The ethereally light, flaky phyllo dough enveloping the phenomenal pastries at Poseidon Bakery in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen has kept the family business going for more than 85 years. The Greek bakery, which transforms flour into phyllo on site by hand, is one of only a few such producers in the U.S., says owner Lili Fable.
Mass-produced phyllo comes in various thicknesses, but Poseidon makes only one, says Fable, 71, who runs the bakery with her husband and son. They are the bakery’s third- and fourth-generation owners, producing phyllo for retail sale, caterers and restaurants.
“We only make one size, pulled by hand, so this is as thin as you can make it,” Fable said. “There are no additives, and it has better elasticity so it doesn’t break. And you don’t need to cover it while you work.”
The bakery’s back room contains two five-foot-square wooden tables covered by muslin sheets and a long table where disks of dough rest under more muslin. Two workers circled the tables, one tossing dough into the air until it came to rest on the table looking a bit like the body of a jellyfish.
Then they gently stretched it, coaxed it to cover the whole table, covered it with another muslin sheet and pulled off the excess. They did this again and again with each new disk.
Heiiberto Ortiz, 23, has been making phyllo at Poseidon for the past four years.
“The hardest part is mixing the dough,” he said.
The dough contains all-purpose flour, water, salt and shortening, and it becomes difficult to work with in humid weather.
“You can’t mix it too long, maybe 15, 20 minutes,” Ortiz said. “If you mix it longer, it gets too hard. Sometimes I leave it to rest 10 or 15 minutes. If it’s raining, maybe a little less.”
Ortiz picked up a disk of dough. It went from gravity-bound and damp to featherlight as he tossed it in a circular motion to “open” and began stretching it.
“It took me a long time to learn,” he said, making it look easy.
After Ortiz opened the phyllo, co-worker Kaila Torres, 21, took over and stretched it.
“This is his specialty,” Torres said. “I’d keep breaking it.”
In the kitchen, Lili Fable and Torres folded spanakopita (spinach pie) triangles using fresh phyllo, fitting them into a pan as Fable explained the history of the famed bakery.
Poseidon sells phyllo, pastries and a variety of cookies in its storefront. The phyllo is used in the bakery’s sweets, including baklava and strudels, and in savory pastries such as spanakopita—which is the bakery’s top seller.
Poseidon Bakery, 629 Ninth Ave. (near West 44th St.), Manhattan, 212-757-6173