How to work with phyllo dough

How to work with phyllo dough

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Phyllo sheets are tissue-thin sheets of dough used in making Greek pastries and filled pies. Phyllo can be found fresh in many Greek and Middle Eastern markets, and in the frozen food section of most grocery stores, with alternative spellings of “filo,” and “fyllo.” It comes cut into large sheets that are rolled into a compact package of 20 to 25 sheets. Sheets can be used whole or cut into the size required by the recipe.

Useful Tips

Most commercial phyllo packaging has good directions for handling the dough, but it can be made easier with these tips:

  1. Keep the package closed when thawing.
  2. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator. As a last resort only, thaw at room temperature for five hours and use immediately.
  3. Prepare all ingredients for your recipe before opening the thawed phyllo.
  4. Hands should be as dry as possible when handling the dough.
  5. Bring the packaged phyllo to room temperature before opening and using.
  6. Remove the thawed phyllo from the package and unroll the sheets.
  7. Cover the unrolled phyllo with a sheet of waxed paper covered by a damp towel to keep it moist. It dries out very quickly.
  8. As you remove one sheet at a time, cover the remainder.
  9. If you tear a piece of phyllo by mistake, don’t worry. You can patch pieces together to use in a middle layer of the pastry, and this will rarely if ever, show in the final product.
  10. If you need to cut it, use scissors or a pizza cutter

Storing Remaining Dough

As soon as you use the quantity of phyllo dough you need, roll up any remaining sheets with the original protective paper, and cover them carefully with waxed paper and plastic wrap to keep air out. The unused phyllo can be stored this way in the refrigerator for a week or so. Refreezing is also ok and it will last sealed in the freezer for about 3 months. Follow the same defrosting technique.

Baking Phyllo Dough

Follow the baking instructions on the packaging or the recipe. You’ll want to get the phyllo dough creations into the oven as soon as you are finished. Keep a close watch on them once they are in the oven. You want the phyllo to be nicely golden brown and crisp, but a few minutes past that and they will be burnt.

Be Persistent

The keys to working with phyllo are to be organized and work quickly. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find it’s a great choice for all kinds of dishes from meat, fruit, cheese, and more. If your first venture with phyllo dough isn’t super successful, don’t be too discouraged and do try again. It is a delicate and finicky ingredient, but it’s also quite forgiving. Tears and mistakes are hard to notice once baked.

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How to work with phyllo dough

How To Work With Phyllo Dough

To work with delicate phyllo dough, remember just a few pointers and you’ll be on your way to becoming a pro. Just thaw the phyllo dough according to the package directions. Before unwrapping a roll of dough, always make sure you have all other ingredients assembled. Our Spinach & Feta Phyllo Triangles recipe* is a great way to try your hand at some phyllo dough fun.

  1. Carefully unroll the phyllo dough vertically onto your cutting board. To easily cut each sheet into equal-sized strips, with a ruler, mark the stack of dough vertically at 3-inch intervals.
  2. While keeping the remaining strips covered with a damp towel, lightly brush 1 strip of dough with melted butter. The butter will help the first strip to adhere to the second strip placed on top.
  3. Place 1 heaping tablespoon of the spinach mixture onto the bottom corner of the 2-layered strip of dough. To form a triangle, fold the phyllo dough diagonally like a flag over the filling.

*(Click here or Download the pdf for the referenced recipe)

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To find phyllo dough, look in the frozen foods section where the puff pastries and lasagnas are located. Phyllo dough is a paste that is made up of layered sheets of thin dough. Once it’s been cooked, it becomes flaky, crisp, and dense.

This delicious dough is excellent for all kinds of food and is best used as a “bowl” or “stuffer.” A cool fact about phyllo dough is that it’s free of any unhealthy trans fat.

Furthermore, it even offers a few surprising health benefits. Phyllo dough has quite a few uses, so we’re going to cover several delicious ways to use it. You’ll also learn of a few substitutes that can be a solid alternative if needed.

Great For Bones

Phyllo dough has up to 11mg of calcium per serving. It’s not going to replace calcium supplements, but it can still make a difference. Calcium is essential for the proper growth and maintenance of healthy, strong bones; this isn’t possible without calcium.

It’s Great For Heart Health

Iron is found in phyllo dough, which contains up to 18% of our daily value. Iron is an essential building element for the production of red blood cells. Phyllo dough also contains potassium, which is critical to maintaining a proper heart rhythm.

You’ll Become Energized

To have energy, we need to eat numerous carbs each day. Phyllo dough has up to 20% of the suggested daily value, making it a great source of healthy energy! The best part is that they’re healthy carbs, not taken from trans fat like most others are.

What Are Some Substitutes For Phyllo Dough?

Puff Pastry Squares

The closest substitute is puff pastry squares, as they have much of the same texture that is common with baked phyllo dough. Puff pastry squares are a little flakier, though. The taste is similar and acts as a great alternative.

Flaky Biscuits

Many biscuits have butter added which is great as it helps to match the taste of phyllo dough. You may consider overcooking them to get a more comparable texture to phyllo dough, as the inner layers of the biscuits will be softer than phyllo dough!

Pastry Wrappers

Pastry wrappers have a very close texture to phyllo dough, so this may be your best bet. They can be used in practically just about any way phyllo dough is utilized. They’re also straightforward to cook and have a remarkably similar texture to that of phyllo dough!

Ways To Use Phyllo Dough

Apple Strudel

Apple strudels are an American classic and are sold by the millions daily. They’re pretty easy to create and require basic ingredients. The apple strudel can be put together for breakfast, as a snack for work, or even as a dessert after supper; yum!

Chocolate Baklava

For those of you who love chocolate, we’ve got a sweet treat for you: Chocolate baklava! This tasty dessert is simple to make and is comparable to a cookie/pie combination. The flakiness of the chocolate dessert is calling your name, do you hear it?


Phyllo dough makes for the perfect burrito wrap because it doesn’t take away from the ingredients’ taste inside the wrap. By adding ground beef with a Spanish twist, a few mild peppers, and sauce, it’ll leave your mouth watering for more.


Phyllo dough is not very easy to use, especially for home cooks. Using a sharp knife to cut through the pastry sheets helps keep the dough intact. It is a unique pastry that will give you a crisp and flaky pocket for your food.

At the same time, it demands loads of butter, which is what gives it that taste. The crispy texture adds another level of flavor to the food, which is hard to match. A bonus tip is to consider honey butter, which can add a bit of sweetness.

How to work with phyllo dough

James And James/Getty Images

So you have a traditional Baklava recipe in one hand and a package of phyllo dough in the other. What next? More often than not, pre-packaged phyllo dough is available frozen rather than fresh for better preservation. It is usually sold in pre-made sheets in flat squares or rolls. Though frozen phyllo dough is more readily available in most major supermarkets, you can find fresh phyllo in some specialty stores or international supermarkets, particularly those that specialize in Middle Eastern or Greek food. Either way, working with the delicate and paper-thin sheets of phyllo dough can be tricky. Below are some tips for working with phyllo dough to make your favorite Middle Eastern desserts.

Working With Frozen Phyllo Dough

If you have purchased frozen phyllo dough for your recipe, there are some crucial steps to take to make sure your dough works with you, and not against you, during the preparation of your dish.

You will have to give yourself some time to prepare since frozen phyllo takes about 24 hours to properly defrost:

  • Don’t let it defrost too quickly. The trick to thawing phyllo dough is to make sure that it doesn’t defrost too quickly. When the dough is too damp (generally from too much condensation in the defrosting process), it becomes gummy and the thin sheets will stick together, which in the world of phyllo is synonymous with unusable.
  • Defrost at room temperature. Upon removing the phyllo from your freezer, keep it in its original packaging and place it directly into the refrigerator. Never thaw at room temperature, as it will thaw too quickly and collect too much moisture.
  • Do not separate until completely thawed. If you try to separate the sheets when they are too cold, they will crack. Your best bet is to keep them in their packaging in the refrigerator for 24 hours. This is enough time and just the right temperature to ensure usable sheets of phyllo.

If you do find your phyllo sheets are still cracking or tearing, you can trim the sheet to remove the tear. If you are in mid-recipe and come across a tear, simply put another sheet over your damaged one. Once baked, it really won’t be noticeable. Once defrosted and ready to go, you have to move fast, as phyllo dough dries out very quickly.

Working With Fresh Phyllo Dough

If you have purchased fresh phyllo, on the other hand, you are ready to go. Fresh phyllo can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two weeks if kept tightly wrapped or in its original packaging. Phyllo dough can also be frozen (or re-frozen in the case of thawed phyllo) for 2 to 4 months.

How to work with phyllo dough

Let’s just say that phyllo isn’t the most forgiving dough. I learned this recently when developing this curried potato tart casserole recipe. Working with frozen phyllo dough takes patience and no small amount of finesse, but those crunchy, lighter-than-air layers are more than worth the effort. That cheesy beautiful dish called spanakopita just wouldn’t be the same with anything else. Below, three tips that we’ve found to be the keys to making the most of this freezer-aisle miracle, while maintaining your sanity.

Defrost Properly
You can’t rush this part. Refrigerate frozen phyllo for about 8 hours or overnight to allow it to thaw, then leave it at room temp for another hour or two until all the sheets are pliable. Jumping the gun will lead to cracks, which just won’t do.

Use Plenty of Fat
In order to get golden, individual layers, you need to brush each layer of phyllo with butter or oil. Use a pastry brush, and remember that each sheet will soak up around 1 Tbsp. of fat, so plan accordingly. That fat also leads to a perfectly golden color.

Keep it Covered
Working layer by layer takes time; keep the rest of the dough tightly wrapped so that it doesn’t dry out in the process. Plastic wrap is fine, but a clean, barely damp kitchen towel works best. It will keep the sheets together and pliable, instead of crinkly and brittle.

How to work with phyllo dough

Frozen phyllo dough is a great time saver: you can create appetizers, pastries and desserts without having to make the dough. Traditionally, phyllo dough is made by stretching a flour-and-water dough very slowly and carefully across a cloth-covered table until the dough is so thin that the tablecloth can be seen through the dough!

How to work with phyllo doughFrozen phyllo works very well, but it must be handled carefully. Just remove it from the freezer 24 hours before you want to use it and allow it to thaw in the refrigerator.

How to work with phyllo doughPhyllo is always used in multiple layers, giving it its characteristic crackly, flaky texture. The tissue-like sheets are stacked, with butter brushed on each layer to add flavor and crispness. Don’t worry if the sheets tear a little. To save time, you can use cooking spray between the layers to create the same flaky effect. You will want to keep the stack of unbuttered dough sheets covered with a slightly dampened dish towel at all times, because phyllo dries out very quickly.

Tip: Always butter the top layer of pastry before baking in a hot oven to create a nice golden-brown top.

Phyllo pastries come in many different shapes and sizes. You can use phyllo to create large or appetizer-size strudels, triangles, beggars’ purses, turnovers, or full-size dishes that are cut before serving (like baklava or spinach pie). The final shape of the pastry determines how many sheets of phyllo you need to start out with. For example, a pastry with a lot of folds, like a triangle, needs fewer sheets to start out with because they get layered as they are folded. Typically, phyllo dishes should have a finished thickness of 3 to 10 sheets per layer. (A one-pound box of phyllo contains about 20 sheets.)

Tip: Phyllo pastries can often be very brittle when baked. We recommend using a serrated knife to cut the finished dish to prevent all of the filling from squishing out.

How to work with phyllo doughAlmost anything can fill phyllo pastries. Appetizer pastries are delicious filled with thick fillings based on cheeses like goat cheese, feta or cream cheese. Most fillings, with the exception of some fruit fillings, should be completely cooked before stuffing the phyllo. Traditionally, phyllo dishes hail from the Mediterranean, so all types of Near Eastern and Greek filling ideas work well (think spanakopita and baklava) but you can try other combinations and create your own phyllo specialties. (Asian phyllo spring rolls, Hungarian apple strudel, Latin American empanadas, etc.)

Tip: Make them ahead of time! Freeze the finished pastries (unbaked) in a single layer on a sheet tray, then bake (without thawing) whenever you need a quick hors d’oeuvre!

The three most common ways to form phyllo dough are stacked and layered as we would for baklava or spinach pie, formed into triangles as we would for spanakopita or formed as we would for meat, chicken or fruit pies.

Baklava (Layering Phyllo Dough)

Baklava is one of the most famous examples of layering phyllo dough. This exotic and delicious dessert is a fun way to try your hand at layering phyllo dough.

Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe

How to work with phyllo dough
Every month, Lori Yates from Foxes Love Lemons takes a lesson she learned in culinary school, while working with some of the country’s best chefs, and takes it into the home kitchen, where her tips will help make you a faster, better, and more confident cook. Welcome to her column, Home Chef.

The first time I worked with phyllo dough, I ended up crying.

Mind you, I’m not a crier. I don’t cry at weddings, sad movies or sappy commercials featuring cute animals. But something about that phyllo dough reduced me to a blubbering mess. Perhaps it was the fact that I was trying to make baklava in my tiny kitchen on a sweltering September day (the hot oven making it even more sweltering). Or perhaps it was simply that I really had no idea how to handle and work with the phyllo. Either way, I swore it was the last time I would ever use this ingredient.

Then I decided to go to culinary school, and my very first class was Pastries 1. When a Certified Master Pastry Chef assigned me to make a strudel in my second week of class, I knew I had to do it, and without tears.

Luckily, the chef walked me through how to work with phyllo and not totally lose my mind.

How to work with phyllo dough

First of all, always thaw phyllo dough in the refrigerator overnight. Do not try to thaw it at room temperature – it’ll become a sticky mess. Prep your mise en place (ingredients and equipment) before removing the phyllo from the fridge. If you need to cook a fruit filling, have it cooked and cooled. Melt your butter. Get your pastry brush ready. Have your baking pan and a sharp knife next to you. Have every single thing within reach before you even think of unwrapping the phyllo. Ready to go?

How to work with phyllo dough

How to work with phyllo dough

Now, unwrap your phyllo and place it on a clean work surface (I like to use a piece of parchment paper). Cover it completely with a clean, dry dish towel. Cover that towel with a moist (not wet) clean kitchen towel. As you work through your recipe, make sure you take out only the sheets you need, and then cover the remaining phyllo back up with the towels. This setup will protect the phyllo from the dry air – the enemy of phyllo and what causes it to crack and become unmanageable.

How to work with phyllo dough

None of this was too hard, right? After this, you’re actually all set to proceed with whatever recipe you are preparing. Phyllo dough is super versatile and can be used in a variety of sweet and savory preparations. Here, I’ve made a basic pear strudel and finished it with a sweet glaze. Believe it or not, I made this strudel on a Sunday morning before my husband was even awake.

And when he came downstairs, I was smiling at my success….NOT crying.

How to work with phyllo dough

Want to know how to properly and quickly thaw phyllo dough?

Today, I am going to show you two trusted methods to properly thaw frozen phyllo dough, along with detailed step-by-step instructions.

Let’s get started…

What is Phyllo (Filo) Dough?

Popular in Greek and Middle Eastern cuisine. Filo or phyllo is a very thin unleavened dough that is often used for making pastries such as baklava and spanakopita.

Filo-based pastries are made by layering many sheets of the dough, then brushing it with butter or oil. The pastry is then baked.

How is it spelt?

It can be pronounced either phyllo or filo. Those two words are Westernized translations of the Greek word, leaf.

The Greek alphabet is totally different from the English and they do not use either spelling.

User Niko Vasileas, on the popular Q&A site, Quora, explained that The spellings filo and phyllo probably first appeared in the 20th century when the product began being sold in America.

Before Thawing Frozen Phyllo Dough, Know These Important Tips

There are a couple important tips you should know, before you start defrosting your frozen phyllo dough.

If thawed incorrectly, you could end up with unusable pastry sheets.

The tips to know are:

  • Don’t thaw too quickly
  • Never thaw at room temperature
  • Don’t separate till fully thawed

Don’t thaw too quickly: It is important that the phyllo dough does not defrost too quickly (often happens at room temperature).

During thawing, the excess condensation that occurs, can cause the dough to become too damp.

Phyllo is extremely delicate and if damp, you will find that the sheets will stick together, making them unusable.

Never thaw at room temperature: Unless specified on the packaging, phyllo sheets should not be defrosted at room temperature.

According to the Fillo Factory, Doing this step ensures that any frost inside the box won’t dampen the fillo and the sheets won’t stick together.

Don’t separate phyllo sheets until completely thawed. It is best to separate the phyllo sheets once they are fully defrosted.

Phyllo sheets are very delicate and if you try to remove them before they have thawed, there is a high chance that they may crack, tear or sticking together.

How to Thaw Phyllo Dough: The 2 Best Options

How to work with phyllo dough

There are two methods to consider when you are ready to defrost the frozen phyllo dough/sheets.

  • Overnight in the refrigerator
  • The Microwave

Let us look at each method in more detail below.

Overnight in the Refrigerator: Most Reliable Method

Letting phyllo dough sit overnight in the refrigerator to thaw, is the most reliable and trusted method.

While, it is a slow process, the results are guaranteed.

Let us take a look at how to do it.


    Take the frozen phyllo dough in its original packaging and place in the refrigerator.

Let the dough/sheets sit in the refrigerator overnight for 6-8 hours to thaw.

  • The guys over at Fillo Factory highlight that the dough should stand at room temperature for 2 hours before using. This ensures that any residual frost in the box won’t dampen the phyllo sheet, which will prevent them from sticking together.
  • Microwave: Quickest Method

    If you are in a rush, the microwave is the quickest way to defrost phyllo sheets/dough.

    There is a segment of the cooking world that believes that using the microwave will ruin the dough.

    Renowned chef, Alton Brown, has debunked this theory, as he uses the microwave as his go to method for thawing phyllo dough.

    In an episode of Good Eats: Switched on Baklava, Alton explains exactly how to work with the finicky dough using the microwave.


    1. Place the phyllo dough in a microwave safe plate.
    2. Microwave on high for 60 seconds.
    3. Gently remove each sheet as needed.

    Wrapping it up

    So, that’s my guide on how to thaw frozen phyllo dough.

    Now I’d like to hear from you:

    Which method from this guide are you going to try first, the microwave or the refrigerator?

    Whichever way, let me know in the comments section below.