Working with Phyllo Dough

How do you prevent phyllo dough from tearing and drying out?

How do you prevent phyllo dough from tearing and drying out?

Tissue-thin phyllo dough lends its crisp, flaky, and delicate texture to dishes like strudel and baklava, but it can go from soft and pliable to brittle in minutes if left exposed to air. Since phyllo is most commonly sold frozen in sheets, our first challenge was to pinpoint the best technique for defrosting it. We compared room-temperature, refrigerator, and microwave defrosting methods and found that an overnight thaw in the refrigerator, coupled with a 30-minute room-temperature rest on the counter before using, produced the least amount of tearing.

Many recipes recommend covering the thawed dough with a damp towel, but we found that method made the top sheet soggy and difficult to work with. We prefer to sandwich the dough between sheets of parchment paper and then cover it with a damp towel to keep the phyllo just moist enough to be properly pliable.

Once phyllo is ready to work with, most sources call for frequently brushing the dough with butter to prevent it from drying out, but too much butter results in oversaturated sheets that tear easily. Using a spray bottle with a 3-to-1 ratio of melted butter to vegetable oil (to keep the butter fluid), mist the dough just enough to keep it from becoming brittle and to reduce tearing. As for cutting the phyllo, we found that scissors are far easier to use than a knife.

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