"This filo (phyllo) recipe is a classic. You can use it in multiple ways, and if you wish to roll out more, thinner filo sheets, you simply divide the dough into more pieces, following the same process as described here. You can also double the recipe for a larger pie, or use the pastry to make small, individual pies.
The traditional way of rolling out thin filo requires a large, round wooden surface known as plastiri (shaper). Usually made of oak, it is a great tool for rolling out ultra-thin doughs for pies or pasta. Older women in villages roll out filo on tablecloths, but their expertise goes far beyond special tools and props!
What is definitely required for best results, however, is a long, thin rolling pin resembling a broomstick – a verga, meaning stick. The whole technique of rolling out Greek filo lies in the way you use this rolling pin, artfully furling and unfurling the dough on it until it’s perfectly thin, round and not sticky. It’s not as hard as it may sound or look and practice definitely makes perfect. For me this is the ultimate form of meditation – relaxing and joyful."
Use this method to make Carolina's Greek Koftopita Cheese Pie
5 tips for making perfect filo pastry by hand
- Baking trays (sheets) and tins (pans) made from tin alone are best. They don’t need to be very deep.
- Use the conventional oven setting to bake the bottom and top evenly. (Don't use heat source from the top of bottom of your oven only).
- To achieve a crisp filo, you need to generously brush each layer with olive oil or melted butter (depending on the recipe).
- With thin hand-made filo, use two or more layers; with thicker filo, do single layers.
- The amount of flour you use in the dough depends on the weather (humidity levels) and the flour. Add the water gradually, while kneading, in order to control it. I leave the last third of water to wet my hands while I knead and when I feel the dough is soft and elastic and not sticky, I stop adding water.
Step-by-step guide to making filo pastry
Ingredients for homemade filo pastry
- 350g (12oz) plain (all-purpose) flour, sifted, plus extra for rolling
- ½ tsp fine sea salt
- 1 tsp white vinegar
- 3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for brushing
- 160–180ml (5½–6fl oz) lukewarm water
How to make filo pastry
- In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the vinegar and olive oil and mix with your hands, rubbing the mix with your fingertips until the vinegar and oil are fully absorbed by the flour. Gradually start pouring in the water, while kneading.
- Do it very gradually as you knead, because it might not need it all. You can also do this in a stand mixer with a dough hook.
- Knead for 10–15 minutes until nice and smooth, soft and not sticky. Shape into a ball and wrap in clingfilm (plastic wrap). Let rest at room temperature for 1–2 hours. If you are planning to roll out the dough later, you can cover with clingfilm, place in the refrigerator and bring it to room temperature for about an hour before rolling it out. You can make the filling while you wait for the dough to rest (before rolling it out).
- To roll out the filo nice and thin, you will need a long, thin rolling pin for pastry. Clear a large, clean, ideally wooden work surface and have ready a baking tin (pan), about 30cm (12 inches) in diameter and 3cm (1¼ inches) deep. The diameter of the rolled out filo should be large enough to reach beyond the edges of the tin once laid in it, so you will need to use something with a large enough surface, like a table.
- Tip a little flour into a small bowl. Divide the dough into four and shape each piece into a ball.
- Generously dust the work surface with flour. Smooth out the dough with your hands and press each ball down with your hand to form flat discs. Flip them over on the flour and stack them one on top of the other (coating them with flour will prevent them from sticking to each other). Cover with a dish towel (if the weather is very dry, use a damp dish towel).
- Dust again with flour. Take the first disc and place it in the centre of your work surface. Roll it out gently into a larger circle. Dust the top of the dough with a little flour, rubbing it around the surface. You want to keep the filo dry so that it will furl onto the pin without sticking at all. Keep dusting and rolling (furling) it gently onto the rolling pin all the way. As you roll it on the pin, use both hands to gently put some pressure outwards; this will widen the filo. Repeat the same process from different angles in order to maintain the round shape, until it is paper thin. Repeat with the rest of the dough. I usually transfer directly to the tin while I assemble the pie, but if not, place baking parchment between each filo sheet and always keep covered with a damp dish towel.