Phyllo Dough vs. Puff Pastry: What’s the Difference?

You can swap in puff pastry for phyllo dough in a pinch, and the other way around, but don't expect the same results. Here's the best way to use each of these flaky, versatile doughs.

It’s easy to love any recipe calling for phyllo or puff pastry. These doughs have the most delightful, flaky texture, and lend a rich flavor to baked goods, desserts and appetizers. But can you use them interchangeably? Will an apple turnover recipe that calls for puff pastry turn out as tasty when made with phyllo dough?

While the two doughs are pretty similar, they do yield different results. Making Greek baklava with puff pastry instead of phyllo would work in a pinch, but the dessert wouldn’t have the same flavor and texture.

Here’s our advice: When it comes to phyllo dough vs. puff pastry, your best move is to become familiar with each dough and how it’s intended to be used before you begin experimenting!

Everything to Know About Phyllo Dough vs. Puff Pastry

What Is Phyllo Dough?

Phyllo (also spelled filo) dough is paper-thin pastry dough that’s traditionally used to make sweet or savory Greek and Middle Eastern dishes. The word phyllo comes from the Greek word for leaf, and it refers to the thinness of the sheet. As the sheets bake, they become shatteringly crispy and create extremely flaky bites.

Homemade phyllo is tricky to make, but it’s possible with patience and practice. The dough is made with flour, water, vinegar and a little oil. It doesn’t contain as much fat as puff pastry so it doesn’t need to be laminated (more on that in a moment), but phyllo must be rolled into extremely thin sheets to obtain the right texture. Luckily, commercially prepared phyllo dough is a convenient alternative that results in a product that is as good as homemade. It’s best to thaw frozen phyllo dough overnight in the refrigerator, and you’ll want to wait until it’s thawed before separating the sheets (otherwise, they can crack).

Traditional phyllo dough recipes include appetizers like spanakopita and samosas or sweets like baklava and galaktoboureko, a custard dessert. Phyllo dough can be used as a substitute for strudel dough or for other pastry wrappers, such as turnovers.

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What Is Puff Pastry?

Puff pastry dough is a French dough that’s very rich. It’s much easier to make compared to phyllo dough, but it does require a process called laminating. Slabs of chilled butter are placed between the layers of pastry dough. The dough is then rolled out, folded into thirds and allowed to rest in the refrigerator. The process is repeated six to eight times, producing a pastry filled with layers of dough and butter. When it bakes, the water contained in the butter creates steam, helping the dough expand and crisp up.

Commercially prepared puff pastry dough can be found in the freezer section and can be used in any recipe that calls for homemade puff pastry dough. For the best flavor, look for a brand that uses all butter instead of shortening. Thaw the puff pastry in the refrigerator overnight before using it.

The most famous use of puff pastry dough is the croissant, where the flaky layers are visible after a single bite. It’s also used to make beef Wellington, tarts and hand pies. Since puff pastry is thicker and richer than phyllo dough, using phyllo in puff pastry recipes won’t have the same flavor. It works in a pinch, though, if you’re looking for a crispy exterior for filled appetizers or desserts.

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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.