A Spanakopita Fail

I really struggled a title for this post. I went with the minimalist title, explaining exactly what you will find in this post, but I had a lot of other thoughts. Titles like:

– When Spanakopita Goes Wrong
– Good Dough. Bad Spinach.
– Greek Grandmothers Have It Tough

And the more subtle:
– On the Importance of Reading

Before I get too far into what went wrong, let me show what I mean when I say fail.


When I picked this recipe for the poll last week, I was pretty certain that it would be a front runner. Everybody loves a good spanakopita right?! Even the frozen variety are actually pretty tasty and not so much work.

Honestly, after skimming the ingredients and instructions for this recipe in How to Roast a Lamb, I thought I had a pretty good handle on it. I wasn’t planning on making the phyllo dough from scratch because I’m not absolutely demented. So my only real concern is that I’d never made clarified butter before or actually worked with phyllo dough, but neither of those issues turned out to be my downfall.

My first real problem was more about expectations than execution. You see, what I had in mind was a traditional spanakopita. The small, almost snack-sized pieces that are flaky and delicious! But when I started actually reading Chef Psilakis’s recipe, I realized that his recipe is something completely different. It’s closer to creamed spinach in my mind than spanakopita.

His recipe basically fills a baked phyllo shell with a creamed spinach mixture. Because you pre-bake the phyllo dough, it’s really impossible to cut the pieces. I could see how this could work for a family style dinner but I’m not really sure why it’s better than a normal spanakopita. You still have to do all the work with the phyllo dough and then you just have to mush it up when you serve the dish.

For the top of the dish, instead of having a nice crust of phyllo dough, he just bakes off a few sheets and crumbles them on top. Interesting, but not really what I was going for.

I’m telling you this because I think even if I would have executed the recipe perfectly, I’m not sure it would have met my expectations.

But of course, I didn’t execute it perfectly. Or even close.

These were my two major errors, one of them far worse than the other.

First, I didn’t do a great job on the bechamel sauce. Even though I’ve made this kind of sauce many times before, I got in a rush and ended up with a kind of lumpy sauce. Also, I used 1% milk rather than whole milk because that’s what I had. That was a mistake because the sauce didn’t get quite as thick as I would have liked. The sauce was okay, but not great.

Second, and my ultimate demise on this project, involved my inability to read the recipe. The recipe called for 2 CUPS of bechamel sauce and the directions for the sauce were on a different page. This makes total sense because he uses the sauce throughout the book.

What I didn’t realize though was that the sauce recipe on the other page made a QUART of sauce. Also known as 4 CUPS. So, when I poured all of my sauce into my spinach, I looked down and said, “Huh. That looks kind of like cream of spinach soup.” Because that’s more or less what I had made. (See above photo for evidence.)

If I would have not made this error, I think the recipe in general would have been fine. The bechamel tasted fine – it’s texture was just a bit funky. The phyllo was crunchy and delicious but not in cute little triangles. It was really my inability to actually read that caused this to be a complete failure.

So What Now? I know. I promised you all a spanakopita recipe today and instead hopefully I gave you a post worth chuckling over. But trust me. Spanakopita will not be my downfall. I will defeat it over the weekend and I will post an actual recipe with tons of hopefully lovely photos next Thursday.

As an aside: If anyone has a good spanakopita recipe… I’m, ahem… in the market. So email me or something.

15 comments on “A Spanakopita Fail

  1. Nick, sorry it didn't work out but help is here. I have the ultimate Spanakopita recipe, made with homemade phyllo. However, you can use store bought phyllo. Just stick with my filling and finish with the ready-made phyllo.

    It will put the smile back on your face.

    1. I must admit peter… you make homemade phyllo dough look not too hard… I gotta master the frozen variety first, but it's on my list.

  2. I have been told by quite a few folks that my recipe for Spanakopita is pretty good. Much more traditional than the one made with bechamel. Mine is just spinach, onions, garlic, nutmeg, lots of fresh dill (I also like to add mint) and of course pinenuts and feta cheese.

    Here is a litte preview video for Spanakopita

    I always serve spanakopita with tzatziki

    Also if you like here is a quick video on How to Make Clarified Butter

    Sorry that this didn't turn out as you were hoping. I do believe that we are all about expectations. You (and me) would expect a spanakopita to taste and look a certain way. So for dishes like these I like to stay fairly traditional. Good luck on the next attempt!

  3. So sorry to hear about your disappointing experience. Sounds like the recipe you attempted was definitely a riff on the more traditional spanikopita I'm used to.

    Like Dawn, we don't use a bechamel in our filling, simply spinach, onions, garlic, dill, and feta… the only trick to making it is to be sure that the spinach is fairly dry so that it doesn't make the phyllo soggy. Obviously, the spinach soup concept goes pretty far against that grain! :)

    Good luck with your next attempt! I'll be sitting over here drooling just thinking about it.

  4. I love the spanikopita recipe in Cold Weather Cooking by Sarah Leah Chase. It has a lot of ingredients (dill, if memory serves, which is pretty excellent with spinach) but it's soooo delicious. It's on my bookshelf at home, but shoot me an email if you want it and I'll type it up and send it over when I get home from work.

  5. You definately need a do over. I have never in my life heard of bechamel and spanakopita in the same sentence and I've been living with a Greek family for a quarter of a century now. I hate to diss a food network star who I like, but this looks a little like his version of cream of soup casserole. You were guaranteed a fail on this one because even though it could be authentic (common dishes are treated differently in each region of greece – you should see my "in laws" mousaka, no bechemel), it is not what we expect for spanakopita.

    Good luck next time. I think you should try again. Homemade spanakopita fresh from the oven is a wonderful thing.

  6. Nick, it's all about marketing — looks to me like your Spanako-Casserole a variation on Spinach Pie came out just fine…………..Think of what Julia Child might have said taping her show….."our Greek Style Spinach Casserole……Bon Appetite" Now what kind of wine would you serve with this ;)

  7. Oh Nick – I'm so happy to read that even fabulous cooks like you have fails. But it really doesn't look that bad.

    Also, bechamel sauce is on my list of things I'd like to try this year – for a real authentic lasagna.

  8. Ah, to be human.

    You could have just swept this under the table and not said a word.

    Seldom do I see a food blog show what went wrong so we can learn from your experience. Thank-you for being so refreshingly honest and helping us all become better cooks.

  9. Nick,

    I applaud your amazing honesty! This is actually a very informative post.

    More often than not, when things go unexpected wrong, the recipe itself or the web site/cookbook gets the blame. There are indeed many factors that affect the outcome of a recipe. Some days, fortunately not often, when my cooking mojo is off – I just need to hang up the apron and order take-out!

    Thanks for allowing us all to learn from your astounding successes as well as your rare mistakes!


    Kathy Maister

  10. i made spanakopita once – in folded triangles. i used an ina garten recipe. the result was very tasty. the recipe made a lot and i froze some of them unbaked. the ones that were frozen and baked days later were just as good as the ones i baked right away.

    you got me thinking i should make them again sometime real soon.

  11. We've all made "this" dish. The one where one little missed detail causes the "wheels to come off the wagon". The good news is that I learn a lot from those failures.

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