Phyllo means "leaf" in Greek, and it's an appropriate name for this thin and fragile pastry. If you've had baklava or spanakopita, then you've had phyllo pastry -- that's what is used for the really flaky crust. It's most well known to use for its use in Greek cooking, but it's also used in many Mid-East countries.
You never use just one sheet of phyllo on its own -- you always use layers of them, with melted butter or oil in between. In fact, some people say that phyllo pastry is just an excuse to have butter. Conversely, though, if used with a cooking spray instead of butter or oil in between layers, it is highly recommended by the Weight Watchers company as a replacement for other crusts.
Staggeringly, it seems to be one thing that the foodies agree you can buy ready-made. You've probably never seen a recipe that doesn't presume you have bought it ready-made. It generally comes frozen in long boxes like tin foil boxes, sometimes a bit flatter. You can sometimes find it fresh as opposed to frozen in ethnic stores.
There are two other ways to thaw it. Let thaw on kitchen counter for 5 hours, or let it thaw overnight in the refrigerator, and then let stand on the kitchen counter for an hour or two before you go to use it.
In any event, don't even think of opening the package and exposing your sheets of phyllo to the air until the very last second when you are ready for them, as they will dry out very quickly (after a minute) and become so brittle that they fall apart in your hands as you try to work with them. When you start to work with them, you put the ones you will be using on a plate or counter and cover them with plastic wrap and a damp tea-towel (or damp paper towel), and take out one piece at a time, covering the other pieces back up in the meantime. Don't put the damp towelling directly on the phyllo dough or they will just stick to it.
If any sheets do tear while you are working with them, don't break down sobbing. No one's going to notice as there are going to be many layers, anyway. Oftentimes you need to cut the sheets into sizes for making bundles of things, etc, and it's way easier to do that with a pair of kitchen scissors, as opposed to finding unclaimed counter space in the throws of it all to spread out a sheet on a board for cutting with a knife.
In terms of brushing on the butter between layers, if you are making something savoury with your phyllo pastry, you can use oil instead, which means that if you have a oil sprayer, your life just became a whole lot easier. The purpose of brushing something -- butter or oil -- is to cause the layers to turn out crispy.
Nutrition will vary per brand of / recipe for phyllo, but generally it is considered "God's gift" to weight watchers compared to traditional shortcrust pastry, etc. Making a pie or quiche with three or four layers of phyllo pastry instead of shortcrust pastry will lower the calories per serving dramatically.
Phyllo pastry is not gluten free.
If you have thawed and opened a package of phyllo dough, but have some leftover, wrap in plastic wrap, then put it in a very tightly sealed freezer bag back in the refrigerator, and try to use in two weeks.
Some people say you can't refreeze thawed phyllo dough, as it goes brittle. Some manufacturers say that you can. They say to wrap in plastic wrap and then again in tin foil. It may be that what people are doing wrong is letting it dry out before getting it wrapped up and frozen again.
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