How to Make Pastry Dough

Sheet Pastry

A close cousin of puff pastry is sheet pastry. The Turks get credit for coming up with this, but the best-known examples of sheet pastry are phyllo, a Greek word meaning "leaf," and strudel, a German word meaning "whirlpool."

Sheet pastry has a stiff dough that's one part flour and two-fifths part water, with a little salt and a small amount of olive oil. The sheets dry out quickly, so you'll need to brush them with olive oil or melted butter as you stretch them. It's difficult to make and takes up a lot of time and space, which is probably why commercially prepared frozen phyllo dough is substituted in many recipes. This recipe for phyllo dough is from "Flavors of Greece" by Rosemary Barron:

Basic Phyllo Dough Recipe

  • 3 cups (300 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon (2 grams) salt
  • Three-fourths to 1 cup (177-237 milliliters) cold water
  • 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) olive oil

Sift 2.5 cups (248 grams) of the flour and the salt into a large mixing bowl and gradually add enough of the water to make a firm but moist dough. Transfer to a floured work surface and knead for 15 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Sprinkle half of the olive oil on the dough and continue kneading, then sprinkle on the rest of the olive oil and knead until it's all incorporated. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate it for one hour.

You'll need a large work surface, like a table top, to stretch the dough. Sprinkle a light layer of flour over the work surface. Working with handfuls of dough at a time, roll it out in one direction, rotate the dough, and roll again, adding flour to your work surface as needed to keep the dough from sticking. As the sheet becomes too big and thin to turn easily, roll it up onto the rolling pin (or Barron suggests a broom handle when it gets really big), turn the rolling pin 90 degrees and unroll the dough onto your work surface, then start rolling again from your original position. When you stretch the pastry to a paper-thin transparency, square up the edges and cut the dough into 12- by 18-inch (31- by 46-centimeter) rectangles. Separate the dough sheets with lightly floured kitchen towels and let them dry for 10 minutes. Pinch off another handful of dough and repeat these steps until all of the dough is stretched.

Want to try your hand at something a bit less labor intensive? See the recipes on the next page.