Western Reserve School of Cooking: Phyllo Workshop

Phyllo is something that has always intrigued me. Having worked with it a couple times in the past, but never with very good results meant it was time to take a workshop.  If you’re like me, then you basically dunk the phyllo dough in butter and go from there. What do you get? Typically a heavy, greasy mess.  Sounds delicious though, right?  Well, not really.  So, it was off to this workshop on in a downpour like only Ohio can deliver.  As a side note, I love to battle rush hour traffic in torrential rain going through Solon, Ohio.  It’s just rain people, get a grip.

The phyllo workshop is a participation class at the Western Reserve School of Cooking taught by Catherine St. John.  Participation means that you’re going to get your hands dirty, so be prepared.  In this class, you’re much more likely to get your hands buttery than dirty- nothing wrong with that, right?  The class ran from 6:30 to 9:30 or so and we put out a ton of food during that time.  The workshop has an ambitious array of recipes to work through and they are all fun to make.

I’m going to give a plug (unsolicited and unpaid) in this post to Athens Foods in Cleveland, Ohio.  They provided all the fresh, never frozen phyllo (they call it Fillo… tomato tomahdo I suppose) for the entire class.  They also provided the phyllo cups.  An unexpected surprise came when the class was over and we got to take a package of the cups and a roll of phyllo dough home as well.  I give a big thumbs up to the Athens Foods company- oh, and the phyllo (fillo) is delicious as well.

Back to the workshop.  We start out with our mise en place for several of the recipes and jump right into cooking.  On the menu for the evening (and I made up some of the names of recipes because they weren’t on the schedule) were the following:

Phyllo Wrapped Shrimp with Apricot BBQ Sauce
Spanikopita
Phyllo Pizza
Chicken, Leeks & Artichokes Wrapped in Phyllo Pastry
Chocolate Ganache & Raspberry Phyllo Cups
Honey Walnut Baklava
Baklava Cups

We learned how to work with the phyllo by observing and then doing. A lot of doing, which I think is great. One of the basic techniques is to use the appropriate amount of butter and layers for each dish. From what I gathered, the larger the dish, the more layers you need. Once you get the hang of it, phyllo is really pretty easy. It’s also a versatile pastry that is relatively neutral in flavor so it can work with a ton of ingredients.

Most of the recipes were delicious and you will see them making their debut at some point on the blog with a little Chubby Cook twist here and there. The big winner of the night was the Chocolate Ganache & Raspberry Phyllo Cup. It amazes me how much depth this little dessert packs. The raspberry filling provides a fruity sweetness that is balanced out by the chocolate and the crunch of the phyllo cup brings the whole experience together. In the workshop we added some Crème Anglaise right on top and then the fresh raspberry. Perfect dessert.

A perfect dessert. Photo by Scott Groth

The funny thing is that my least favorite dish was the other dessert in a cup. Maybe baklava and I were never meant to be friends because there isn’t one that has tickled my fancy so far. The baklava cup was a little dry and the crunch of the filling with the crunch of the phyllo cup made for a crunchy experience. On the other hand, the Honey Walnut Baklava was really quite good.  The honey syrup it is dunked in really pulls the dish together.  Maybe a little of the raspberry filling on the baklava cup would have turned the tables for me.  We’ll be making these during the holidays and give it a try.

Honey syrup covers these tasty treats. Photo by Scott Groth

I love shrimp. Speck (smoked prosciutto) and phyllo wrapped shrimp fall into the category of shrimp that I love. The speck offered a smoke and salt combination that punched up the flavor of the shrimp. The crunch of the phyllo made the dish really nice. A possible suggestion to pair up would be a mango or pineapple salsa. Tonight I ate the leftovers with just a touch of Sriracha sauce and it was delicious.

Smoked prosciutto and phyllo wrapped shrimp are awesome. Photo by Scott Groth

Pizza is fun to make. Phyllo pizza is a little bit of work, but still fun. The table I was working at made a phyllo pizza with the following ingredients: tomato oil, roasted garlic, caramelized onions, roasted broccoli, mozzarella, Parmesan cheese, sautéed mushrooms and chorizo. We hit this one out of the park. Delicious.

Spanikopita. Spinach and feta pie. What a combination. It is delicious and surprisingly easy to make. They baked to a light and crunchy texture and had just enough feta, spinach and other goodies inside to make you want to have another… and then another. They reminded me of the bacon wrapped dates with chorizo- one is just not enough.

Light, crunchy and full of flavor. Opa! Spanikopita! Photo by Scott Groth

All told, the class was busy and fun which is a hard combination to achieve. We took home more than enough great food to share with the family and definitely learned how to use this ingredient. I’m working on some dishes in my head (what a scary place to be!) that are shrouded in phyllo. I’ve been thinking about a phyllo purse filled with a pan seared diver scallop topped with sautéed shallots, enoki mushrooms and garlic with a little microplaned Gruyere. A play on the classic Coquille St. Jacques. For dessert maybe a fresh lemon curd layered with raspberry coulis and topped with a mini dollop of fresh mint whipped cream all in a phyllo cup. Or maybe a basil whipped cream. It all sounds good to me, who’s coming over to try?

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