Kunafa Sweet Recipe/ Sweet Cheese Pastry
Kunafa or Kanafeh/Kunafeh is a sweet cheese-filled, pastry popular in the Middle East and Arabic cuisine. It is one of the most popular Middle Eastern desserts and is specially made during the Ramadan feast and for special occasions. If you have a sweet tooth like me, this appealing dessert with its deliciously sweet and cheesy center and is perfect for you. This decadent sweet is a scrumptious royal dessert. But the best part is that it is a no-fuss and easy to put together sweet dessert.
Kunafa’s cheesy center is complemented with its signature buttery crunchy crust. The intense flavor comes from clarified butter or ghee. You can substitute ghee with melted butter, but ghee has an intense nutty flavor that is irresistible. Kunafa is served warm drenched with a sugar syrup that has a floral scent to it and sometimes topped with crushed pistachio nuts. To make the scented sugar syrup, you can mix sugar syrup with rose water, orange blossom water, or cardamom. I tasted Kunafa for the first time in Dubai, in a middle east buffet, and was instantly hooked to this yummy sweet. Kunafa is intensely sweet but at the same time, the well-balanced combination of cheese and sugar makes it a unique treat.
Anyone else ever go through this? You try an unforgettable dessert during travel and want to recreate the dish at home. When I found Kataifi dough in the store, I could not resist myself to try this delicious dessert. Today’s recipe is not the authentic recipe, but an easy version with ricotta cheese and cream. Give this recipe a try and let me know how it turned out for you 🙂
Before jumping into the recipe, lets talk about the ingredients.
Kataifi is the most important ingredient in making kunafa. It is an extra thin shredded filo pastry, that resembles thin vermicelli. You can get this in the freezer section of your grocery store or Mediterranean store. Both fresh and frozen kataifi can be used here. Defrost the shredded filo pastry. Lightly pull the pastry with your hands to loosen it into individual strands. You can roughly chop it or for a finer thread, pulse a few times in a food processor. Press the pastry to the bottom of the pan slightly up the sides, similar to how you prepare a cheesecake base. If you cannot find a middle eastern store, you can substitute kataifi with toasted fine semolina or thin vermicelli.
Cheese filling- The best cheese to use for the filling is unsalted cheese or sweet cheese. The traditional cheese used for Kunafa, like the Akkawi cheese is salted cheese. But it is soaked in water for hours to remove its salt content. The unsalted and unsweetened filling may sound bland but it complements the warm sugar syrup drizzled on top. You can buy sweet cheese from the Mediterranean store, or substitute with ricotta cheese and cream cheese. If you like the picture-perfect gooey, pulled cheese filling, add half ricotta and half mozzarella cheese.
Ghee: Ghee or clarified butter gives a crunchy crisp crust and infuses a great aroma to this dish. It also has a distinctly sweet and nutty flavor that makes this sweet special. It is used a lot in Indian cooking. You can use the store brought clarified butter or make your own at home by melting unsalted butter till it changes color to a golden brown. You can substitute ghee with melted unsalted butter.
Flavoring of the sugar syrup. The recipe calls for a simple sugar syrup that can be flavored with rose water, orange blossom water, or cardamom pods. If you do not like the floral scent, you can alternatively use vanilla or cinnamon.
Kunafa Sweet Recipe
For the crust
Shredded Kunafa pastry/kataifi frozen- 1 1/2 lb or around 4 cups
Melted ghee- 1/2 cup
Confectionery Sugar- 2 tbs
Kunafa powder/Orange color-a few drops
To make the Sugar Syrup
Granulated sugar- 1 1/2 cup
Water- 1 cup
Lemon juice- 1/2 lemon
Rose Water or Orange blossom water- 1 tbs
Cardamom pods- 2
Orange color- a few drops (optional)
For the Cheese filling
Ricotta Cheese- 2 oz.
Mozzarella Cheese- 3 tsp
Cream cheese- 2 oz.
Whipped cream- 1/4 cup
Sugar- 1 tsp
Rose water or orange blossom water- a few drops
For garnish chopped pistachios
To make the Syrup
In a saucepan combine water and sugar, and bring it to a boil till all the sugar melts. Squeeze lemon juice. Reduce the heat to low and continue to simmer till the syrup slightly thick. You do not need thread consistency. This will take up to 6-7 minutes. Switch off the flame and add rose water or cardamom. Allow it to cool. You can store it in the refrigerator and warm it as needed.
For the Crust.
Defrost the kataifi dough according to package instruction. Lightly pull the pastry with your hands to loosen it into individual strands. You can roughly chop it or for a finer thread, pulse a few times in a food processor. Into a large bowl add the shredded dough and pour ghee and mix it evenly with your fingers and coat it well. Add the powdered sugar and toss well.
You can use a large cake pan or pie dish for baking. Grease the pan with butter or ghee. Add a few drops of color and mix with the butter (optional). Divide the prepared dough into two equal portions. Press half of the kataifi to the bottom of the pan makes it solid and flat. Use a flat bowl or a spoon and press and smooth it onto the bottom of the tin and slightly up to the sides, and around the edges of the pan. This will help contain the filling during the baking process.
Mix all the ingredients listed under filling into a smooth blend and spread the cheese mixture in a single layer. Spread the reserved kataifi mixture on top of the cheese filling. Gently press the top and the sides to adhere.
Bake at 350 degrees F for about 25- 30 minutes or till the top turns golden brown. Remove the kunafa from the oven and immediately pour the syrup, in a circular motion, making sure to cover the entire surface.
Let the kunafa rest for 5 to 10 minutes to allow for the syrup to soak in. Gently run a knife along the edges of the pan and carefully flip the kunafa on to a serving platter. Decorate with chopped or ground pistachios. Serve warm.
Stove-top kunafa– The dessert is cooked on the stove with a special deep-dish plate, but you can also make it in a frying pan. Drizzle ghee on the bottom of the pan, and press the kataifi mixture to the bottom of the pan make it solid and flat. Spread cheese and a second layer of kadafi. Cook over the lowest heat on the stove, until the bottom is golden. Carefully place a plate on the pan and flip the dessert. Grease the pan with extra ghee and gently slide and Cook the other side until golden. Transfer into a plate. Drizzle with the syrup and serve warm.
Leftover Kunafa– In case of any leftover, simply transfer them to an airtight container and keep in your refrigerator. It can be store up to a week in the refrigerator. Simply reheat in your oven for 10 minutes at 325 degrees F. Enjoy with some syrup or clotted cream.
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Hope you will all enjoy!