Filo pastry, or phyllo pastry, is a delicate, thin pastry that adds something special to both sweet and savory dishes. If you want to know what exactly filo pastry is and ways to use it, then read on!
What is filo pastry?
Filo or phyllo pastry is a paper-thin pastry that is common in Greek, Middle Eastern and Balkan cooking. When you use the pastry, you join layers by brushing each layer with butter or oil. This also helps it become crisp as it cooks. Filo is often filled in some way, such as the classic dishes of baklava and börek.
What is filo/phyllo pastry made of?
Filo is made from flour, water and typically a small amount of oil or vinegar, although some recipes also use egg yolk.
How do you make filo pastry?
You basically need to stretch the pastry dough very thinly, keeping it well floured so that it doesn't become too sticky. If you want to test if it is thin enough, try reading a newspaper through the pastry.
I personally have never made it myself (yet!) as it's something that needs a fair amount of time, skill and space to avoid it sticking to each other as you go. But some day! In the mean time, ready-made filo sheets are readily available both fresh or frozen.
What is the difference between filo and puff pastry?
Although both pastries give a flaky appearance, they are quite different. Puff pastry is much denser and the butter is combined into the pastry rather than being brushed between layers.
The layered effect in puff pastry is created by rolling the dough out and folding it over on itself before rolling again, called laminating. Puff pastry is generally easier to make as a result.
Can I substitute puff pastry for filo?
There are some recipes where you could substitute puff pastry, but it will give a different feel. Filo is much more crumbly and light, while puff pastry will be denser.
As a rule of thumb, if you are using filo for recipes where you just want a flaky pastry, then puff pastry may work instead, such as some appetizer bites, but otherwise I'd suggest you don't substitute.
These days, there are so many ready made filo cases that help make using filo easier, so you don't have to go through the layering process yourself.
How do you thaw filo pastry?
As I said, one of the most common ways to buy ready-made filo pastry is frozen. Both ready formed, cooked pastry (like phyllo cups/ filo cups) and the uncooked sheets should be thawed in their packaging before you use them.
Tips for using filo pastry
Even with ready made sheets of pastry, filo can be a little tricky to use. Some tips for using it:
- The main thing to remember is that it will dry out quickly once exposed to air, so only take a small amount out of the packaging at a time.
- Make sure you have your oil or melted butter ready before you take out your pastry so that you can work quickly.
- Use a sharp knife to cut the pastry sheets to try to avoid ripping.
- Use a pastry brush to brush oil or butter on evenly.
- If you are shaping filo pastry eg in a mould or to stick to itself, do this quickly before the butter dries and/or the pastry becomes more brittle.
- Don't worry if the pastry breaks a little, you can stick it together with the butter or oil as you use it and won't notice the difference in the end result. I just try to not use torn sheets in what will be the outer layer so it looks neater.
Traditional recipes using filo pastry
Some common Greek recipes using filo include:
- Spanakopita (spinach and cheese pie)
- Tiropita (pastries similar to börek filled with cheese and egg)
- Kasseropita (a pie made with kasseri cheese)
- Bougatsa (a type of breakfast pastry with custard and cheese or meat)
- Galaktoboureko (a dessert with a set custard-like filling)
Turkish and Balkan dishes include:
- Börek (cheese filled pastries) - sometimes made as rolls, sigara börek
- Baklava (a layered dessert filled with nuts and drizzled with honey, also found and claimed as their own across the region)
- Tikvenik (a Bulgarian pastry filled with pumpkin)
- Gibanica (a pie made with eggs and cheese)
Filo is also very similar to other thin pastries used in North African cooking and for apple strudel, so can be used for both strudels and dishes like pastilla (North African meat pie).
Other ways to use filo pastry sheets
You can also use filo pastry for many other dishes, such as as an alternative to shortcrust or puff pastry is sweet and savory pies or quiches. It can also be cut into pieces to make appetizers like my pesto goats cheese filo parcels.
Ways to use filo pastry cups
Ready made filo cups are really handy for easy bite sized appetizers or desserts. They can be filled in lots of ways and make great party bites.
Some ideas include:
Filo pastry is such a versatile ingredient, both for traditional recipes and whatever your creativity can come up with, so give it a try!