Knafeh (Middle Eastern Pastry Dessert)
Knafeh is an amazing thing to behold, and like no other dessert I know.
Made far and wide right around the world, Knafeh is something you definitely want to try.
There are a couple of places in the Old City of Jerusalem that make an incredible Knafeh.
But nothing beats what you can get when visiting Nablus, Palestine, the birthplace of Knafeh.
Or at least the modern home, since the exact origins are unknown, other than that it was made by the people of the region.
However, Nablus does hold the world record for the largest ever Knafeh at 242 feet long, and 3 feet wide.
What is Knafeh?
Knafeh is a Middle Eastern dessert most often eaten in the countries of the Levant.
Also spelled Kanafeh, Knafeh, and KÃ¼nefe, but whatever the spelling they are all the same dessert.
The ingredients are simple, with a cheese filling and a crunchy topping of shredded phyllo.
Flavored with orange blossom water, and rose water, with a sweet syrup soaking through it all.
This is an astonishingly good dessert, the flavors are wonderful, and it fills your mouth with pure joy.
The key though is that the Kanafeh has to be fresh, otherwise it will not reach your soul.
A bit of an exaggeration perhaps, but freshly made is by far the best!
The combination of shredded phyllo dough, sweet cheese, and simple syrup creates a real masterpiece of flavors.
As delicious as it is, it has become popular well beyond the Levant, in fact as far away as Australia.
In fact this humble dessert has given rise to the famous â€˜Bearded Bakersâ€™ of Sydney!
What is Knafeh Dough?
Simply put, Knafeh dough is a type of phyllo dough that is made very thinly, creating something similar to shredded wheat.
Another topping is made of semolina and tends toward having a smoother feel to it.
The crispy dough provides a satisfying crunch, which pairs wonderfully with the soft cheese and sweet syrup.
The semolina topping will crunch up also, but to a lesser degree, and will also absorb the sugar water syrup.
You can buy this kind of dough in most speciality supermarkets, but the easiest way to buy it in the States is on Amazon.
Which Cheese Should You Use?
White Akawi cheese made in the Middle Eastused for Knafeh is harder to find in the West.
Even though it is the traditional cheese used, you can substitute mozzarella cheese with very good results.
The main requirement is to have a white, non salty and stretchy cheese.
Most cheeses in the Middle East have some degree of saltiness, which necessitates soaking.
The chopped up Akawi cheese used in Knafeh will be soaked in water to make it less salty.
There will always be a bit of saltiness to it but it is almost undetectable.
Besides, sweet and salty flavors can complement each other, like a salty caramel chocolate.
I donâ€™t have a big sweet tooth, and I can go without dessert pretty easily.
Yet Knafeh is a hard one for me to overlook if itâ€™s in the vicinity, or maybe even a vicinity close by!
If you feel like you need to justify the calories, just think about all the protein in the cheese.
The perfect dessert!
How to Make Knafeh
The most traditional way to make Knafeh is in a large circular metal tray.
Two trays are generally used, one just smaller than the other so it fits inside it.
In this recipe I use a regular cake pan, and a baking dish will work too.
Crumble the cheese in a food processor (soak in water if it is a salty variety).
After soaking the topping in melted butter along with any coloring used.
Once well soaked in butter, and evenly colored, press the shredded phyllo topping into the tray.
Press the cheese firmly into the tray on top of the topping (this dish is constructed backwards).
Bake the Knafeh in a preheated oven at a medium high heat until the cheese has mostly melted.
Bring to a boil sugar and water to make the simple syrup and cool to room temperature.
Take it out of the oven and flip it into the other tray (or plate) so that the shredded topping is now on the top.
The topping will be golden brown unless you dyed it using food coloring, then it should be a shade of orange.
Douse the Knafeh with the hot sugar syrup which quickly will soak into the dessert.
Sprinkle crushed pistachios on top.
Tips For Making
- If you can get Akawi cheese, mix three quarters with a quarter of mozzarella for great results.
- Make sure not to brown the cheese when melting it in the oven.
- Make additional simple syrup if necessary and donâ€™t be shy to use it!
Knafeh (Middle Eastern Pastry Dessert) Recipe
For the Sugar Syrup
- 1 cup Water
- 2 tbsp Rose Water
- 2 tbsp Orange Blossom Water
- 2 cups Sugar
- 1½ tsp Lemon Juice
For the Knafeh
- ½ lbs Shredded Phyllo Dough
- 1 lbs Akawi Cheese mozzarella is a good substitute
- ¼ cup Butter melted
- ¼ cup Pistachios crushed
- 1 tsp Orange/Red Food Coloring optional
For the Sugar Syrup
- Add the water, rose water, orange blossom water, sugar, and lemon juice to a pot. Stir well.
- Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Stir until the sugar has dissolved completely.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool.
For the Knafeh
- Preheat oven to 375ºF (190ºC).
- Spread the phyllo dough apart using your fingers. Place dough in a large bowl.
- Melt butter. Add coloring to the butter and mix.
- Pour butter over the phyllo and mix with your hands tearing the phyllo. Saturate the topping in butter. (Use gloves to make sure you don't dye your fingers!)
- Cover the bottom of the tray with the phyllo dough topping (minus a handful to place on top).
- Drain the cheese and squeeze out as much water as you can. Press the cheese into the tray on top of the dough. Add the last handful and spread thinly over the top.
- Bake for 15 to 20 minutes (the cheese will have melted).
- Remove from the oven and flip tray into a slightly larger tray/plate.
- Pour sugar syrup over knafeh. Sprinkle with crushed pistachio nuts.
- Serve immediately.
Iâ€™d love to hear from you about what your favorite desserts are, and what kinds of desserts you like to make and why!
And let me know in the comments below if you made this Kanafeh recipe.
This recipe was very simple and delicious. It was my first attempt to make kanafeh. My husband gave me a 10/10!!!! Thank you Chef Tariq!
I’m delighted to hear about your successful knafeh! I’m so happy you enjoyed it!
Great recipe! Thank you!
It is definitely an indispensable dessert!
Asalamualikum, can I make it a day earlier. Can I also add cream cheese with mozzarella.
Alikumalsalam, thanks for your comment. The cream cheese will be too soft. It may be better just to use mozzarella if other cheeses are hard to find. You can eat knafeh the next day but it is nowhere near as good as fresh. Hope that helps.