Knafeh is a Middle Eastern dessert with a shredded filo dough crust, a sweet cheese filling, topped with a rose water flavored simple syrup.
This impressive dessert can be served hot or cold.
Knafeh looks more difficult to make than it really is.
The most difficult part might be finding the ingredients.
DOUGH FOR MAKING KNAFEH
Kataifi is a shredded filo dough. We were able to find this at a local market, Jerusalem Market.
It will be located in the freezer section.
Some folks say you can substitute filo dough in this recipe, but I did not find the kataifi to be nearly as dry as the filo dough you can buy in the regular grocery store.
The kataifi was not as brittle as filo dough and was much easier to work with.
It was simple to cut it into small pieces. It did not shatter like regular filo dough does when it dries out.
For a finer crust texture, you could run it through a food processor after cutting it into smaller pieces.
SWEET CHEESE FOR KNAFEH RECIPE
Sweet cheese is the next hard-to-find ingredient, but our local market also had that.
You may need to ask for help finding the cheese. It was located in a separate freezer section of this market.
I am guessing it could also be located in the refrigerated section along with the other cheeses, especially in an area with a larger demand for these products.
I have read repeatedly that mozzarella cheese or ricotta/mozzarella combination would be an acceptable substitution.
If I had to make a substitution for this cheese, I would use fresh mozzarella that has been sliced, then I would remove all of the excess moisture.
The sweet cheese we bought said “mozzarella curd” on the package. It was slightly firmer than fresh mozzarella, but it tasted like ricotta cheese.
Since we had no use for extra cheese, we used all of the cheese in our dessert. Next time we would use half of that cheese for a more authentic version. We bought the cheese frozen so you can come back
If you are one of those folks that like extra cheese on your pizza and in your grilled cheese, then, by all means, use all a full pound of cheese.
Rose water is flavor profile we chose for our knafeh and was readily available the market. Orange blossom water is an acceptable substitution. We found both of these waters sitting next to each other in the market.
COLORING THE KNAFEH
We forgot to look for Kunafa while we were there so we used about 1/8 teaspoon of harvest yellow food gel and whisked it into the melted butter we were using for coating the baking dish.
Kunafa is the coloring available in the United States. The coloring is completely optional.
You can use a pastry brush for distributing the colored butter if it will not easily swirl to coat the dish.
We use regular salted butter in our recipe, but Ghee can be substituted if you prefer. I like the salted butter better because there is no salt in the cheese and a minimal amount of salt in the dough.
After preparing your baking dish, it is time to make the crust.
PREPARING THE BOTTOM CRUST
Just mix the rest of the melted butter with the kataifi pieces. You may need to get your hand in there to make sure the butter is well distributed.
Now just put half of that buttery dough into the baking pan and press it down.
It won’t feel as pressed as a standard pie crust, but it will stick together during baking.
LAYERING THE CHEESE
If you have not sliced your cheese yet, now is the time to slice it. You could also grate it, but let’s face it, I am just too lazy for all of that.
If the cheese begins to crumble apart, it’s fine. Use those smaller pieces to fill in any gaps.
As I said earlier, we would use less cheese than a whole pound.
KNAFEH SECOND CRUST LAYER
Now you make the choice of adding another layer of buttered dough. Many of the restaurants in Jerusalem do not add an addition crust.
They also do not make it in small batches like this either, instead, it is made in large pans and served in square pieces.
FLIPPING THE BAKED KNAFEH
The easiest way to flip your baked knafeh is to cover the baking pan with a pan at least 2 inches bigger than the baking sheet. You’ll want to use something with a lip so when the syrup is added it doesn’t run off the serving plate.
In our case, we used a well-loved pizza pan.
Once this dessert is flipped over and covered with the rose water syrup, the additional layer is now on the bottom.
It will absorb a bit of the syrup and it will not hold together nearly as well as the top layer will. Don’t be alarmed it tries to fall off when you are plating it.
This may be why they do not use an additional layer in the Middle East.
See how there are already pieces trying to escape before there is even any syrup added?
ADDING THE FLAVORED SYRUP
Now you can add the cooled syrup. It is best to slowly pour the syrup over the knafeh starting from the middle and working your way to the edges. This will give the syrup a bit of time to soak into the filo crust.
You may need to do this twice. You could even serve it with the syrup served on the side. I serve it with syrup on top and additional syrup on the side.
Pistachios are the preferred topping for Knafeh in the Middle East.
We have used raw pistachio kernels, while they are ok, we much prefer roasted pistachio kernels. Just use whichever one you can find.
Pistachios tend to be sold whole so you will need to either finely dice them with a sharp kitchen knife or give them a few pulses with a food processor.
The nuts can be omitted and other nuts can be substituted.
The pistachios can simply be sprinkled over the top or used to make a design on the top. The choice is yours!
The syrup should be added before the pistachios. But the pistachios can act as sort of a dam and keeps the syrup on the top of the knafeh longer and allows more of it to seep into the top.
Admittedly, it is not very attractive if you pour the syrup right on top of the ground pistachios.
Your knafeh is ready to eat! You choose if you want to serve it hot, room temperature, or cold. Personally, I like it better when it is hot.
STORING AND REHEATING LEFTOVER KNAFEH
Store leftover knafeh in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. After that, it starts to get kind of soft.
Leftovers can be reheated in the microwave for 30 to 60 seconds.
MORE DESSERT RECIPES
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon rose water
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 16 ounces Kataifi dough shredded filo dough, thawed
- 18 tablespoons melted butter divided
- 8 to 16 ounces sweet cheese
- Crushed pistachios optional
- Kunafa powdered pastry coloring or harvest yellow food gel coloring, optional
- Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until the sugar has dissolved.
- Remove the syrup from the heat and allow to cool slightly, add the rosewater. Set aside.
- Mix 2 tablespoons of melted butter with food coloring or Kunafa powder if using.
- Add colored melted butter, non-colored if not using optional colorants, to the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan, cake pan, or knafeh pan and swirl to coat the bottom and side of the baking dish and set aside.
- Remove kataifi from the package, place onto a cutting board and cut into small one-quarter inch pieces and place into a large bowl.
- Add 16 tablespoons melted butter to chopped kataifi and mix until all pieces are coated with butter.
- Place half of the butter kataifi into the baking dish and press firmly into the dish. Use the bottom of a smooth cup or measuring cup to press evenly if desired.
- Slice sweet cheese into thin slices and cover the kataifi in the pan. The more cheese you use, the thicker your knafeh will be. We used a full 16-ounces the day we took photos.
- Place the remaining chopped kataifi on top of the cheese slices and press lightly.
- Using a spatula or a butter knife, gently push the kataifi on the edges of the pan down.
- Place pan into preheated 350 Degree F oven and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the top of the knafeh is golden brown and butter is bubbling up the side of the pan.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes.
- One it has cooled, invert the knafeh onto a serving plate. A pizza pan works for us.
- Place crushed pistachios on top of the knafeh, if using.
- Pour half of the reserved and cooled rosewater syrup over the knafeh.
- Serve knafeh with remaining rosewater syrup on the side.