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Tips for Taming Phyllo

By Cook's Illustrated Published January 2011

The tendency of these paper-thin sheets to tear, dry out quickly, or stick together can be maddening. Here are some tips for mastering this delicate dough.

Frozen packaged phyllo dough functions as light, flaky pastry in traditional Greek dishes such as baklava and spanakopita and as a ready-made tart crust or wrapper for both sweet and savory fillings. But the tendency of these paper-thin sheets to tear, dry out quickly, or stick together can be maddening. Here are some tips for mastering this delicate dough.

1. COVER WITH PLASTIC AND A DAMP TOWEL To help prevent cracking, phyllo must be kept moist until you’re ready to work with it. The usual approach is to cover the stack with a damp towel. But it’s all too easy to overmoisten the towel and turn the dough sticky. We prefer to cover the stack with plastic wrap and then a damp towel. The weight of the towel will keep the plastic wrap flush against the phyllo.

2. STAGGER THE CRACKS  Because phyllo is so fragile, some sheets crack and even tear while still in the box. Don’t worry about rips, just make sure to adjust the orientation of the sheets as you stack them so that cracks in different sheets don’t line up.

3. TRIM STUCK EDGES  When phyllo sheets emerge from the box fused at their edges, don’t try to separate the sheets. Instead, trim the fused portion and discard.