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 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.
- 240g whole wheat flour
- 40g cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 120g hot water
- 50g butter
- 1 egg
- 2 heaped tablespoons Greek yoghurt
- Put the dry ingredients in your mixing machine or in a bowl and combine well. Lightly beat the egg with the oil, then add to the dry ingredients. Start the machine, or start mixing, then add the hot water. Knead for about 8 minutes in your machine, or by hand for a bit longer - the mixture should be very supple and a touch sticky. If you are kneading by hand, you may need to add a little extra flour to enable you to manipulate the dough, but be aware that more flour will make it tougher. Rest the dough overnight in the fridge, or at least for a few hours if in a hurry - this allows the flour to properly absorb the moisture and makes the dough easier to work with.
- Preheat the oven to 200c.
- Melt the butter in a microwave or small saucepan over medium heat. Brush a little on all the sides of the baking tin/dish you will be using. Reserve the rest.
- Cut the dough into six pieces. Keep the other pieces covered with plastic wrap when you are not rolling them, to stop them drying out.
- Keeping everything well floured - this dough is quite wet, so can take more flour than you would typically use for rolling out filo - run a piece through the pasta machine on the first setting. Work your way through the settings, sprinkling more flour as necessary, until you reach 6 or 7, or you feel the dough is too delicate to continue rolling. You will probably need to cut the sheet in half once you reach setting 4 or 5, so it is a more manageable length. Lay the waiting half on a lightly floured surface while you work with the other half. Be careful when using whole wheat that there aren't any large kernels in the mix or pieces of very dry dough stuck to the rollers, as they can cause your pastry to tear as it runs through the machine - very frustrating!
- When it is rolled as thinly as possible, arrange the piece inside the buttered baking tin/dish, trimming with scissors as necessary. Once you have a full layer, brush the whole lot with butter. Continue working until you have three or four layers, depending on how thick you want the pastry, brushing with butter between each layer. It really doesn't matter if your pieces tear, overlap or look uneven - they will still bake beautifully.
- Add the filling, then repeat the dough rolling technique for the top, adding another three to four layers, remembering to brush with butter after each layer. Tidy up the edges by poking any excess down the sides of the tin/dish.
- When you have finished assembling, beat together the other egg and the yoghurt. Using a pastry brush, apply half the glaze to the top of the pie or börek. Half way through baking, brush over the rest of the glaze. Bake until well browned all over, about 45-60 minutes, depending on your oven and what size and thickness of pie/börek you have made. To ensure even browning, it is best to turn the pie around half way, when you apply the second layer of glaze.
- This recipe makes enough for one 30cm pie, with enough for four layers top and bottom and a little left over for mistakes. These instructions are for assembling such a pie. To see how to make thin, coiled rolls of börek, follow the instructions here. Can also be used for making individual pies - the possibilities are endless!