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.
The trickiest bit about phyllo dough is thawing it. Even if the package says you can thaw in the microwave, think twice about it, as often you will end up with some soggy sheets of dough that all stick to each other.
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.
If you want to make your phyllo dishes lower fat, use cooking spray instead of butter between the layers. The added bonus is that it’s dead easy and eliminates a lot of fuss.
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.
There are about 18 to 20 sheets of phyllo pastry per 500g (pound.)
Fresh (unfrozen) phyllo dough will keep in the fridge for up to four weeks (keep the packaging sealed so they don’t dry out). The frozen can be frozen for up to a year. If you think you are going to be using your frozen phyllo dough within the next 4 weeks, then toss it into the refrigerator and treat it as fresh in terms of storage time. This can save you a lot of frustration about having forgotten to thaw it overnight in the fridge the day before you needed it.
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.
Presumed to actually be Turkish in origin. In the Middle Ages, the Turks were fascinated with making bread from layered dough. (Alan Davidson, Oxford Companion to Food, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999, p. 299)