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Sunday, 5 February 2012

How To Make Fresh Phyllo Dough - a step-by-step Tutorial

Mostly requested recipes are for 'Quick & Easy'! I know, who has the time? But it's those trickier preparations, which require specific skills, that make the kitchen so much more fun, and grant a feel of achievement that will make you extra proud when you serve your food. 

Home-made Fresh Phyllo Dough is definitely one of these preparations. It is surely not one for the faint-hearted, requires Olympic rolling skills and needs a certain amount of skill to perfect. But hey, this is what my blog is for, taking your cooking skills to the next level, isn't it? Since you are here, I trust you want to go further in your kitchen, which is why I want to include recipes that are more challenging and require extra skills for you to try. At the end of the day, and just like with everything, practice makes perfect. With that said, Phyllo Dough is one that is found, fresh or frozen, in almost all supermarkets and in excellent quality. Yes you can always buy some, if that is what you are thinking, but if you were curious to know how they are made, or if like me, you like a challenge and want to learn how to make it, then read on as you are going to love this.

If you had read my Borscht Soup recipe, then you already know how I got to learn the method of making Fresh Phyllo dough. Before that incident, I had tried making phyllo pastry many times but it quite never turned out perfect. As I had come to learn, it was all in the rolling technique. This is the step that determines the success of your phyllo dough. Therefore, in this post, I have included a video of 'how to roll phyllo dough' which I took, when I was learning how to make it. I do not usually include videos in my posts, because not everything requires a video demonstration. However, and in order to make sure you get the technique right, I have included one here for you to watch. When you do, make sure you notice how the lady's hands move, and how she twists the end of the rolling pin with her right hand in order to stretch the dough more. Also pay special attention to how she rolls out the dough, firmly pressing down as she rolls the pin back towards her. You can come back and watch this video as many times as you need, while practicing.

What is Phyllo dough?
Phyllo, Filo or Fillo*, also known as sheet pastry doughs, which  are paper-thin sheets of unleavened** flour dough, very commonly used in making pastries both sweet and savoury, especially in Middle Eastern and Balkan cuisines. 

* All spellings are correct and commonly used to refer to the same term.
**Unleavened meaning: without the use of a leavening/rising agent such as yeast or baking powder...etc.

Sheet pastry doughs are prepared one layer at a time, and can be assembled into pastries that use a dozen layers before cooking such as in Baklawa or Börek for instance. These super thin sheets of dough are not to be confused with puff-pastry, the preparation of which is very different from the making of phyllo. Unlike phyllo, in puff pastry, the layers are created in the actual process of making dough - by wrapping in the butter rolling and folding as you go. With layered phyllo preparations, the layers are created before cooking and way after the sheets have been created.

Phyllo dough is created by making stiff flour and water dough. Some recipes use acid like vinegar for tenderising the dough, other use oil. The result is the same, which is a paper-thin (1 mm) translucent dough that can quickly dry and become brittle. It is therefore brushed with oil or butter until its cut to prevent it from stiffening and drying out. Another variant to phyllo dough is the strudel, which is very similar to phyllo except it will include little fat and usually a whole egg in its ingredients. The making of either one involves the same techniques.

Origins, Namings and Uses
It is widely believed that phyllo, which is Greek for Leaf, was invented in Istanbul at the times of the early Ottoman Empire. But some historians believe that a more primitive version of it, was evident in the drawing of the early Egyptians. However, the closer version to what is now known as phyllo comes from the Turkish cuisine. When the Ottoman Empire ruled parts of Eastern Europe, the phyllo dough was adopted in Hungary as Retes and in Austria as Strudel. Phyllo is also the ancestor of the French Feuille.

In Turkish Cuisine, pastires made out of phyllo dough are called Börek, and in Arabic cuisine especially Egyptian they are called Gollash, while in Bosnia Börek refers only to pies made with meat, while other pies using phyllo dough are called Pita, and finally in Macedonia they are referred to as Kori. Other pastries made using phyllo dough go with a variety of names such as Baklawa for instance,  or what is more commonly referred to as Baklava.

Phyllo can be used in a variety of ways, rolled, turnovers, folded, layered... and can have a variety of fillings from vegetables, to leaves, nuts and chocolates and anything you can think of. It is commonly used in making Samboosik, or Samosas. 

Before you start
To make Phyllo pastry at home, you will need a specialised rolling pin, that is about 1.5-2 meters long, which is thicker in the middle and moves on to thinner edges. This rolling pin is used for rolling out the dough which will keep on stretching as it rolls, the only substitution to this rolling pin is a dough sheeter, which is not readily available in most homes. You can custom design a pin at any carpenter's if they are not available in your local market. You will also need a 2.5m square 100% cotton sheet (you can buy a bed spread and use it for this, however make sure it is 100% cotton, as the cotton absorbed the excess moisture making it possible for the dough to stretch). Finally you will need a large table or surface to roll the dough and streatch it, as it will stretch to 2 m square. If your table's surface is rough or with strong texture, use a thick table cover to cover it under the cotton sheet in order for the dough not to tear.

You Need
1.5 Kg all purpose flour
2 tsp Salt
Water (usually 40% water, 60% flour. The quantity depends on the weather and type of flour, follow recipe for instructions)
1/2 cup Vegetable oil or melted butter to brush the dough

In a large bowl, mix together the flour and salt. Add water gradually and mix together, until thoroughly incorporated. If the dough appears dry, add more water. If the dough looks like that in the pictures 4-6 above: has come together and no flour is visible, as well as looks similar to bread dough; dry but soft, no more water is needed. Divide the dough into 3 balls, and sprinkle with flour to coat. Cover and let for 30 minutes.

At this time, you must cover your table with the cotton cloth. Sprinkle the cloth with flour. Take 1 dough ball out, place over the floured surface, and knead it using only your finger tips. Pull the dough out and push it in at the centre and repeat, till the dough is elastic, soft and is like bread dough (as in picture 2). Gather up the ball, tucking all the sides in towards the centre (as in picture 3). Keep the seam downwards, sprinkle the table with flour, and place the ball (seam side down) and sprinkle the top generously with flour (as in picture 5). Let the dough rest for 10 minutes.

After resting, start by pressing the ball down at the centre. Using the rolling pin, start rolling the dough to flatten as you would a cookie dough. Once the dough is flattened as much as you can flatten it, place the rolling pin at the edge, rolling the edge right onto it, using the left hand to lead the dough on the pin, and the right hand to twist the pin to secure. Continue, twisting and rolling until you have the whole dough rolled around the pin. Lift the pin up and place back on the table. While pressing downwards towards the table, unroll the dough from the pin. You will notice that with each roll the dough is stretching and becoming thinner and bigger. Repeat this process until you have a large thin sheet of dough, about 3 mm thick.

Here is a video of how to roll phyllo dough, to make the process clearer:

Now to stretch the phyllo dough, you first have to sprinkle the top with vegetable oil or melted butter (as in picture 1). 

Then gently lift over the sides of the dough and flap towards the centre to distribute the oil over the whole surface, unfold back to position. Repeat with all sides, add more oil only if necessary. Once the whole surface is covered with oil (as in picture 6), you are now ready to start stretching the dough by hand (see picture 1 below).

Stretching the Phyllo dough by hand

Gently hold the edges of the dough and pull towards you ever so slightly, making sure not to tear it. You can pull a little, and stop then pull a bit more and so on. Continue to pull all edges, until the dough covers the whole surface. The dough should be 1 mm thick and about 2 meter square in total surface. The dough will become transparent as you stretch it, just careful not to tear it.

Once stretched, the phyllo sheet can then be cut to use straight away for filling or layering or cutting rounds for making phyllo tourtiere for instance...etc.

If you wish to store or freeze the phyllo dough, you will have to cover the tops with another cloth (100% cotton) to absorb all the moisture. Cover for about 5-7 minutes. Press all over the cloth to absorb all the moisture. Then remove and sprinkle the tops of the dough moderately with corn starch. Place the cloth back on and gently distribute the starch by rubbing your hands on the cloth. Remove cloth and cut into sheets, strips or squares, let them stand for 5 minutes. Wrap well with plastic and freeze for up to 6 months.

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Thank you for reading this post, hope you have enjoyed it. I am looking forward to hearing you say you tried this too!! Let me know how it goes, and come back soon for more :)