Filo pastry and Spanakopita

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RECIPE: I’ve always wanted to make filo pastry but I delayed because I thought it would be hard. But it’s not! I used Chef John’s recipe and didn’t change it, although I did use more of the cornflour and flour mix for dusting than he did. The video was a really useful addition. The Spanakopita recipe was from Mildred’s Kitchen and I didn’t change the contents but instead of triangles I made a traditional spiral.

COMPONENTS: Watching the video provided by Chef John makes the filo pastry a much easier task. I had my dough resting at room temperature for maybe 2-3 hours, as I got sidelined with other activities. When I came back to it I had no trouble rolling out my 20g portions, putting them in piles of five, then was surprised how easy it was to roll them together in a pile then separate them again. I then rolled them again and as instructed put my pile of five between the sheets of parchment, rolled them up gently and stored it in a plastic bag. I added another five to that stack after they were rolled, then started a new roll for the next ten. I ended up with 23 squarish sheets about 25cm each side – each 20 grams. I used them all on the same day because the fridge introduces humidity and I suspected it would be likely that the layers started sticking together.

ASSEMBLY: For the spanakopita once I had mixed together the ingredients, I placed a narrow row of the filling along one edge and gently rolled the pastry and filling into a tube, adding them together one by one to get the spiral. I think I may have almost rolled my filo too thin because some of the pieces fell apart a bit in the process of laying them out for the filling, but by the time I had rolled the pieces for the spiral any tears in the pastry had been covered up. Lots of butter, and I had to spray a bit of oil on halfway through cooking to get some more colour on the pastry.

IMPRESSION: My pastry worked really well, but I think it needed a little more butter in the final assembly. It was so thin that it was hard to grease well. Despite this the final spiral held together perfectly. The spanakopita needed more cheese but it was still very enjoyable.

Recipe for the filo pastry from Chef John on Allrecipes
Recipe for the Spanakopita from Mildreds the  Cookbook by Mitchell Beazley and the construction of the spiral by Peter Georgakopoulos from SBS Food

Filo pastry
260g (2 US cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
5 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
180ml warm water (43 degrees C) (3/4 US cup warm water at 110 degrees F)
Starch Mixture:
60g (1/2 US cup) cornstarch
45g (2 US tbs) all-purpose flour

Place 2 cups flour in a mixing bowl; make a well in the center. Drizzle in olive oil and add salt; add white wine vinegar and warm water. Mix until dough just comes together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, 1 or 2 minutes. Transfer dough ball to a lightly floured work surface. Knead until dough is smooth, using just enough flour to keep it from sticking to the work surface or your hands, 2 or 3 minutes. Continue to knead until dough is supple and elastic, about 5 more minutes. Wrap dough ball in plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature, 1 to 2 hours. Divide dough into 20 gram portions using a kitchen scale; roll each portion into a ball. Place on plate and cover with plastic wrap to prevent dough balls from drying out while you begin to roll them out. Work in batches of five.

Mix extra cornstarch and flour together in a bowl. Dust a work surface and the first dough ball with the cornstarch mixture. Flatten out the dough ball and roll out into a circle, about 12.5cm (5 inches) in diameter. Dust again with cornstarch mixture. Set circle to one side. Roll out four more dough balls to about the same diameter and stack them on the first one, dusting each layer with more of the cornstarch mixture to keep them from sticking together.

When you have five circles, roll out the stack to a larger circle about double in size, turning as you go to maintain a round shape. Separate each layer and lay out the circles. Re-apply more cornstarch mixture where needed and restack them. Roll again until the 5-layer stack is paper thin, about 25cm (12 inches) in diameter. Place on a sheet of parchment paper; top with another piece of parchment. Gently roll up the dough; wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate. Repeat with the remaining balls of dough in batches of 5.

Spanakopita
400g packet filo pastry (or your homemade version!)
125g (4 fl oz) butter, melted
2 tsp sesame seeds

Filling
Olive oil
2 large onions, finely sliced
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp salt
500g (1lb) spinach, rinsed and drained
2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
120g (4oz) feta cheese, crumbled
1 bunch of dill leaves, chopped
25g (10oz) pine nuts, lightly toasted
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
pinch of black pepper

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Line a baking tray with baking parchment. For the filling, heat a splash of olive oil in a pan, add the onions, sugar and salt and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes, until the onions are caramelised and golden brown. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Cook the spinach leaves in a pan of boiling water for one minute until tender. Strain and leave to cool, then squeeze out any excess liquid with your hands. Roughly chop the spinach and place in a mixing bowl with the caramelised onion and the rest of the filling ingredients. Mix together well.

Brush butter (or drizzle a little oil) over one sheet of filo and place a strip of the spinach mixture at one end, leaving a 3 cm border. Gently roll up the filo to enclose the filling, placing it on a greased baking sheet or a round baking dish, ensuring it is shaped like a coil.

Repeat the process with the remaining dough and filling until the coil is complete. Generously brush oil or butter over coils and bake for 45 minutes or until golden. Remove from the oven and rest for 10 minutes. Slice and serve warm.

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