Filo or Phyllo? (FEE-lo or FIE-lo? — pronouncing it like the giant in the story of Jack and The Beanstalk — “Fee Fie Foe Fum” — but minus the Foe Fum).
Either spelling or pronunciation is acceptable and they are the same thing — an extremely fragile thin layer of dough containing very little fat — which when brushed with butter, then layered before it is baked — results in a very light, airy, crispy pastry.
It may be made from scratch or purchased already made. There is actually very little, if any, difference in the taste between homemade and purchased.
I have quite successfully made it from scratch — quite a few times in my youth — and actually prefer to just purchase it already made — especially now that I am older and less able bodied. It is very labor intensive, time consuming, and exhausting to make.
However, I believe everyone should attempt it at least once or twice completely by hand to truly appreciate just what went into its pre-industrial era making — while they are still young, with dexterous hands and fingers, able bodied, and still have the energy.
Trust me, you’ll also get quite the upper body work out!
It can also be quite therapeutic in some cases. Warning: Do not attempt without doctor or physical therapist approval if you have any upper body physical issues — such as neck, shoulder, or bad back issues!
Filo or Phyllo Pastry
1 cup white bread flour (a heavy, strong flour is needed)
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup warm water
Combine dry ingredients and slowly add water a little at a time until well combined. You may do so in an electric stand mixer using the dough hook, however, once it comes together you will need to continue by hand on a lightly floured work surface.
Then work the dough kneading and stretching by hand — work it, work it, work it — until smooth and elastic — for about 12 to 15 minutes or more depending upon humidity and temperature, etc.
Roll into a rectangular shape about 1/2 inch thick then fold and fold again into a smaller manageable rectangle, slap the dough roller down in the center of it, and lightly press together rolling from center toward the end, return to center and roll toward the other end.
Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours to rest and allow gluten to firm up.
Then, work the dough — work it, work it, work it — slap it around — pick it up, stretch it out into a giant worm shape, and sling it down against the counter — slapping it down against the counter repeatedly switching the end being slapped down from time to time — stretch it — knead it — and then repeat — and keep going — until you are finally able to stretch some of it upwards into a thin see through sheet that holds together well without it drooping or tearing.
The time this takes varies with humidity levels and temperature, etc. but it takes time, patience, and energy to get the gluten where it needs to be.
Then roll it and keep stretching it out by hand — and rolling and stretching — and repeat until you have a huge sheet(s) of very thin pastry in which you can easily read any sheet of paper or newspaper through it when slid underneath it.
OR, you may run it through a pasta machine four or more times — on each and every single thickness setting — decreasing the setting of thickness after each session — until it becomes thinner and thinner and see through enough to read a paper through.
Then, roll and stretch into the desired size rectangle or rectangles needed.
Some will (with a very large and long work surface) actually attempt to keep it as one sheet until they have finished, but you may also cut dough to equal sizes before wrapping to refrigerate for the rest period — and then work with individual sheets keeping the others in the frig until ready.
Then create five equal sized individually cut layers with melted unsalted butter brushed on between each of the sheets as they are added. Coat the sheets lightly and evenly — well but thinly — do not drown the sheets with the butter or they will simply become soggy rather than crispy when baked.
Use real unsalted butter for optimal results both in texture and taste. Some types of margarine and other substitutes simply do not work well. Having said that, there are probably a few exceptions to the rule now, especially with all the new products on the market. Use unsalted butter — or it could end up tasting far too salty.
It is now ready to be used or cut with a knife to fit the pan or dish.
You can also use biscuit or cookie cutters (or a round object can be used as template with a knife to cut around it) to cut out rounds to fit muffin tins.
If desired, it can be sealed in plastic wrap, gently folded or rolled up, and placed in an airtight container and placed in the freezer. Thaw completely and bring fully to room temperature before unfolding or unrolling and then using it.