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Phyllo, Fillo, Filo: Greek Pastry

Fillings and Recipes for Phyllo Crusts You can make phyllo pastry dishes up to two days in advance. Reheat uncovered in preheated 375F oven for 30-40 minutes. If the edge of the crust becomes too brown while baking, shield it with strips of aluminum foil.

How to work with phyllo dough

You can purchase phyllo dough sheets frozen, thaw them overnight in the refrigerator. Buy the freshest frozen dough possible. If your grocer does not sell a lot of phyllo dough, you may be buying a package of dough that has sat in a freezer case for too many months. Similarly, replace any packages that have sat too long in your own freezer.

A box of dough will include 20 sheets, each measuring 14 by 18 inches, that have been rolled and placed in a plastic or waxed paper bag. Follow manufacturer directions for thawing. Generally speaking, you want to thaw the dough slowly, in its box and wrapping bag. Some companies include microwave thawing instructions. This is very risky. Thaw too quickly or at too high a power and you will end up with a gummy wet mess instead of separate sheets. Buying an extra package of dough is an easy way to insure against mistakes and torn sheets of dough. Leftovers can be tightly wrapped and refrozen.

Traditionally, melted butter is used between layers to make the crisp and delicious pastry layers. Today, many people use sprayed oil to reduce the amount of fat in the recipe. Phyllo dough crust will get soft once you refrigerate it, it will get flaky again if you reheat it in the oven.

Plan ahead: you need waxed paper, two damp cotton dish towels and two fine-mist spray bottles, one filled with water and the other with olive or canola oil. Using a spray bottle allows more even coverage and less oil. You can also purchase oil in a spray can.

Don't open your dough until you have assembled all of your tools and prepared all of your ingredients. Prepare your baking pans. A light spray of vegetable oil is a good idea to keep baked goods from sticking. When everything is ready, and only when everything is ready, unroll the dough and place on a sheet of waxed paper. Cover the stack with another sheet of waxed paper. A damp linen towel, placed on top of the waxed paper, will help keep the stack of dough moist while you are working with individual sheets. (Do not place the towel directly on top of the dough.)

Some sort of shortening, olive oil or melted butter, is applied to each sheet to keep the dough leaves crisp and separate. If your recipe calls for oil, you might want to invest in an oil mister so you can spray the oil on each sheet. A soft, wide brush is best for applying melted butter or oil. Cover each layer of dough completely with melted butter or oil to prevent dry edges.

Work quickly to prevent the dough from drying out. Place one damp towel topped by a piece of waxed paper flat on your work surface. Gently remove the package of dough from its package, spread it open and lay it flat on the waxed paper. Spray very lightly with water. Place a second sheet of waxed paper and a second damp towel over the top of the dough to prevent it from drying out.

Begin by gently peeling off one sheet of dough and lay it on a clean cutting board. Spray the remaining dough lightly with water again and replace the waxed paper and top towel. Doing this each time keeps the dough from becoming brittle and tearing. If your dough rips or tears, patch it with a little extra oil or butter. In a recipe where a smooth outer surface may be important for cosmetic reasons, such as a strudel, you may want to cover the final piece in one perfect, and perfectly buttered, layer. Tuck errors inside. End each recipe with a good coating of oil or butter. This will prevent drying and ensure a golden crust. If you are making baklava or another cut up dish, use a sharp knife to cut through the entire top layer in the pattern you will cut after baking. This prevents it from shattering after it is baked.

Filling ingredients should be fully prepared. Grate the cheese, chop the nuts, slice the olives before you even think about unwrapping the phyllo dough. Cooked fillings should be made in advance and cooled. Fillings should be dry. Drain, or add bread crumbs if appropriate to the recipe, to prevent a too-wet filling from making your phyllo dish soggy.

To make triangle shaped turnovers: Using a sharp paring knife or pizza cutter, cut the dough lengthwise into strips: in half for entree-sized turnovers, in 4 strips for medium-sized turnovers or six strips for small, bite-sized turnovers.

Divide filling between strips, placing a dollop at one end of each strip. Carefully fold the bottom corner diagonally to the opposite side, lining up the straight sides. Then gently fold to the left and right along the straight edges. Moisten the end of the dough to close the turnover securely. Mist lightly with oil and bake at 375F for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown and crisp and the filling is hot throughout.

To make pockets or bundles rather than turnovers, cut the layered dough into 4-inch squares. Spoon a heaping tablespoon into the center, gather the 4 corners, draw up edges and twist close or tie closed with a strip of green onion. Flatten bottom of pouches slightly so that they will stand on your baking sheet. Butter and bake according to recipe.

Tarts and Tartlets:
Layer and butter three or four sheets of dough. Lightly spray a muffin tin (mini or standard size) Cut dough in rounds or squares a inch or so wider that the muffin cups. (Dough squares will form a fluted-edge tart.) Place the dough in the tins, pressing carefully so that the dough fits snugly in the cups. Spray with oil or brush with butter and bake at 400 degrees for 5-10 minutes or until light golden color. Fill as desired.

For phyllo mini quiches;
Make a layer of 3 or 4 sheets, cut 4-inch squares and tuck into the buttered cups of a mini muffin tin. Bake the shells empty for about six minutes at 350 degrees. Remove the shells from the oven and fill with bacon, Swiss and egg mixture. Bake for an additional 15 minutes.

Crunchy Phyllo Tart Shells;

Dry phyllo sheets
Butter, melted
Cinnamon sugar

Stack, roll into a cylinder and cut into strands like noodles. Fluff this phyllo "linguini" with butter and sugar, shape on a greased cookie sheet into individual tart baskets or a single large disc, and bake for 20 minutes in a preheated 400 degree oven.
Fill with any creamy filling or fruit. For example, top with fresh raspberries, bottled raspberry syrup and whipped topping. You could add a scoop of sorbet or ice cream.

How to make a torte crust
Heat oven to 375 F. Place 1 phyllo sheet on work surface, coat with butter-flavored cooking spray and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon bread crumbs. Fold in half lengthwise; coat with cooking spray. Drape lengthwise down center of 9" springform pan. Repeat with remaining phyllo, overlapping phyllo in criss-cross fashion. Bake 8-10 min, shielding edges to prevent burning.

How to make a one crust pie crust
Layer 8-10 sheets of phyllo dough in a pie plate, misting each sheet with cooking spray. Bake at 375 degrees for five to seven minutes, or until golden brown. Add a cooled cherry pie filling (or one you've cooked yourself) and chill. One package of dough makes two single pie crusts.

To top a meat pie or vegetable dish:
Lay one sheet of the phyllo dough on top of the turkey mixture. Spray the dough with no stick spray. Repeat layering and spraying the phyllo dough two more times. Fold or crumple the edges of the dough and tuck them inside the casserole dish. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown.

Spinach Phyllo Pie with variations 2 pounds fresh spinach
1 package fresh mushrooms
1 large onion
5 egg whites
8 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
8 ounces mozzarella cheese, grated
1 teaspoon pepper
1 box phyllo dough

Remove stems from spinach, wash and drain. Cut onions and saute in water until tender. Wash and slice mushrooms and add to the onions (cook until all water evaporates), remove onions & mushrooms from heat and put in a large bowl. Saute spinach in water tossing frequently until all liquid evaporates. Mix onions/mushrooms & spinach together in bowl & make sure onions and mushrooms are evenly distributed throughout the spinach. Beat egg whites lightly, add grated cheese to egg mixture and mix thoroughly. Add spinach mixture to egg and cheese mixture and stir until well mixed.

Quickly layer 5-7 sheets on the bottom of the dish spraying each layer lightly with Pam. Then put on half of your spinach mixture. Put another 5-7 sheets of phyllo. Then the last of your spinach mixture. Top with 10 to 15 sheets of phyllo, sprayed lightly with Pam between each layer. Trim any excess dough around the edge, then moisten your fingertips and seal around the edges like a normal pie crust. Brush top with butter or PAM. Use a sharp knife to cut through the entire top layer in the pattern you will cut after baking. Bake in 400-425 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Phyllo Fresh Fruit Pie

12 cups drained fruits, sugar and cornstarch
1 package phyllo dough Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly brush the bottom of a 10" springform pan with melted butter or spray oil.

Lay 1 sheet of phyllo over the work surface on the counter and generously brush it with butter. Top it with a second phyllo sheet and brush that with butter. Repeat this process until you have a stack of 9 buttered sheets of phyllo. Gently lay the phyllo in the pan, pressing against the sides. The phyllo will drape over the top edge of the pan, it will be folded up later.

Brush the top sheet of phyllo with additional butter. Spoon the fruit or apple slices into the shell you have created. The apples should mound in the center above the rim. Fold the drapy phyllo dough over the fruit.

Lay three more buttered phyllo sheets on top of the apples. Brush the top sheet with butter. If any phyllo overlaps, fold it over in any convenient fashion.

Cut the remaining sheets of phyllo into three dough circles the precise size of the springform pan. Place these over the top of the folded phyllo, buttering between layers and on the top layer. Cut several slits in the pastry to allow the steam to escape.

Place the springform pan on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place the pan on the lowest rack of the oven. Immediately, reduce the heat to 350 degrees F. Bake until the pasty puffs up and the apples begin to ooze juice, approximately 45-50 minutes.

Cool very well. Before unmolding, slide a flat knife along the side of the springform pan. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar to serve.

Phyllo crusts for Pumpkin Pies

PREP AND BAKING TIME: 1-1/2 hours CRUST: Quickly, (dough dries out very fast and sticks together) layer 1 or 2 sheets of phyllo on each of the pans, spray very LIGHTLY with non-stick cooking spray and sprinkle with sugar or cinnamon sugar and repeat until crust is about 9-10 layers. For 2 pies use all the phyllo dough in the box. Seal the edge of the crust and crimp as with a "normal" crust. Cover edges of crust loosely with foil. Pour filling into the phyllo crust. Sprinkle chopped chestnuts and cinnamon on top if desired.
Bake for 15 minutes at 425. Reduce temperature to 350 and bake for about 30 minutes more.