials. The first thing you need is melted butter, canola oil, or non-stick cooking spray. Any of these will work. Butter gives the best flavor and browns the best. Canola oil is the easiest to spread. Non-stick spray is in certain respects the easiest, because it allows you to work quickly. However, canola oil and butter are both much better for fixing mistakes. (If you do choose nonstick spray, I would recommend having a little canola oil on hand to fix any mistakes and to help the top brown). I have taken to using a combination of canola oil and melted butter. The canola oil gives good spreadability and a dose of healthy fat, and the butter provides great flavor and color.
Next, mix up a generous dish of cinnamon sugar.
Now, take a deep breath and unroll your phyllo dough. Move slowly. If it starts to rip, try to detatch any stuck parts promptly, but don’t panic.
There. That wasn’t so hard. Now we carefully remove one sheet of the phyllo dough. It’s okay if it’s not perfect, but you do need one basically intact sheet to start with.
Here is my starting sheet. As you can see, it is far from perfect. It stuck in several paces, but it’s basically a whole sheet and not just shreds. If you do end up with shreds, save them and try again. Now, brush the more intact side with some fat and carefully fold over the other side.
Like so. Now butter this side, and add another sheet.
For fun, and because I was in a hurry, I did a purposely messy, quick job of removing the next sheet of phyllo, and it tore off in several pieces. Butter fixes everything. You just start layering the shreds on top of each other, doing your best to keep everything within the edges of your first layer.
Now, we add a generous sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. Repeat this process as many times as you would like, adding a sheet, brushing with fat, and sprinkling in cinnamon sugar every few layers. I think I put about three or four sheets of phyllo into this roll, altogether. Make sure you get a good generous amount of fat and cinnamon sugar on the last layer.
Now, roll up the phyllo dough, brush your log with oil/butter, and give one last sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. Bake at 350 for 10-20 minutes, until the phyllo is beginning to brown and the roll smells nice.
Here you go. It isn’t perfect, but it’s delicious, and I guarantee that anyone you serve this to will not be nit-picking your pastry skills. All of the imperfections that you actually see on the surface are due to my lack of care in handling the delicate, crispy, finished product and not due to mistakes during assembly. All of my ugly shreds are well buried inside the roll. And the husband seemed to like it quite well!