I've never worked with phyllo (fillo) dough before. Of course, I've never worked with puff pastry either. (Can you tell I'm not much of a baker?) I saw a recipe for an interesting and easy variation of spanokopita, the Greek spinach-phyllo pastry, then one for baklava and thought, "Why not? If phyllo isn't too expensive, it's probably worth a shot."
Turns out a pound of phyllo can be had from WalMart for under $3. The recipes called for less than a half of the package. And it keeps for months. Sounded like a winner to me!
The essentials to working with phyllo dough seem to be as follows: Have all of your components ready to go, have a damp towel and some plastic wrap to lay over the dough while you work on a sheet, and butter is absolutely essential.
Theoretically, you could probably use butter-flavored nonstick spray. I'd bet you could use olive oil or even margarine. Since I'm new to phyllo, I stuck with the basics: melted butter. Besides, brushing it on the nearly transparently thin sheets wasn't too bad, once I got the hang of not glopping it on with an overloaded brush. Tearing was almost unavoidable however. Other than treating the fragile, tissue-thin sheets with the utmost of care, things progressed quite quickly. It doesn't take any particular skill to sprinkle walnuts and cinnamon-sugar over something, after all. (Though I wish I had drizzled honey too. I missed that aspect of traditional baklava and while drizzling honey over the top before eating is good, it's not the same.)
Phyllo by itself has very little taste. Due to this, it's absolutely imperative to layer with flavor, whether brushing it with butter or filling it with your favorite feta. (I swear that the girls down the street at the market think I only come in for two things: to pay my rent and buy the fantastic, salty feta my Greek landlords bring in for family and friends.)
Easy Spanokopita [printable recipe]
Adapted from Rachael Ray - 30 Minutes 2
- 10 ounces (1 package) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
- 4 sheets (13x17) defrosted phyllo sheets or equivalent amount in the size you have
- 4 ounces plain feta, crumbled well
- 3 - 4 tbsp butter, melted
- 3 tbsp sour cream
- 1 - 2 large shallots or 1 small onion, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- salt, pepper
- olive oil
Preheat oven to 400F.
In a small skillet over medium heat, heat oil and then add shallots (or onion) and garlic, saute for 4 - 5 minutes. Remove to a large bowl. Stir in spinach, spices, and feta, then mix in egg and sour cream.
On a large, clean, dry work surface, lay out a sheet of phyllo. The rest of the sheets should be covered with plastic wrap with a damp towel on top while you work. Working from the center to the edges, brush melted butter along the lower half of the sheet. Fold sheet over so that you have a long rectangle. Mound a couple of tablespoons of filling into the upper left corner into a triangle shape. Paint the rest of the sheet with butter, then fold up the triangle (like a flag fold, only tastier) until it reaches the other side as a nice triangular packet. Paint seam with butter and place seam-side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat.
Alternative: Fold the full sheet of phyllo (after painting half) along the shorter edge so that it forms a square. Turn it so that it looks like a diamond with a tip pointing towards you. Pile a bunch of filling in the center in a log shape, ending an inch or two (depending on the size of your square) from the right and left points. Paint edges with butter, then tuck the sides in and roll from the bottom, a la an egg roll. This method results in much bigger portions than the triangles.
Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with tzatziki or some garlic sauce.
- Making spanokopita isn't as difficult as I thought it might be but it is essential you have your components all ready to go. It goes quite quickly, all considered.
. . . .
I was planning to make BakingBites' Easy Vanilla Gelato to serve with this but a couple of good sales left my freezer too packed to accommodate the ice cream maker's base. I'll have to save that for another day.
Baklava Bites [printable recipe]
From Rachael Ray's 30 Minute Meals 2
- 4 defrosted small phyllo sheets
- 4 tbsp melted butter
- 3/4 cups chopped walnuts
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- vanilla ice cream or Easy Vanilla Gelato
Preheat oven to 400F.
Combine sugar and cinnamon. Line a sheet pan with parchment and lay a sheet of phyllo on top. Brush with butter and sprinkle a third of the walnuts over it. Sprinkle a third of the cinnamon-sugar over the walnuts, then top with another sheet of phyllo. Repeat twice more and finish with the fourth and final sheet of phyllo. Cut into 2" - 3" squares with a sharp knife. Cover with another sheet of parchment and rest a second sheet pan on top.
Bake for 18 to 23 minutes or until golden. Remove and serve warm with ice cream and honey.
- Since I had only a quarter-sheet pan and a half-sheet pan available at the time, I cut the phyllo so it would fit in a quarter-sheet (and also because a half-sheet of baklava squares for two would be a little much!). If you make a half-sheet, double all of the ingredients' measures.