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Phyllo dough (Recipe: cheese phyllo triangles)


Cleveland, Ohio, stakes its claim as the phyllo dough capital of the world.

Athens Foods, which opened in Cleveland in 1958, makes more than 90 percent of the phyllo dough sold in the United States -- all told, more than five million pounds a year of the paper-thin, flaky dough called phyllo, phillo, filo or fillo.

Phyllo, the Greek word for "leaf", is made of wheat flour, water, and a small amount of oil. Filo and fillo are alternate spellings of the same word. In my local Middle Eastern market, I've heard people ask for FEE-LOH (the correct pronounciation) and FIE-LOH -- and, yes, for FILL-O.

In Turkish, phyllo dough is called yufka ... or youfka.

Though some Greek bakeries sell homemade fresh phyllo, most of us buy it frozen, in one-pound packages that have 24 or more sheets. The Athens brand is available in most supermarkets, including the one in my small town.

Here are a few tips for working with frozen phyllo, from the inimitable Silver Palate Cookbook:

  • Let the dough defrost in its original wrapper in the refrigerator for at least two days. When well wrapped and still sealed in its original packaging, defrosted phyllo will keep in the fridge for up to a month, which is preferable to refreezing, which will make the dough tough.
  • Be sure the phyllo is completely defrosted before beginning to work with it.
  • Have a damp (not wet) towel handy. Unwrap the dough, unroll it, and cover it immediately with the towel.
  • Let dough stand for 15 minutes; moisture makes the phyllo easier to handle.

Without phyllo, there would be no baklava, no bisteeya, no spinach pies, no cigars, and no Greek food festivals anywhere, not even in Cleveland. 

Cheese phyllo triangles (tyropita)

When Greg offered to teach us how to make some of the Greek foods from his family tradition (including this recipe), I was thrilled. Time to get over my own fear of phyllo! Once you get the hang of this, you can make wonderful spanikopita (spinach pies), too. Serves 12 or more, as an appetizer.


8 ounces of good feta cheese, crumbled into small pieces
1 cup of grated graviera (or a gruyere-type cheese), grated
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp black pepper
3 Tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

12 +/- (17 x 12 inch) phyllo sheets (thawed if frozen). This is about half of one box.
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted


Make filling:
Combine cheeses, egg, pepper and parsley in bowl with fork. The mixture will be lumpy.

Make pastries:
Pre-heat oven to 350°F.

Place two sheets of phyllo on top of one another, keeping remaining sheets covered with wax paper and dampened dish towel, and cut in half lengthwise. Pile the sheets again on top of one another, and again cut in half lengthwise. This will give you 8 individual strips about 3 inches wide by 17 inches long.

Place one strip in front of you, again covering remaining phyllo with wax paper and dampened dish towel. Lightly brush pastry with melted butter. Put 1 heaping teaspoon of filling in lower corner of pastry, and fold corner of phyllo over to enclose filling and form a triangle. Continue folding (like a flag), maintaining triangle shape. Put triangle, seam side down, on large baking sheet and brush top with butter. Make more triangles in the same manner, using all the filling. (Here's a good illustration of the folding technique.)

Bake triangles in middle of oven until golden brown, 20–25 minutes, and then transfer to rack to cool slightly. Serve warm.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Teeny tiny lime tarts

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Phyllo sheets are great when making mille feuilles as well! I flat out LOVE them especially their crunchiness!
Your cheese phyllo triangles sounds really delicious Lydia!

total freezer favourite, this. I didn´t know about the defrosting for two days, must try that now.

Sometimes I think I could live on spinach especially in spanikopita!
2 days to defrost, must try that one.

I love layering dill leaves between the sheets and wrapping it around salmon!
I didn't know it would keep a whole month in the fridge! I've learned something new, my days is complete... and so early...

I love love baklava. I don't think I can live without it anymore :)

I use phyllo quite often. While the commercial one is good, I also find some home-made phyllo made by the Greek in Melbourne. The home-made is thicker, making the dish a bit more rustic. I'll try to get one package and show ya.

Had no idea about the defrosting bit - need to give that a go. I love fillo - i always wanted to make it from scratch. Is it hard? Has anyone tried? I keep a box or two in the freezer always - great for pissaladieres and other things!

I discovered phyllo not so long ago and was glad I did, Lydia - it's so light and versatile, a wonderful ingredient!

Love the new font size. Especially like the cross-reference to phyllo shells...Thanks to Greg for a great recipe.
Here is one from Afghan Food and Cookery by Helen Saberi It is similar to baclava, but not as cloyingly sweet.

1 lb filo pastry
vegetable oil
2 cups ground walnuts or almonds
1 cup ground pistachio
2 1/4 cups sugar
2 TBS lemon juice
1/4 tsp saffron
2 TBS rosewater
1/2 tsp ground green cardamom seeds
Prepare a baking tray approx. 14X8X2 inches by oiling generously.
Brush each of 6 sheets of filo with oil and lay them on top of each other in baking tray, then sprinkle the top layer with about a third of the ground walnuts and a quarter of the pistachio. Repeat this process twice, so you have an 18 layer pile and a quarter of the pistachio nuts remain for sprinkling over cooked pastry. Oil the last sheets of pastry and place on top of the pile, brushing the top generously with any remaining oil.
Using a sharp knife cut carefully through all the layers lengthwise to form strips of about 1 1/2 inches wide, then cut diagonally across those to form diamond shaped pieces. Put in preheated oven at 325 for 35 - 45 minutes until golden brown on top.
Just before pastry is ready to come out of the oven make the syrup Put the sugar, 1 cup water, lemon juice and saffron in a pan and bring to boil slowly to dissolve the sugar. Boil gently for a few minutes until it becomes syrupy and will coat the back of a spoon. Add the rosewater and cardamom and simmer for another couple of minutes. Keep warm.
Remove the pastry from the oven and spoon the warm syrup over until all of it is used and the pastry is well covered. Sprinkle the reserved ground pistachio on top and leave to cool before serving.

For some reason, I have been continually stumped by phyllo sheets, and have had very mixed results. Once I think I even prepared an appetizer that still had the paper between the sheets! I will have to give it another try.

I made phyllo dough myself once in the 70's. It was fun, delicious, and took all day. Having proved I can do it, I am very happy to use the prepared products out there. Thanks, Greg, for this great recipe!

Love cigars and Thai firecrackers--it's been too long since I've played with phyllo dough!

Thank goodness for ready-made phyllo! This is one dough I will never, ever make from scratch. My hat's off to anyone who has.

Valentina, you make mille feuilles! Wow!

Lobster, I never remember to defrost, so I was glad to learn that this will keep in the refrigerator for a month. I bring it home from the market and it goes right into the fridge.

Tanna, Greg gave us his recipe for spanikopita, too. I promise to share it.

Katie, what a fabulous idea! Do you paint the layers with melted butter?

Anh, if you do post about the homemade phyllo, please share the link! I've never bought any except the frozen kind; it must be such fun to work with the thicker dough.

Radish, see Candy's comment...at least one person has made it from scratch (brave woman!).

Patricia, I'm still learning the ins and outs of phyllo dough, but I agree, I love how light it is!

Marcia, glad you like the small design changes -- and even more glad that you've shared another of your amazing recipes with us! The combination of flavors in this baqlawa -- rose water, pistachio, saffron, green cardamom -- are just jumping off my computer screen and into my heart. Lovely!

TW, after the Escoffier-inspired meal you just wrote about, I'm sure you can master phyllo! Both Greg's recipe and Marcia's, which she left in the comments, are easy and might even find themselves on opposite ends of the same meal.

Candy, you are brave indeed -- making your own phyllo?! But I know what you mean -- sometimes you make something once, to prove you can do it, and then you never need to do it again. I had my moment with homemade pita bread, once.

Lisa, Thai firecrackers? What are those? Sounds intriguing....

Susan, ditto. I will never, ever attempt this. Storebought is fine with me.

speaking of places that call themselves "the captial of x" did you know that ypsilanti, mi is the underwear capital of america? I sure didn't much as I didn't know cleveland was the phyllo capital. I love your blog Lydia, I always learn something new!
I've never cooked with phyllo before, but it's on my list!

Wow. Marcia's Afghan recipe sounds incredible.

Am often afraid that the filo will dry out when I lay it out on the bench, but in recent times I've relaxed. Now it works every time!

huh, i lived in cleveland for 4 years and had no idea that they made so much phyllo there! is it the same 'athens' brand that makes the hummus too?

Ann, I'm so glad to know that about Ypsilanti!!!

Lucy, in the beginning I had real fear of phyllo -- but I'm over it now. And of course I want to try Marcia's recipe immediately!

Connie, I don't think it's the same company. Athens is a pretty popular name for Greek foods....

I still have to try phyllo, maybe make some baklava. :)

I don't think I have seen this in supermarkets here. Which supermarkets can I get this ?
I just have not looked hard enough. The only thing I see is Pepperidge and Pillsbury frozen pastry :O

I always had leftover filo and didn't buy it as often until I discovered Om Ali made with left over filo.

Amy, baklava is delicious. I've never tried to make it, so if you do, please send us the link to your recipe.

Tigerfish, in my regular grocery store (not the gourmet market), it's in the freezer section right where the puff pastry is. You can also find it in Middle Eastern markets, Greek markets, and most gourmet shops.

Barbara, thanks for telling us about this wonderful dessert. (Here's the link to the recipe on Barbara's blog: http://winosandfoodies.typepad.com/my_weblog/2007/06/om_ali.html.)

there are just countless goodies you can prepare with phyllo dough. Is it made the same way as puff pastry?

mmmmmm, my memories of this is the sticky nutty honey baklava we had at a bavarian restaurant i waitressed at one summer, yum!!!

Hi Lydia,
Interesting - I didn't know that one company is responsible for the majority of filo production in the USA.

I think that frozen filo sheets are one of the best creations for desserts. A friend taught me a neat trick - spray the oil on (e.g. good quality store-bought cooking spray) instead of brushing it on. It save times, it's easy, less messy and protects the fagile sheets for those who are not used to handling it.

Veron, the two doughs are very different in ingredients (butter vs. no butter) and method (rolled and folded to create layers, vs. rolled thin in a pasta machine into a single layer). Here's one explanation of how phyllo is made:

Aria, baklava is so delicious!

Nora, what a fabulous tip about spraying vs. brushing! I've never heard of that, but it surely makes sense for speed alone. Thank you so much.

I had no idea Cleveland was the phyllo capital:) I love the stuff, so I can't complain. Those are very good tips. I didn't realize I should just put it in the fridge when I buy it if it keeps for a month.


Julie, my downfall is that I always forget to defrost ahead of time, so keeping phyllo in the fridge really helps. Now, if I can just remember to use it within a month....

It's interesting that everytime I hear of Phyllo dough, I hear the brand name Athens. Are there any good phyllo dough makers? Also interesting that there is an Athens, Ohio and yet Cleveland is the phyllo dough capital, despite the double entendre that most Greek desserts are made with phyllo dough :)

Thanks for the entry.

Hillary, I think there must be some wonderful Greek brands, but I haven't found anything that's widely available. Athens brand is in every market, everywhere -- probably even in Athens, Ohio!

I didn't know that if you refreeze phyllo it toughens - I've had it happen, but didn't know why!

Kelly-Jane, phyllo isn't picky about anything except moisture. It reacts badly to too much, and to too little.

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