Filo (phyllo) dough seems undercooked and overcooked at the same time
December 24, 2016 1:32 AM   Subscribe

Tried to make some spanakopita, it didn't go so well. I took it out of the oven after 45 minutes, it looked beautiful. I cut off a tiny corner to see if it seemed OK and...

I had scored it before cooking, and the top three layers of pastry were hard and crunchy rather than crispy, and completely unattached. Like, I understand this is supposed to be flaky, but if I'd actually tried to cut and serve this, all of the cooked pastry would have just fallen off, leaving my next problem- all the pastry below the scored layers seemed uncooked. It had the same texture as the raw filo, except a bit chewier.

The top was already as brown as it needed to be, so I wrapped it in foil and put it in the oven again for another 20 minutes to see if it would improve. When I took it out, it didn't seem any better, but the butter around the edges was sizzling and bubbling so I figured it was as "cooked" as it was going to get.

I let it sit for 45 minutes before I touched it again, and it was bad. Top layers even worse than before- closer to the texture of dried pasta than pastry, if that makes sense. Un-scored pastry so hard and chewy that it was extremely hard to cut with my sharpest knife, much less eat.

The filling was good, though. I scraped it out and put some in an omelet to salvage something from this mess.

Recipe and other relevant details:
I used fresh filo ("jusroll" brand, which is the big supermarket brand here in the UK. I've used it before to make non-spanakopita recipes and it's been fine).

Recipe called for 14 sheets - 7 below, 7 on top, all wrapped nicely around in a neat package.

Filling was 450g fresh spinach, 200g feta, 2 eggs, some dill and oregano, and some chopped red onion, I cooked it way down and squeezed as much liquid out of the cooled mixture as I could by twisting it in a cotton towel before adding eggs.

I used a butter/olive oil mixture, I don't know how much in grams but I used a large coffee mug full by the end of the assembly and then added a bit more olive oil directly on top.

Cooked at 190c(about 375f) for 45 minutes and then another 20 with foil on.
posted by cilantro to Food & Drink (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Quick question - you mention the butter you used in the assembly - did you brush on butter after each layer? When I would cook with my yiayia she kept the unrolled phyllo dough under a flat plastic sheet, with a slightly damp cloth on top and brushed each layer with clarified butter. I do not recall ever using oil on phyllo.
posted by queseyo at 5:27 AM on December 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

I wonder if the unexposed layers of spanakopita seemed just seemed uncooked because they absorbed moisture? I wouldn't expect them to get brown or crisp when done.
posted by bunderful at 7:38 AM on December 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Apologies if you did all this, but for general troubleshooting......Having worked with Pyhllo quite a bit, I have generally found the answer to be MORE BUTTER. I'm suspicious of the olive oil, but can't say for sure that's the problem. Sheets must be kept covered while you work or they dry out immediately, and each sheet individual ly, LIBERALY brushed with butter. Make sure oven is totally preheated and hot enough. Filling can be room temp but shouldn't be cold when you put it in, and the dish shouldn't sit before you pop it in the oven.
posted by Ausamor at 8:22 AM on December 24, 2016 [4 favorites]

I've seen the top layers fall off during cutting, and the "dried pasta" texture over softer inner layers plenty of times. I think bunderful might be right about the inner layers soaking up moisture (a full coffee mug of butter seems like a lot, to me - have you used this recipe before?).
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:29 AM on December 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've made this recipe quite a few times and it's always turned out good, but it is true that the sheets in the middle become more... doughy. I think it's just how it comes out.

I oil each and every sheet, as it says there---sheet of filo, brush liberally with olive oil, sheet, oil, sheet, oil to 8 layers, then half the filling, then 8 layers filo, then rest of filling, and then I fold the sides of the sheets on top. Always came out good.
posted by katrielalex at 9:29 AM on December 24, 2016

Your mixture should be free of moisture as possible. The spinach needs to be sweat, drained, squeezed, patted down, whatever to get as much moisture out of it as possible.

And butter on every sheet. Here we use a damp handtowel to place on the dough while working so it doesn't dry out to fast. The in laws (Greek Americans ) swear by whole foods filo at the moment.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:02 PM on December 24, 2016

Yes, yes, yes. MORE BUTTER was my first thought, too. Brush every sheet. When in doubt, use more. Keep the phyllo moist like everybody else (and my mom and yiayia used to do) with plastic sheets and damp tea towels. And don't worry too much if it rips a little, because once it's flaky nobody can really tell anyway.
posted by Opposite George at 6:50 AM on December 25, 2016

And the oil is probably not an issue one way or the other. I know they use it commercially, and the one time I had to stretch out my butter with some neutral cooking oil there was no major difference.
posted by Opposite George at 6:52 AM on December 25, 2016

Hm. My grandmother's spanakopita recipe calls for only 5 layers of filo top and bottom; perhaps that would help? It also calls for a mixture of olive oil and butter and I've never had a problem with it. I mean, the bottom layers never go crispy because of all the moisture in the spinach mixture, no matter how much you squeeze out, but the top should be fine. And provided you brushed each layer before putting the next one on, that amount of butter and oil should have been fine - not sure I agree with those saying more, more. I wonder if it's something to do with your oven - did you have it on fan forced? Or too close to the top heating element? Has your oven ever played you false before?

Ultimately I don't think there's anything wrong with the theory, you just might have had a dud one. It happens.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:42 AM on December 26, 2016

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