Learn how to make a greens pie with commercial phyllo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZxpsjAUuMY
Learn how to make a leek and greens pie with homemade phyllo:
Phyllo scares people. Even the most skilled cooks think that the paper-thin dough is hard to master. True, the phyllo that comes in very, very thin sheets, packaged and sold either frozen or chilled, is, indeed, very difficult to make. Although it is basically just a combination of flour, water, and salt, it requires two sets of hands, a pastry table, and skill at pulling it until it is gossamer and silky. Leave that stuff to the masters. (New Yorkers--Poseidon Bakery on Ninth Avenue still makes fresh phyllo. Athenians: Phyllo workshops are a dying breed, but a few still exist. I will post the list soon.)
Most homemade phyllo is thicker and actually pretty easy to make. While it is, in my opinion, far superior to the commercial stuff, the packaged frozen or chilled phyllo is easy to use and very versatile.
Here are a few tips, followed by a recipe for homemade, rustic phyllo pastry. Recipes for savory pies follow. And, please take a look at two of my videos, one in which I use the commercial stuff and another where you can see the method for rolling out your own.
Commercial Frozen Phyllo
In the U.S., commercial phyllo is widely available and is usually sold frozen in one-pound boxes in most supermarkets. It comes in two thicknesses, #4, which means each sheet is four one-thousandths of an inch thick, and # 7, which means each is seven one-thousandths of an inch thick.
The former is obviously thinner and is best used for sweets and for light fillings. There are usually either thirty 12-by-17-inch sheets per pound, or twenty 14-by-18-inch sheets per pound of this gauge.
As for the #7 phyllo, this is usually recommended for heavier fillings and savory dishes. There are between fourteen and sixteen 14-by-18-inch sheets of this gauge per pound.
Buying Frozen Phyllo
Buying a package of frozen phyllo is a little like buying a pig in a blanket--you never know what condition the pastry will be in, whether it was stored properly at the market, whether air somehow got inside, causing the pastry to be brittle.
To reduce the possibilities of opening a useless package, the pastry should be at room temperature when you use it, and it has to be defrosted properly. Remove it from the freezer to the refrigerator to defrost overnight, then leave the unopened box out at room temperature for two hours. If you thaw phyllo too quickly and if the sheets are still cold when you open them, they will crack along the folds or stick together in the corners.
The pastry will dry out very quickly, especially if the kitchen is hot, so it has to be kept covered while in use. Place two towels over the open pastry. The first should be dry and the second, on top, damp. For me, the most reliable brands are Apollo and Athena, and both are widely available in ethnic markets and supermarkets.
Lubricating the Phyllo
Phyllo sheets always have to brushed with a little fat--about a teaspoon per sheet--before baking. Butter makes the phyllo crisp, but it should be melted and clarified (page 000) before brushing. Olive oil is delicious in savory dishes.
Basic Homemade Phyllo Dough
There are about as many recipes for homemade phyllo as there are regional cooks in Greece. The recipe below for homemade phyllo is my basic, all-purpose recipe. It makes for a malleable dough that is easy to work with and easy to roll. It may be used to prepare any of the pies in this book, and will be enough for either a 15-inch or 18-inch savory pie. You may halve the recipe (and, by extention, individual pie and filling proportions) to make smaller pies in 8-inch or 10-inch round baking pans.
4 to 4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 scant teaspoons salt
1 ½ to 1 3/4 cups warm water, as needed
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or strained fresh lemon juice,
Combine 4 cups of the flour and the salt in a large mixing bowl and make a well in center. Add the 1 ½ cups of water, the olive oil, and vinegar or lemon juice. Work the flour into the liquid with a fork, until a dough begins to form, then knead it in the bowl, adding a little more flour or water if necessary, for about 10 minutes. The dough should be silky, pliant, and smooth. Cover and let rest at room temperature at least 1 hour before using.
Follow the directions for making the individual savory pies.
Note: Phyllo dough may also be made in a kitchen mixer fitted with a dough hook.
All homemade phyllo may be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight bag for up to three days. Bring it down to room temperature before using.