Phyllo dough is made with flour, water, and a small amount of oil. It is almost always used in multiple layers separated by melted butter. When these are baked, they become crispy and the result resembles puff pastry, though the method is very different, and they are generally not substituted for one another.
Phyllo is used in many of the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire. The individual sheets are layered with butter and other ingredients, then baked to make flaky pies and pastries, including baklava, börek, gözleme, spanakopita, tyropita and bstilla. Rolled out dough layers (made of starch) are also used for making güllaç, a Turkish dessert mostly eaten in the holy month of Ramadan. Phyllo layers together with walnuts and rose water are placed one by one in warm milk. A similar Egyptian dessert is called Umm Ali.
In Turkish cuisine pastries prepared with phyllo are called börek, in Egyptian cuisine they are called gollash, in Albanian cuisine they are called byrek, in Austrian-German-Hungarian cuisine the dough is called Blätterteig and pastries made from phyllo are called strudel. In Bosnia, the word burek is only used for the pastries with meat and other kinds are called pita. In Serbian language phyllo is called kore (plural) while the pastries have various names, depending on mode of preparation. In Bulgaria the dough is called kori za banitsa (pl.) and the generic name for the pastries is banitsa, although there are special names for some specific kinds.
An early, thick form of phyllo appears to be of Central Asian Turkic origin. As early as the 11th century, the Diwan Lughat al-Turk, a dictionary of Turkic dialects by Mahmud Kashgari recorded pleated/folded bread as one meaning of the word yuvgha, which is related to the word yufka. The idea of stretching raw dough into paper-thin sheets is a later development, probably developed in the kitchens of the Topkapı Palace.
Homemade phyllo takes time and skill. It requires progressive rolling and stretching of the dough to a single, thin and very big sheet, with continual flouring of its surface, which tends to break apart. A very big table and a long roller are used. Once finished, the phyllo is floured, folded, then used as desired. Most phyllo is made with wheat flour and water, but some dessert recipes call for egg yolks in addition. Machines for producing filo pastry were perfected in 1971. Nowadays phyllo is produced mostly by machine. Phyllo for domestic use is widely available from supermarkets, fresh or frozen.
Phyllo can be used in many ways: layered, folded, rolled, or ruffled, with various fillings. Some common varieties are:
Su böreği in Turkish cuisine consisting of boiled dough layers with cheese in between can be described as a salty version of baklava.
Some recipes also use an egg yolk glaze on top when baked, to enhance color and crispness.