Have I totally lost my mind? No, not answering that. It turns out that I’ve always wanted to try making phyllo from scratch. When I was preparing for the Great American Baking Show, I had this annoying suspicion that it could be a technical challenge, but once you get accepted there is absolutely NO WAY to try to bake anything apart from the required, known bakes (signature and showstopper for every single episode). So I put it on the back burner ever since. But my friend Caro sent me the perfect rolling pin for the job, and it was the little nudge I needed. I tell you one thing, making phyllo is not for sissies. But I managed to have quite a bit of fun that weekend…
(following this video tutorial from Shereen Pavlides)
353 grams all purpose flour (3 cups)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons white distilled vinegar
3/4 cup – 15 tablespoons warm water
corn starch – to roll out and dust the dough
Make the dough by adding all ingredients and HALF the amount of water to a KitchenAid type mixer fitted with the dough hook.
Knead for a few minutes, then start adding the other half volume of the water, tablespoon by tablespoon until the dough starts to clean the sides of the bowl. Once a smooth dough forms, remove it from the machine, knead it by hand for a couple of minutes, form a smooth ball and place in a large oiled bowl for one hour.
Divide the dough into 20 equal pieces (mine were 28g each). Place each little ball over a parchment covered baking sheet. Leave for one hour at room temperature.
Start working the dough, first one little ball at a time, following her instructions on the video. My main change was to work with FOUR sheets at a time instead of TEN. I had too much trouble keeping them easier to separate, and decided ten was just too much for a first time. Four sheets at a time worked very nicely. That required 5 full cycles of rolling out to work on all 20 balls of dough. Another change I did was to separate each two sheets of phyllo fully rolled out with parchment paper, because I was afraid keeping them all together would result in severe sticking. I kept them in the fridge for a couple of hours before proceeding with the spanakopita and the crackers.
(adapted from several sources)
8 sheets of phyllo dough (if using commercial you probably get by with 6)
500 g spinach (preferably not baby spinach)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 ribs of celery, finely diced
1 shallot, finely diced
salt and pepper to taste
nutmeg to taste
200 g full-fat ricotta cheese
100 g feta cheese, crumbled in large pieces
1 egg, beaten
olive oil spray
Boil water in a very large pan, add the spinach and press it down with a wooden spoon until the leaves wilt, 30 seconds or less. Drain into a large colander and place under running cold water to cool quickly. Drain well – squeeze out any excess water by pressing the spinach down with the wooden spoon, then squeezing with your hands. Using kitchen paper, pat the spinach dry into a compact shape, lay it on a board and roughly chop, then set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Add the shallot, celery, and fry over a high-ish heat for 3-4 mins, stirring often, until softened and just starting to brown. Lower the heat, add the chopped spinach and stir for a few minutes to finish drying. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, and leave to cool.
Heat oven to 375F and put a baking sheet in to heat up. In a bowl, stir the ricotta into the beaten egg and season with pepper and a pinch of salt.
Lightly oil an 8 inch square baking pan. Lay one or two filo pastry sheets over the pan, spray with olive oil, and att two more, leaving a nice overhang on all sides. The pan should be completely covered, with a pastry overhang all round. Repeat the criss-cross layering with 2 more oiled filo sheets.
Stir the ricotta mixture into the spinach, then crumble in the feta. Lightly stir it in so you leave a few chunky pieces. Spoon this filling into the pan and level it. Bring the pastry sides up and over the filling, then brush a little oil over them. Add one or two more sheets sprayed with olive oil to top the spanakopita.
Bake for 30 to 35 mins until the pastry is crisp and golden. Leave to cool for 10-15 mins. Carefully remove from the pan, slice and serve.
to print the recipes, click here
Comments: The most “traditional” way to roll out phyllo is going for a very large and thin sheet, patiently rolling and stretching the dough over a lightly floured cloth. I watched videos, read articles, and decided to go for a ‘beginner’s friendly” method, in which you divide the dough in small pieces and roll them thin, but to a smaller final size. The other change is that the sheets are stacked as you roll. The video advised to stack 10 sheets but I could not make it work. I went for 4 sheets at a time, and rolled them to 9 x 13 inches. Don’t expect to get phyllo as thin as the one you can buy at the store, particularly not on your first time. But I was pretty happy with the overall outcome. Very rewarding!
I also made crackers, using 4 of my precious sheets of home-made phyllo… Super simple. Stack the four sheets with a good spray of olive oil over each one. When you place the last sheet on top, brush some beaten egg white and add the toppings of your choice, so they will glue to the phyllo. I used black sesame seeds and Southwest spice from Penzey’s. Cut with a pizza roller and bake.
The crackers were absolutely delicious, and hubby thought I was a genius, crackers worth it of a Paul Hollywood handshake (allow me to dream, as I totally missed my chance, will you?)
I cannot lie to you, making phyllo from scratch is quite involved. I’ve found cornstarch in amazing places over the next couple of days. Things got wild, my friends… But how else can you have spanakopita made TOTALLY from scratch?
Caro, thanks so much for the thoughtful gift! I intend to make phyllo again, might even try the traditional approach and get a table cleared for the next adventure…
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