The difference between phyllo (filo) and puff pastry

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This is an updated version of a post originally published on September 2, 2011.

Phyllo (filo) and puff pastry are both paper thin sheets of dough that, when baked, become very flaky. They are related — in fact, there is a theory that puff pastry is descended from the Middle Eastern phyllo — but they differ in at last two aspects.

The first is the way they are prepared. Phyllo sheets are rolled out individually. I’ve heard it said that pastry chefs practice for years and years to perfect the skill. Puff pastry is made by placing chilled butter on a rolled dough. The dough is folded into thirds, rolled, turned, folded, chilled and the process is repeated several times thereby multiplying the layers of butter-separated sheets.

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The second is the manner in which they are used. Phyllo sheets are used individually. Commercial phyllo sheets come in a roll (like a roll of aluminum foil). Sometimes, the sheets are separated by perforated edges. Other times, they come stacked but completely separable from one another — like wonton wrappers but much less sticky and much more fragile. How are they used? Sometimes, as wrappers — much like how spring roll wrappers are used. Most times, though, they are arranged in layers. Do a search using “baklava” as a keyword. Find a video if you can. That’s the best illustration of how phyllo sheets are used in layers. Filling is often placed between the sheets and each sheet is brushed with melted butter before the next stack is added.

Puff pastry consists of sheets that are already stuck together and is used pretty much like any pie crust. But because each sheet is already separated by butter, when the compressed sheets are baked, they rise as steam is released and the result is a flaky crust.

Both phyllo and puff pastry are very tricky to make. I’ve been psyching myself up to try and make puff pastry but the thought alone of all that work makes me tired already. So, when I found packs of puff pastry in the supermarket (Shopwise Libis) recently, I bought one.

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Now this is the “healthy” version. Instead of butter, the dough sheets are separated by vegetable oil. I knew from the start that it would taste different but my intention was to practice with the handling and preparation.

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The puff pastry is separated by non-stick paper.

I thought I’d make mini-croissants and here’s how I made them.

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First, I cut each puff pastry into two triangles. Then, I rolled up each triangle.

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The rolled triangles were formed into crescents, the tops brushed with beaten egg then baked in a preheated 350F oven for 20 minutes.

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And there are my mini-croissants.

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And there is a close-up so you can see the flaky texture.

So, is it difficult to handle puff pastry? No, it is not. I’ll make savory turnovers (maybe ham and cheese or tuna) and mini-pies (probably something with fruits and nuts) with the remaining puff pastry and post the recipes later.