Stirring the Pot: Phyllo, Confections, and Revelations

Anybody who has ever worked with phyllo dough knows a thing or two about challenges. While there are those remarkable few who actually make the dough from scratch, I opt for the prepared, frozen kind. This variety of phyllo comes rolled in sheets, tissue-paper thin and the size of dish towels.

So delicate, so fragile. Once carefully stacked and unrolled, you need to cover them with a damp towel to keep them hydrated or the sheets get brittle and can snap. But if the towel is too wet, they get soggy and gummy.

In most recipes, every other sheet gets a brush of melted butter. Here, too, a light touch might be too light and a heavy one results in ruin.


Repetition and humility are keys to success. The more you practice, the better you get. Work quickly, acknowledge the occasional snafu, honor the dough, and you’re good to go.

How lifelike.

What is too much? What is too little? Will a lighter touch do? Does there come a time when you need to cut your losses and start fresh? And how do you know how it will all turn out?

You don’t. But you hone your skills, figure out what went wrong, and try to do better the next time.

Like a well-baked phyllo crust, life is delicate and rich, brittle and hearty, stuffed with sweet and savory bites.


While many of us have enjoyed phyllo pastry in apple strudels or spanakopita, this chicken pie inspired by a Moroccan recipe is in a category all its own. The unlikely pairing of poultry, eggs, almonds, cinnamon, and sugar is a revelation!

Some recipes call for squab or pigeon, but chicken works just fine. Shortcuts are encouraged too: Precooked chicken and store-bought chicken broth do not detract from this culinary wonder. Add-ons like turmeric, ginger, and parsley spice things up a bit, if you prefer, but a more subtle approach lets the textures of fluffy eggs, hearty chicken, crunchy almonds, and flaky, buttered pastry be the stars.

Repetition and humility are keys to success when working with phyllo. | easterbunnyuk / 123RF Stock Photo

Repetition and humility are keys to success when working with phyllo. | easterbunnyuk / 123RF Stock Photo

Chicken filling:
4-6 chicken thighs, about 1 1/2 pounds
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Almond filling:
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Egg filling:
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Juice of one lemon, about 2 teaspoons
4 beaten eggs

1/2 package of frozen phyllo dough (It usually comes with two rolls.)
Cooking spray
1/4 pound (1 stick) melted butter
1 tablespoon confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Leave the phyllo in its wrapper and defrost in the refrigerator overnight.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Place chicken thighs in a roasting pan. Sprinkle with salt, granulated garlic, cumin, and cloves. Bake 50 minutes until chicken is cooked through. Let chicken cool, then discard skin and bones. (You can use skinless, boneless thighs, but the skin and bones give it more flavor.) Cut chicken into bite-size pieces. Set aside.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a small skillet. Add almonds and toast until golden, no more than 4 minutes. Drain on paper towels, then dust with confectioners sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.

Heat chicken broth in a medium-size pot. Add cinnamon stick and pepper. Pour in lemon juice, bring to a boil, then simmer for 3 minutes. Slowly, stir in beaten eggs. Stir continuously with a wooden spoon and cook until eggs absorb all the liquid and become fluffy. This will take about 10 minutes. Discard cinnamon stick. Set aside egg mixture.

Preheat oven to 375°F (if it isn’t still on).

Prepare a round cake pan by spraying bottom and sides liberally with cooking spray.

On clean surface, unroll phyllo sheets. Cover with a damp cloth towel. Keep the sheets covered as you work, removing one sheet at a time. Have the chicken, almonds, and eggs nearby.

Layer the bottom of the cake pan with two phyllo sheets, and let the excess hang over the sides. Brush with melted butter. Add two more sheets, brushing the second one with butter. Top with half of the nut mixture. Cover with four more sheets of phyllo, brushing melted butter on every other one. Add half of the chicken. Cover with four more sheets of phyllo, remembering the butter brushing. Cover with half the egg mixture and four to six more layers of phyllo. Repeat in a different pattern, starting with chicken, then eggs, then nuts. Fold the hanging edges over the top to form a neat package. Brush with butter. Add any remaining phyllo sheets to the top and pour remaining butter over them.

Bake for 25 minutes until pastry is golden. Remove from cake pan and invert onto baking sheet to brown the bottom, about 10 minutes.

Invert onto a serving dish. Dust with confectioners sugar and cinnamon. Serve right away!

Ruthie Cohen
Ruthie Cohen moved from New Jersey to Bloomington in November 2011. Every day she marvels at her good fortune to be living in this gem of a town. When she isn’t concocting recipes in her kitchen, you can find her teaching and practicing at Ekah Yoga and VibeYoga and Pilates studios; wielding a hammer or a paintbrush with the mid-week crew folks at Habitat for Humanity; or hanging out with future chess masters at the Crestmont Boys and Girls Club.