Fee low PHO bee yah.
Do you have it, the fear of phyllo dough, the fear of poking your finger through the paper-thin pastry and making a hole that cannot be repaired, the fear of letting the flaky dough dry out and crack, the fear of shredding the dough with a paintbrush as you add melted butter to each layer?
You are not alone. I used to be phyllophobic, too.
It's irrational, of course, like my fear of heights, or of mice, or of ham. But, unlike those fears, I've overcome my fear of phyllo.
And I'm so glad I did.
Phyllo, the Greek word for "leaf", is made of wheat flour, water, and a small amount of oil. In my local Middle Eastern market, I've heard people ask for FEE-loh (the correct pronunciation) and FIE loh and FILL-o. All the same thing.
Cleveland-based Athens Foods makes more than 90 percent of the phyllo dough sold in the United States -- all told, more than five million pounds a year, available in most supermarket freezer aisles. They label theirs fillo; other times, you'll see it spelled phillo or filo.
Store phyllo in the freezer, in the original packaging. Defrost it in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours. Defrosted phyllo will keep in the fridge for up to a month.
Unwrap the dough, unroll it, and cover it immediately with a damp (not dripping wet) dish towel. Let the dough stand for 15 minutes; moisture makes it easier to handle.
With a little bit of advance planning to defrost the dough, you'll be ready to plunge fearlessly into Greek leek pie, samosa cigars, spinach and pecan mini tarts, shrimp in phyllo with tomato chutney, spanikopita, and baklava.
Another great baked dessert I learned from my friend Cindy, a fearless pastry chef. You'll need one sheet of phyllo per person, plus a few extra sheets for practice. If your dough is in the freezer, remember to thaw in the refrigerator overnight, or follow package instructions for defrosting. By using canola spray instead of butter, you can create a very low-fat dessert; simply top each nest with your favorite sorbet or low-fat frozen yogurt.
1 sheet of phyllo dough per person
Canola oil spray
Granulated or demarara sugar (optional)
Confectioners sugar, for dusting (optional)
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone liner (Silpat) or parchment paper.
Lay one piece of rectangular dough flat on your countertop, with the longer side parallel to the edge of the counter in front of you. Spray liberally with canola spray (this replaces the melted butter that's usually used to lubricate the dough, so don't be afraid to spray a lot). Using both hands, pinch the dough lengthwise to make a long scrunched-up strip; then wrap the ends around to touch each other. This will make a very rustic nest.
Spray again, liberally, with the canola spray, and sprinkle with granulated or demarara sugar. Place on the baking sheet. Continue with each sheet of phyllo; you will be able to fit 6 nests on a standard size baking sheet.
Bake for 6 minutes, until the nests are lightly golden but not burned. Let cool for a few minutes, dust with confectioners sugar if you wish, then top with your favorite sorbet.
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