For many cooks, "phyllo" is a scary word. When the list of ingredients for a recipe includes the thinner-than-paper-thin rectangular sheets of dough, the common inclination is to:
A. Skip it and move on to plan B
B. Wonder, "Hmmm..... Can I use puff pastry instead?"
Phyllo, also spelled "fillo", is notoriously unforgiving to work with. Not only is it incredibly delicate, tearing at the tiniest amount of pressure, but it will dry out faster than you can say "spanakopita" should it be left unwrapped or uncovered.
Pssst! Hey you. Yes, you--the one about to return the box of phyllo dough to the freezer. I have some things to tell you.:
A. It's not the end of the world if the phyllo dough tears. It happens to me almost every time I work with it. Ninety-nine times out of one-hundred, you are brushing the sheet with butter and covering it with another sheet, likely covering the tear at the same time. See? Problemo solvo!
B. Flaky, crispy, buttery baked phyllo layers wrapped around warm fillings still taste as decadent as puff pastry while being much kinder to your waistline.
C. Yes, the phyllo dries out quickly. Just make this your mantra: Should I work with phyllo, I promise to keep a damp towel nearby to cover the unused dough. Repeat 10 times.
When I was creating recipes for my mini-pie cookbook, I became quite good at working with phyllo, and I found that it is a great alternative to pie crust, especially if you don't want to make your own (you can make your own phyllo, but as far as I can tell it is a laborious process, so for now I'm sticking with the convenient boxed variety.) In addition to the aforementioned traditional spanakopita, I included several recipes for sweet and savory phyllo "packets", similar to individually-sized strudels.
Not only are these packets easy to make--you just need your phyllo sheets, melted butter, a pastry brush and your filling--but you can fully assemble them and freeze them for up to one month and then bake them as needed, super-convenient for entertaining or an easy dinner served alongside a salad.
This new variation of my phyllo packets (not featured in my book) was inspired by two things: my using-up-my-Trader-Joe's-peaches series of posts and my husband's favorite baked brie appetizer at our most visited local restaurant, Table 34. The nice thing about this recipe is that it can be served either as an appetizer, like baked brie, or as a unique twist on dessert since the peach filling is lightly spiced, reminiscent of the filling in a peach pie. Either way, these four-bite treats are hard to resist hot from the oven, when your fork breaks through the crispy phyllo crust, revealing the melted buttery brie and sweet, juicy peaches.
Hungry? Me too. I suggest these strudels--you'll thank me later. Oh, and be sure to check out the step-by-step photos from my book, posted after the recipe!