Now comes the time-consuming (though not too difficult) part: the layering. Start by adding one piece of phyllo to the baking dish, then brushing it with butter. Lay down another piece, and butter it as well. Keep repeating the process until you have 6 buttered pieces of phyllo in the pan. Sprinkle 1/3 of the pecans in an even layer so they cover all of the dough, then add another piece of buttered phyllo, and another, and another, and another — this time, you want to make a phyllo layer 4 pieces thick. Sprinkle on another 1/3 of the pecans, then another layer of 4 pieces of buttered phyllo. Finish with the last layer of pecans (Johnson says she typically uses 3 layers), then top these nuts with a final phyllo layer consisting of 6 to 8 buttered sheets of dough. Brush the top with more melted butter.
“Don’t worry if you tear a sheet of phyllo,” Johnson reassures us, explaining “the layers make up for it!” She says you should just try to make sure that the phyllo layers that go directly above the torn one don’t have tears in the same place. While this layering may seem slow-going, she says it gets faster with practice.