Both types of dough are buttery, flaky, delicious—and very different.
The holiday season is upon us! It’s time for drop-in guests, office parties, big family meals, potluck suppers, and all sorts of occasions that call for finger foods. Preferably bite-size finger foods that also happen to be golden, crisp, and delicious and pair well with festive cocktails. Which is why savvy cooks always have a trusty package of phyllo dough or puff pastry in the freezer.
These two products can be used in a myriad of sweet and savory ways and unlike refrigerated pie crust (which can still raise eyebrows among serious bakers), no one ever feels guilty about defrosting a box of puff pastry or phyllo. In fact, if you make either of these things from scratch, you deserve a medal.
Before you stock your freezer for the holidays, here is a quick rundown of these two similar-looking yet very different ingredients.
True to its name, puff pastry rises up in the oven, turning light, airy, and golden. Puff pastry is usually sold frozen, in folded sheets; one package typically contains two large sheets. The dough has extremely thin layers of fat throughout it, which makes it ultra rich—perfect for desserts. Check the packaging before you buy. Some brands are made with a combination of butter and oil or shortening, and others are made with all butter.
It is easiest to work with puff pastry when it is cold, so defrost it in the refrigerator. If it starts to warm up to room temperature, pop it back in the refrigerator (or freezer) for a few minutes to firm it up.
Puff pastry is best eaten hot out of the oven, so plan to serve those Spinach-Artichoke Pinwheels immediately after they have been baked. If you must make it in advance, you can rewarm it in the oven to help recrisp the pastry.
This delicate, tissue-thin dough is most commonly associated with Greek dishes such as baklava and spanakopita, but it can be used in all sorts of recipes, including Apple Strudel and Baked Brie Bites. Unlike puff pastry, phyllo dough has a reputation for being somewhat finicky and difficult to work with. It may take a little practice before you get the hang of it.
Phyllo is sold frozen in rolls, flat rectangles, or in pre-formed cups and should be defrosted in the refrigerator and kept cool. It can turn sticky and gummy at room temperature. Keep the sheets covered with a (lightly) damp paper towel or kitchen towel as you work to keep them from drying out too much.
The other key to working with phyllo is to brush each sheet with oil or melted butter, so the dough bakes up nice and crisp. But don’t overdo it and use a light hand. Too much fat will weigh down the fragile layers.
Phyllo dough is great for make-ahead dishes and it holds up well on a buffet table, making it ideal for potlucks or parties.