My quest to convert all my favourite recipes to whole grain – without any loss of flavour or enjoyment – continues. This week, filo pastry. You may recall my excitement some time ago at discovering that absolutely beautiful filo pastry can be made at home – rolled tissue paper-thin by running it through a pasta machine (check out that post here). But that was with refined flour. Could this delicate pastry be as successful with whole wheat?
It was important to me that the pastry be (almost!) completely whole grain – not a mix. I no longer want to eat nutritionally blank carbohydrates (Micheal Pollan persuasively described flour as the first truly processed food in his book, In Defence of Food). I want the fibre, the iron and the complex, fortifying vitamins and minerals we still can only speculate about. But I also want to eat freakin’ delicious food every single day of my life. Is that too much to ask?
I don’t think so. Definitely not after turning my hand to this pastry. It is soft but flaky, lightly moist and separates into stunning, wafer-thin layers as it bakes. I think that I’ve done the Greeks proud.
The dough comes together in a matter of minutes and is completely effortless if you chuck it all into a food processor of some kind. If not, you have a bit of kneading to do, but nothing major.
The only time-consuming (I like to think of it as time-fulfilling!) element is to roll out the pastry. In my opinion, a pasta machine really will make or break this recipe. I’m not denying that you can make super-thin filo by hand, just that with a pasta machine it is much, much easier and your results will be consistently fantastic. I have tried rolling filo dough by hand before, and although I always felt that I had definitely got it as thin as possible, in reality it was still far too thick and baked up tough and disappointing. So go for the pasta machine!
This dough is quite moist, so that means it is pleasingly stretchy and you can be fairly generous with the flour when you’re rolling it out. It is actually easier to work with than the white flour filo dough – somewhat less delicate and finicky, even when very thin. Just make sure that there are no big kernels of wheat in the flour you sprinkle over the pastry sheets as you roll, as they can tear the dough when it is being run through the machine.
It doesn’t matter at all that the sheets of filo you make will be long and thin. You can use them to line whatever shape pan you have, or to make börek. Just arrange them as best you can, trimming as necessary. It will all meld where it needs to meld and flake where it needs to flake when it is baked.
I have used both a heavy bottomed sauté pan and a cast iron skillet (both pictured) to bake pies made with this pastry, and the cast iron was definitely the best. The sauté pan had thinner sides and retained less heat, leading to less browning. So when choosing your dish or pan, something with a thick bottom and sides, that will hold heat well, will give you the best results.
The layers of pastry are each brushed generously with butter before the next is added. You could use olive oil, but I think the buttery richness really lifts the whole wheat flavour. I used about 50g for eight layers of filo (four top, four bottom), enough to make a large, 30cm pie. I mean, you’re already eating 100% whole grain pastry (and if you use my upcoming pie recipes, absolutely crammed with nutritious vegetables) – a little butter is completely fine! You definitely need some fat to keep the moist pastry layers separate and have them flake so beautifully as they bake.
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