Phyllo Demystified

The first line in the recipe for that old German delicacy, “Hasenpfeffer”, reads:

“Catch a Rabbit.”

The first line in recipes that incorporate Phyllo reads:

“Thaw the Phyllo Dough”.

In truth, Phyllo dough, consisting of incredibly thin sheets of dough, are typically kept frozen. Because Phyllo (or “fillo”) is so thin, it dries out extremely fast, so the second line usually admonishes the user: “Cover the Phyllo with a piece of moistened cheesecloth. You can use a sheet to plastic film instead: the idea is to make sure the Phyllo dough remains soft and pliable.

How to Prepare Phyllo Dough

Most recipes call for melted butter to be liberally brushed on each sheet of Phyllo as it is incorporated into the item being created.

Is Butter the Only Thing that can be Used?

No. You will see recipes that tell you to “Brush the sheet of Phyllo with Olive Oil”. In truth, there are three forms of olive oil you will encounter:

a. Virgin olive oil: typically used for cooking, this form of olive oil has a reasonably high ‘smoke point’, but also has a heavy flavor. Unless you are ‘into’ heavy flavored olive oil, don’t use this.

b. Extra Virgin olive oil: this form of olive oil has a low smoke point, similar to butter, so it’s not recommended fro high temperature cooking. But it is used in baking. But, again, it has a pretty strong olive flavor.

c. Light Extra Virgin olive oil: this is typically used in light salad dressings. Its flavor has a hint of olive oil, but not over powering. This is a good choice for Phyllo Dough preparation.

Some cooks have had success blending this form of olive oil with butter. It makes a smooth finish and a pleasant taste. In addition to olive oil and butter, a third method uses simple cooking sprays to ‘wet’ the Phyllo dough. Use whichever is the most comfortable for you.

Handling the wet Phyllo Dough.

Phyllo Dough is rather tender and easily torn. Try not to stretch or manipulate it more than is necessary. Most recipes continue: “Place a sheet of Phyllo Dough on a suitable flat work surface. Brush with butter (or the coating of your choice). Cover the first sheet with another sheet of Phyllo Dough. Brush that sheet with (the coating of your choice). Continue layering and coating until (the stack that the recipe calls for) is completed.” As you can see, using Phyllo Dough is a time-consuming job. Take your time. Follow directions. Success will be yours!

A Practical Application

To illustrate, we’re going to create a recipe that uses Phyllo Dough in all its glory. I’ve chosen to make “Greek Beef Gyro Bites” using ground beef wrapped in Phyllo Dough shells.

Greek Beef Gyro Bites


1 lb. Extra lean (85/15) ground beef

1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon white cane sugar

4 cloves garlic, crushed, minced

1 teaspoon Mediterranean Oregano flowers

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon dry basil

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 egg, beaten

1 package Athens Fillo Dough (20 sheets, each 9″X14″)

½ cup melted butter blended with ½ cup light extra virgin olive oil

(substitute cooking spray as you may desire)

Tzatziki Sauce for dipping

slivered sweet onion, for topping


Thaw the Phyllo Dough. Cover with plastic film or a damp cheesecloth. In a 4 qt. Dutch Oven, melt butter.

Add yellow onions and sugar and stir-cook to caramelize the onions.

Add ground beef and stir-cook until no longer pink.

Add garlic and cook 30 seconds.

Fold in garlic, onion powders, oregano, basil, and black pepper.

Stir-cook to combine thoroughly.

Remove from heat and cool completely.

Lay a sheet of the phyllo dough on a work surface.

Brush the phyllo dough with a thin coat of butter(or coating of your choice).

Continue stacking and brushing until there are 6 sheets stacked.

Slice the stack lengthwise to make three – 3″X14″ stacks.

Mound a tablespoon of the meat mixture in a line across one end of a stack.

Brush a little Tzatziki Sauce on the meat. Top with a sliver of onion.

Leave about 2″ free on the short side, and 1/2″ free on the long sides.

Brush the edges of the stack around the meat mixture with butter.

Fold the free 2″ end over the meat mixture and seal.

Brush remaining phyllo stack surface with butter.

Fold the left and right edges over the meat mixture.

This will form a channel embracing the meat mixture.

Roll to the end of the phyllo to form a 3″ wide Gyro Bite.

Repeat, making phyllo stacks and adding the remaining meat mixture.

Prepare additional phyllo stacks to incorporate the rest of the meat mixture.

Place the Gyro Bites on a parchment-lined ungreased baking sheet, seam-side down.

Lightly wash the Gyro Bites with the beaten egg.

Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 15-20 minutes until golden and crisp.

Remove Gyro Bites from the oven and let set for 2-3 minutes before serving.

Serve with a small bowl of Tzatziki Sauce for dipping.