Phyllo without fear
Bake fancy appetizers and desserts at home using the flaky pastry
IT'S A REALLY fancy catered party. A young man in a tuxedo has just offered you giant prawns wrapped in a puffy, golden dough from a silver-edged tray. On a central table you spy another of those pastry things, a light crust topped with colorful tomato slices and spinach. And then, heavenly desserts -- cones shaped from that same, layered dough, filled with homemade custard and dotted with berries.
YUMMY BY ANY NAME
Phyllo/phylo/fillo/filo/fila ... whatever!
All these spelling variants and more are used, and considered correct (and all are pronounced FEE-loh).
Food experts' best guess about the differences is that the original name, phyllo, was Anglicized, resulting on a myriad variations.
Some day, you decide, you'll learn to make those. When you're rich and you have infinite time for baking, after you've returned from that posh culinary school in Lyon.
Don't wait! Each of these pastries was made with phyllo, layers of super-thin dough that rise into flaky crusts, and you can easily learn to prepare all three.
You could make phyllo dough from scratch -- it's wheat flour, water and a smidgen of oil, each handful of dough hand-rolled and stretched into a dining-table-sized sheet before cutting. But even experienced bakers take a shortcut and use frozen phyllo from grocery freezers.
Although the Greeks are famous for their phyllo creations (the word "phyllo" is Greek for "leaves"), the technique for making the dough originated in Istanbul, Turkey, during the Ottoman reign. Even earlier, that Greek signature dish, baklava, was baked by 8th-century, B.C., Assyrians in wood-burning ovens. The honey-drenched desserts were filled with chopped nuts and dried fruits, and until the 1800s, baklava was considered a dish for only the rich.
Today, you can make beautiful baklava at home for considerably less than a king's ransom using a multitude of online or cookbook recipes, with thousands of other phyllo recipes awaiting you when you return from Lyon.
With a bit of help, you can be your own caterer.