How to work with phyllo dough

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How to work with phyllo dough

How To Work With Phyllo Dough

To work with delicate phyllo dough, remember just a few pointers and you’ll be on your way to becoming a pro. Just thaw the phyllo dough according to the package directions. Before unwrapping a roll of dough, always make sure you have all other ingredients assembled. Our Spinach & Feta Phyllo Triangles recipe* is a great way to try your hand at some phyllo dough fun.

  1. Carefully unroll the phyllo dough vertically onto your cutting board. To easily cut each sheet into equal-sized strips, with a ruler, mark the stack of dough vertically at 3-inch intervals.
  2. While keeping the remaining strips covered with a damp towel, lightly brush 1 strip of dough with melted butter. The butter will help the first strip to adhere to the second strip placed on top.
  3. Place 1 heaping tablespoon of the spinach mixture onto the bottom corner of the 2-layered strip of dough. To form a triangle, fold the phyllo dough diagonally like a flag over the filling.


*(Click here or Download the pdf for the referenced recipe)

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How to work with phyllo dough

James And James/Getty Images

So you have a traditional Baklava recipe in one hand and a package of phyllo dough in the other. What next? More often than not, pre-packaged phyllo dough is available frozen rather than fresh for better preservation. It is usually sold in pre-made sheets in flat squares or rolls. Though frozen phyllo dough is more readily available in most major supermarkets, you can find fresh phyllo in some specialty stores or international supermarkets, particularly those that specialize in Middle Eastern or Greek food. Either way, working with the delicate and paper-thin sheets of phyllo dough can be tricky. Below are some tips for working with phyllo dough to make your favorite Middle Eastern desserts.

Working With Frozen Phyllo Dough

If you have purchased frozen phyllo dough for your recipe, there are some crucial steps to take to make sure your dough works with you, and not against you, during the preparation of your dish.

You will have to give yourself some time to prepare since frozen phyllo takes about 24 hours to properly defrost:

  • Don’t let it defrost too quickly. The trick to thawing phyllo dough is to make sure that it doesn’t defrost too quickly. When the dough is too damp (generally from too much condensation in the defrosting process), it becomes gummy and the thin sheets will stick together, which in the world of phyllo is synonymous with unusable.
  • Defrost at room temperature. Upon removing the phyllo from your freezer, keep it in its original packaging and place it directly into the refrigerator. Never thaw at room temperature, as it will thaw too quickly and collect too much moisture.
  • Do not separate until completely thawed. If you try to separate the sheets when they are too cold, they will crack. Your best bet is to keep them in their packaging in the refrigerator for 24 hours. This is enough time and just the right temperature to ensure usable sheets of phyllo.

If you do find your phyllo sheets are still cracking or tearing, you can trim the sheet to remove the tear. If you are in mid-recipe and come across a tear, simply put another sheet over your damaged one. Once baked, it really won’t be noticeable. Once defrosted and ready to go, you have to move fast, as phyllo dough dries out very quickly.

Working With Fresh Phyllo Dough

If you have purchased fresh phyllo, on the other hand, you are ready to go. Fresh phyllo can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two weeks if kept tightly wrapped or in its original packaging. Phyllo dough can also be frozen (or re-frozen in the case of thawed phyllo) for 2 to 4 months.

How to work with phyllo dough

Personal Creations / Flickr CC 2.0

Phyllo sheets are tissue-thin sheets of dough used in making Greek pastries and filled pies. Phyllo can be found fresh in many Greek and Middle Eastern markets, and in the frozen food section of most grocery stores, with alternative spellings of “filo,” and “fyllo.” It comes cut into large sheets that are rolled into a compact package of 20 to 25 sheets. Sheets can be used whole or cut into the size required by the recipe.

Useful Tips

Most commercial phyllo packaging has good directions for handling the dough, but it can be made easier with these tips:

  1. Keep the package closed when thawing.
  2. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator. As a last resort only, thaw at room temperature for five hours and use immediately.
  3. Prepare all ingredients for your recipe before opening the thawed phyllo.
  4. Hands should be as dry as possible when handling the dough.
  5. Bring the packaged phyllo to room temperature before opening and using.
  6. Remove the thawed phyllo from the package and unroll the sheets.
  7. Cover the unrolled phyllo with a sheet of waxed paper covered by a damp towel to keep it moist. It dries out very quickly.
  8. As you remove one sheet at a time, cover the remainder.
  9. If you tear a piece of phyllo by mistake, don’t worry. You can patch pieces together to use in a middle layer of the pastry, and this will rarely if ever, show in the final product.
  10. If you need to cut it, use scissors or a pizza cutter

Storing Remaining Dough

As soon as you use the quantity of phyllo dough you need, roll up any remaining sheets with the original protective paper, and cover them carefully with waxed paper and plastic wrap to keep air out. The unused phyllo can be stored this way in the refrigerator for a week or so. Refreezing is also ok and it will last sealed in the freezer for about 3 months. Follow the same defrosting technique.

Baking Phyllo Dough

Follow the baking instructions on the packaging or the recipe. You’ll want to get the phyllo dough creations into the oven as soon as you are finished. Keep a close watch on them once they are in the oven. You want the phyllo to be nicely golden brown and crisp, but a few minutes past that and they will be burnt.

Be Persistent

The keys to working with phyllo are to be organized and work quickly. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find it’s a great choice for all kinds of dishes from meat, fruit, cheese, and more. If your first venture with phyllo dough isn’t super successful, don’t be too discouraged and do try again. It is a delicate and finicky ingredient, but it’s also quite forgiving. Tears and mistakes are hard to notice once baked.

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How to work with phyllo dough

Phyllo dough is a stack of delicate, layered pastry sheets used in both sweet and savory dishes. Phyllo is used in popular dishes such as baklava and spanakopita, producing a light, flaky crust. Most phyllo dough used in domestic kitchens is found in the frozen section at your local supermarket, and one of the tricky aspects of working with it is thawing it out properly first. Your microwave may offer some help if you need to thaw it out quickly, but giving your phyllo the time it needs to thaw in the refrigerator may give you a better finished product.

Step 1

Remove the package of frozen phyllo dough from the box but leave it in the plastic. Set the plastic on a microwaveable dish or plate.

Step 2

Place the plastic package of dough in the microwave and defrost for 30 to 45 seconds. Follow the microwave defrosting instructions on the package if it lists a specific time or power level for that brand of dough.

Step 3

Remove the dough from the plastic packaging and gently attempt to separate the sheets of dough so you can get started on other elements of the recipe. Cover the layers of thawed dough with aluminum foil or a sheet of waxed paper covered by a damp dish towel to keep them moist when preparing other ingredients. Dried out phyllo dough cracks and can’t be used.

Step 4

For a more reliable yet lengthy method, set the frozen box of phyllo dough in the refrigerator and leave it for roughly six hours if you have more time. Thawing it out more slowly will usually yield better results.

How to work with phyllo dough

Golden brown and extra crispy; whether used soaked with aromatic syrup for desserts, or filled with creamy, juicy fillings, phyllo dough always gives a rustic touch to our homemade pies and desserts!

Phyllo dough is our number one, favorite foil for making numerous Greek savory pies, like cheese pies and spanakopita and mouthwatering vegetarian appetizers. And of course there is a whole collection of phyllo dough Greek desserts, like our favorite baklava recipe and galaktoboureko.

Phyllo dough, also spelled ‘fillo’ comes into tissue thin sheets, stacked and wrapped together into rolls or flat squares and can be find fresh (more rarely) or frozen in the frozen food section. Phyllo sheets can be used whole or cut in size according to the recipe.

Working with them can sometimes get tricky, as it can become gummy, or brittle, if handled the wrong way. Let’s share some of our secrets from own experience, that will help you never to fail.

Tips for working with Phyllo

Thaw the phyllo dough, with the package closed, overnight in the refrigerator. A very common mistake is to leave it defrost at room temperature as this will make the outer layers gummy; when working with phyllo dough, it should be defrosted, but still cold.

Prepare a surface large enough to use as a work space (not floured). Unroll from the plastic sleeve, only when you are ready to use, as it dries out really quickly and will be hard to work with. If your phyllo dough must remain out of the packaging for longer place it between two damp kitchen towels, wet enough (not soaked into water) to give the dough some moisture.

Tip: Remember to preheat the oven, so that when done you are ready to bake right away.

How to work with phyllo dough

Always work with your hands dry and use a sharp knife to cut into size when required. Some pieces may crack or tear when coming out of the package; that’s OK. You don’t have to through them away, just use them in the middle of you pie, or dessert, where no one can see them.

Use a pastry brush to brush the phyllo sheets with butter, as it works well to fuse them together. If some are dry in the end, just use a little bit more. Remember to brush thoroughly the top layer with enough butter, to become crispier and nicely colored, and prevent from getting burnt.

Phyllo dough sticks to the baking tray really easily when cooked. To prevent it from sticking, always thoroughly butter the bottom and the sides of your baking pan with enough butter, or use cooking parchment paper, depending on the recipe.

Score the top of the pastry with a sharp knife; that is going to give a chance for the steam to escape and, when baked, it will form a guide to cut your pieces.

If you have any unused phyllo sheets left wrap them firmly in plastic wrap, place the phyllo dough into it’s original box and refrigerate as soon as possible.

How to work with phyllo dough Browse our Phyllo recipes

These paper-thin pastry sheets produce crisp, featherweight layers in holiday hors d’oeuvres and desserts, but they can be frustrating to work with (tearing easily, drying out quickly). Follow these four simple rules for success.

Partially thawed phyllo dough will crack when you try to unroll it. Resist the urge to thaw it quickly on a counter; the sheets will become gummy and stick together. Instead, thaw in the refrigerator overnight.

As soon as you open the package, phyllo dough starts to dry out. And dry phyllo dough equals brittle, likely-to-crack phyllo dough. Measure out and prep all the other ingredients before you reach for the phyllo.

To delay drying, work with just a couple of sheets of dough at a time. Cover the rest with a large piece of plastic wrap, then a slightly damp dish towel. (Make sure the towel touches the plastic, not the dough.)

Most recipes call for phyllo sheets to be stacked and stuck together with melted butter. Use a soft pastry brush that won’t tear the dough, and start brushing around the perimeter of each sheet before the middle. The edges are the first areas to dry and crack.

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How to work with phyllo dough

How To Work With Phyllo Dough

To work with delicate phyllo dough, remember just a few pointers and you’ll be on your way to becoming a pro. Just thaw the phyllo dough according to the package directions. Before unwrapping a roll of dough, always make sure you have all other ingredients assembled. Our Spinach & Feta Phyllo Triangles recipe* is a great way to try your hand at some phyllo dough fun.

  1. Carefully unroll the phyllo dough vertically onto your cutting board. To easily cut each sheet into equal-sized strips, with a ruler, mark the stack of dough vertically at 3-inch intervals.
  2. While keeping the remaining strips covered with a damp towel, lightly brush 1 strip of dough with melted butter. The butter will help the first strip to adhere to the second strip placed on top.
  3. Place 1 heaping tablespoon of the spinach mixture onto the bottom corner of the 2-layered strip of dough. To form a triangle, fold the phyllo dough diagonally like a flag over the filling.


*(Click here or Download the pdf for the referenced recipe)

  • food & beverage
    • A Foodie Escape
    • A Journey Through Nutrient-Dense Foods
    • A Passion For Pomegranates
    • All About Beers
    • All About Eggs
    • All About Seeds
    • America Loves Shrimp!
    • Avocados Abound
    • Barbecue Geography
    • Beans for Beginners
    • Bellisimo Broccoli
    • Benefits of Blueberries
    • Benefits of Yogurt
    • Blue Cheeses
    • Brussels Sprouts Three Ways
    • Build-a-Bento
    • Building a Charcuterie Board
    • Campfire Creations
    • Check Out Our Apples
    • Chestnuts: a holiday classic
    • Cooking Gingerly
    • Cooking School Fundamentals – Artichokes
    • Cooking School Fundamentals – Crab
    • Cooking with Yogurt
    • Create a Better Burger
    • Creating the perfect cheeseboard
    • Cruciferous Crop
    • D.I.Y Ramen Noodle Bowl
    • Do We Truly Crave Chocolate?
    • Dutch Cheese Masters
    • Exploring Asparagus
    • Fall Pantry Staples
    • Farm-Fresh Tomatoes
    • Fennel Frenzy
    • Food & Beer Pairing
    • Food Focus: Salt
    • Fresh Produce on the Rocks
    • Get to the Root
    • Getting to Know Celery Root
    • Glorious Grapefruit
    • Grape Expectations
    • Irresistible Herbs
    • It’s a Fruit, it’s a Gourd, it’s Butternut Squash!
    • Kimchi 101
    • Let’s Talk Turkey
    • Lettuce Varieties
    • Lovely Leeks
    • Middle-eastern Spices
    • New Year Traditions
    • Nut Knowledge
    • Orange Ya Glad
    • Outstanding Onions
    • Pasta Pairings
    • Peachy Keen
    • Perfection Across The Pond
    • Pick a Pepper
    • Plum Perfection
    • Portobellos: The King Of Mushrooms
    • Potato-cheese Pierogies step by step
    • pumpkin’s prize: seasonal seeds
    • Relish the Cranberry
    • Riesling Renaissance
    • Rubs & Marinades
    • Salume Beddu
    • Schlafly
    • Seasonal Sensation: Apples
    • Simply Delicious Stone Fruits
    • Soothing Soups
    • Summer Produce
    • The Beauty of Beets
    • The Best of the Best
    • The Charm of Cherries
    • The Coconut Craze
    • The Feast of the Seven Fishes
    • The Perfect Pear
    • Trend Watch
    • United Steaks of America
    • Warm Autumn Spices
    • Whole Grains
    • Wild for Watermelon
    • Winter Squash
    • Yogurt Royalty: A Guide to Greek and Probiotic Yogurts
    • Zoom In On Zucchini
  • how-tos
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    • Apricot Linzer Cookies 101
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    • Frenching Bones 101
    • Fresh Holiday Decor
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    • Granita 101
    • Guide to Grilling the Perfect Steak
    • Homemade Savory Pear Soup 101
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    • How to Make Pulled Pork
    • How To Remove Crabmeat From The Shells
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    • How To Work With Phyllo Dough
    • Knives 101
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    • Lessons from the Test Kitchen: Vinaigrette
    • Lessons from the Test Kitchen: What are you, chicken?
    • Midwest Beer Cheese Soup 101
    • Pie Crust 101
    • Popcorn Ice Cream 101
    • Potato-cheese Pierogies step by step
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    • Roasting How-To (Pumpkin Seeds)
    • Simple & Elegant Antipasto
    • Split Layer Cake 101
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    • An Introduction To Going Gluten-Free
    • From Pyramid to Plate: An Icon’s New Look
    • Keen on Kale
    • Omega-3s Please
    • Osteoporosis – Get In The Know
    • Smart Tips To Keep Your Heart Healthy
    • Summer-Smart Eating
    • Vegging Out
  • food safety
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    • Safety First
    • Tailgating Food Safety Tips
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How to work with phyllo dough

Let’s just say that phyllo isn’t the most forgiving dough. I learned this recently when developing this curried potato tart casserole recipe. Working with frozen phyllo dough takes patience and no small amount of finesse, but those crunchy, lighter-than-air layers are more than worth the effort. That cheesy beautiful dish called spanakopita just wouldn’t be the same with anything else. Below, three tips that we’ve found to be the keys to making the most of this freezer-aisle miracle, while maintaining your sanity.

Defrost Properly
You can’t rush this part. Refrigerate frozen phyllo for about 8 hours or overnight to allow it to thaw, then leave it at room temp for another hour or two until all the sheets are pliable. Jumping the gun will lead to cracks, which just won’t do.

Use Plenty of Fat
In order to get golden, individual layers, you need to brush each layer of phyllo with butter or oil. Use a pastry brush, and remember that each sheet will soak up around 1 Tbsp. of fat, so plan accordingly. That fat also leads to a perfectly golden color.

Keep it Covered
Working layer by layer takes time; keep the rest of the dough tightly wrapped so that it doesn’t dry out in the process. Plastic wrap is fine, but a clean, barely damp kitchen towel works best. It will keep the sheets together and pliable, instead of crinkly and brittle.