Phyllo can take on any dish, from sweet for desserts to savory for meals, bringing them to the next level. Above, Shrimp with Prosciutto. CLICK FOR LARGE
TALK ABOUT versatility! Just these three recipes show that phyllo dough pastries can be used for sweet and savory dishes; for appetizers, entrées and desserts; and for three differently shaped pastry treats.
Tons of recipes for baklava, the traditional Greek dessert, are available in cookbooks and online, but you can also go way beyond baklava. A good resource is the Web site of Athens Foods, the leading supplier of the dough and related products. It offers not just recipes, but also tips on forming pie and tart shells, tubes, cones, pizza crusts, filled "purses" and triangles, baskets, and an endless variety of strudels and wraps. You can make tiny cigar-shaped pastries, or cut large layered stacks of dough into diamonds or rounds to make cinnamon sticks and Napoleons.
Although Athens' Mini Pastry Shells and kataifi (shredded phyllo dough) products are not yet available in Hawaii, the phyllo used in the recipes below can be found at Times, Star, and the Foodland chain of supermarkets (Safeway carries the Pepperidge Farms brand).
THE DOUGH is fun and easy to work with, but it's very important to follow each direction. Here are some easy tips:
» Standard boxes contain 20 sheets of pastry, all rolled and pre-cut. The most important instruction is to keep the sheets from drying out. The layers look like tissue paper, and a brisk trade wind blowing through your kitchen window can waft a sheet into the living room in the blink of an eye. Even in Hawaii's humid climate, a sheet can dry out in less than a minute, making it almost impossible to work with. With that in mind, you'll need a clean, damp (not wet) towel to cover the stack of phyllo sheets completely while they await your basting.
» Also have ready a pastry brush with soft bristles so you don't tear the fragile dough when brushing on oil or melted butter.
» Because frozen dough must defrost in its sealed package in your refrigerator overnight, you'll need to plan accordingly. If you skip this step, condensation will form and the sticky sheets may tear as you try to separate them.
» Be sure to have everything prepped and ready before you remove the thawed dough from the refrigerator and begin layering. That way, you can work quickly, basting each layer and adding fillings or toppings without needing to stop along the way. Fillings should be at room temperature, and not too drippy.
» Don't worry if a pastry sheet tears a little -- just brush it with butter, patch it with another piece of dough, baste again, and no one will ever notice.
» When you've layered your creation and are ready to bake it, use a rimmed baking or cookie sheet so that butter doesn't drip all over your oven. Remember to butter the top layer so that it will bake to the proverbial "rich, golden-brown" color.
The only other tip: Don't burn your mouth. Let your pastry cool a little before sampling!
1. Allow dough to thaw in refrigerator overnight. Bring to room temperature before using.
2. Carefully unroll sheets onto a smooth, dry surface.
3. Cover completely with plastic wrap, then a damp towel.
4. Keep covered until needed. Do not leave uncovered for more than a minute to avoid drying out.
5. Microwave butter until melted. This will give you lighter, flakier pastry.
6. Brush each layer with melted butter, margarine or oil.
7. To prevent edges from cracking, brush edges first and then work into center.
8. Be sure to brush the last layer of phyllo with melted butter.
9. Fillings should be chilled and not excessively moist.
10. Phyllo may be rolled and refrozen to store when not in use.