My first encounter with Phyllo dough was probably way back at the Elite Epicurean Restaurant when we ended our meal with that now common Greek specialty, Baklava. Being about 12 or 13, I remember thinking Baklava was the bomb not just because it was loaded with walnuts and honey, two of my favorite things, but because of those impossibly thin layers of Phyllo pastry.
Being the budding baker that I was, I had to find out how it is made. I think I looked it up in the Encyclopedia Britannica (yes, a set of real books) and found out that Greek ladies passed the technique down “through the ages” rolling out that dough by hand to the point of translucency. I set about trying to make Phyllo on more than one occasion but like my attempts at homemade puff pastry, fell short on technique, arm strength and table space. I do remember my older sister Jeannie making baklava herself though, informing me that she just bought the frozen Phyllo dough sheets at the grocery store. What!?!
On the humanity! I wanted to be like the old Greek ladies and make everything from scratch, pulling and stretching dough. Of course there were aspects involved in making Phyllo at home that my young mind had not taken into account. Like the humidity – Greece is, well, dry and arid for the most part, and Columbia, SC is most definitely, NOT. The Greek ladies not only had years of experience – passed down since the time of Aristotle, for goodness sake – but their process was also a group effort with lots of hands put to work, not just two.
Needless to say, I gave up on making Phyllo dough myself and buy the commercially made kind like everyone else in the world – including those old Greek ladies – who mostly likely stopped making their own Phyllo years ago, too.
Working with Phyllo dough still requires a deft touch and some patience, as it can tear if you look at it the wrong way, and as stated above, it can dry out and crack within seconds. It is worth it to buy extra if you are new to working with Phyllo, and also prepare your work area including the damp towels, the filling and any oil or melted butter, basically have your ‘mise en place’ – in place – prior to even opening the Phyllo package.
This recipe uses fresh crab (blue crab that is native to the Lowcountry) and the peach chutney with cherry, which I posted several weeks ago. It can be easily doubled and the finished triangles freeze well. Once you start making the triangles, the process goes quickly – might as well make a bunch while you’re in the Phyllo “groove”.
Crab and chutney triangles
- 1 cup fresh crab, picked over
- ½ cup Gouda cheese, finely shredded
- 4 oz. cream cheese, softened
- 2 Tbl green onion tops, minced
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- 2 heaping Tbl chutney, preferably homemade
- juice of ½ lime (approx. 1 tsp.)
- 2-3 cracks of fresh pepper (approx. ½ tsp)
- 1/8 tsp salt
- ½ package Phyllo dough sheets
- 2-3 Tbl butter, melted
Mix first 9 ingredients together; making sure the chutney is well distributed throughout.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees if you want to bake the triangles now. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Remove 1 package of Phyllo dough from the wrappings and lay flat on a clean, damp (but NOT soaking wet) dishtowel. Also have another slightly damp dishcloth or large paper towel ready to place over the top of the Phyllo dough sheets. The Phyllo dough sheets will dry out very quickly so they must be covered at all times.
Lay one Phyllo sheet out in front of you and quickly brush lightly with butter. Lay another sheet on top of this one and brush with butter. Using a sharp knife make evenly two spaced cuts down the long side of the dough sheets. You will have 3 long strips of Phyllo dough. Be sure to cover up the remaining full sheets of Phyllo as you work.
Place 1 heaping teaspoon of filling at the top of each dough strip. Fold the corner above the filling down to make a triangle shape. Proceed with turning the dough down in this triangle shape until you reach the end of the dough strip. If necessary, use a tad of melted butter to “seal” the last bit of dough on each triangle.
Proceed with this technique using all the filling. You can either bake these now – about 10-12 minutes in a preheated 425 degree oven or freeze the triangles on trays for an hour or so, then remove to a sealed plastic bag or container. I have kept these frozen for up to two weeks. When ready, simple bake the frozen triangles on parchment or oiled baking sheets in a preheated 425-degree oven for 15-18 minutes – no need to thaw. Can be easily doubled if you need triangles for a crowd.
Serve hot. Makes about 2 dozen triangles.