kunafa/kunafa/kanafa it’s the same name for an iconic popular Middle Eastern sweet dessert This delight has a buttery flavor coming from Ghee and consists of two layers. A crunchy layer of shredded phyllo dough. Which later soaked with simple syrup perfumed with rose water. The second layer is a creamy and velvety pastry cream called Ishta and it’s egg-free.this tasty buttery dessert made with shredded pastry layers enclosing a creamy soft milk pudding. Drizzled with fragrant simple syrup and adorned with crushed pistachios for a classy look.
What is Kunafa?
Kunafa is a traditional Arabic dessert made from Phyllo dough filled with either pastry cream, or sweet Arabic cheese. Sometimes, the dough is shredded to make rough kunafeh (kunafa kheshneh). Other times the phyllo dough is processed in a food processer until it takes a breadcrumb-like texture, and the kunafeh made of it is called Soft kunafa or (Kunafeh naemeh).
It is served on special occasions, like Eid, the Holy month of Ramadan, and weddings. You can find Kunafeh in different variations, and it depends on which country you are having it. In Egypt, the kunafa is mainly filled with pastry cream (Ishtah). In Lebanon and Syria, the Arabic cheese or mozzarella cheese filling is popular. Nowadays, people are getting creative, and you can find it filled with nuts, chocolate, and even caramelized fruits like apples.
Kunafa variaties :
Now Kunafa comes in various different forms and its a dish that’s been around for centuries, enjoyed in numerous Arabic and middle eastern countries like Turkey. Firstly, the stuffing can be either cheese or cream (ashta). And secondly, it is made with either kataifi (the more popular version) or a semolina based dough. The semolina dough, which has a smooth texture, is referred to as Knafeh Na’ameh and it originates from the city of Nablus in Palestine.
The version in this recipe is the most classic type of kunafa, but using Mozzarella cheese instead of Akawi cheese which is typically used in Arabic countries. It’s also the easiest version so this is where you want to start!
What is Kunafa dough made of?
In Egypt kunafa dough is made my mixing flour, cornstarch, oil, water and a pinch of salt. Some people skip the cornstarch and others use semolina as well. Kunafa batter should have a consistency much like crepes or a bit runnier. The batter then is poured through a special cup with tiny holes and cooked over a big hot plate.
Best Arabic Sweet Kunafa!!
Semolina Pudding :
- ¾ cup Milk
- 6 tbsp Heavy whipping cream
- 1½ tbsp Sugar
- 1½ tbsp Semolina
- ½ tsp Corn powder
- 1 tsp Rosewater
Cheese Filling :
- 200 gms (⅕kg)Mozzarella shredded
- 1 tbsp Powdered sugar
- 2 tsp Rose water
Kunafa Crust :
- 250 gms Thin vermicelli
- ½ cup Ghee
- 4 tbsp Water
Sugar Syrup :
- 1¼ cup Sugar
- ⅔ cup Water
- 1 tsp Lemon juice
- 1 tbsp Rose water
- 1 tbsp Orange blossom
Semolina Pudding :
- In a small saucepan, combine the milk, heavy cream, sugar and semolina. Dissolve the cornstarch in 1 teaspoon of water and add to the mixture.
- Place over medium-high heat and cook, whisking constantly. Bring to a boil, and continue cooking for about 3 more minutes or until mixture thickens into a pudding like consistency. Remove from heat and stir in the rosewater. Allow to cool slightly while you prepare the kunafa.
Cheese Filling :
- Stir together the mozzarella cheese, rosewater, and sugar.
Sugar Syrup :
- In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, water and lemon juice. Set on a stovetop over medium high heat. Stir just to combine, then let it be. If you stir too much, the sugar may crystallise If sugar isn’t dissolving you can stir a couple of times but as soon as it starts to boil stop stirring.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and let it simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from stove immediately once 10 minutes is over. It should have thickened to the consistency of maple syrup.
- Once off the heat, stir in rosewater an orange blossom water, and transfer to a container to cool.
Assemble and Bake :
- Preheat oven to 200°C.
- Place the vermicelli in a pan, pour the ghee over it. Switch on the gas and lightly sprinkle water on it. Now toss and turn the vermicelli till its well coated with the ghee and water. Do this gently or the vermicelli will breakdown to small pieces.
- Close the pan and cook for 10 minutes. Tossing in between. You will find that the vermicelli has softened.
- Line a 9 inch baking pan with aluminium foil. Line it in a way that you can pull it out of the pan easily.
- Transfer ½ of the pastry into the bottom of the prepared pan, and firmly press it down around the bottom and sides. Pack it in tightly, try using the bottom of a measuring cup to get it even and smoothed out.
- Pour in half of the cooled, semolina pudding and spread into a thin layer. Sprinkle with the cheese mixture and pat down into an even layer. Cover with the remaining semolina pudding.
- Scatter on the remaining kunafa dough evenly over the semolina pudding, pressing lightly to stick it down.
- Cover the pan with an aluminium foil and bake for 40-45 minutes or until a deep golden brown. We are using roasted vermicelli, thus if we don't cover the pan the vermicelli will become too brittle and dark brown.
- Once done,take it out of the oven, gently lift the kunafa along-with the aluminium foil out of the baking pan.
- Now turn it onto your serving plate and carefully remove the aluminium foil.
- Immediately pour 3/4 of the syrup on the kunafa, going in a circular motion to evenly disperse it. You can reserve the sugar syrup to pour on your sliced kunafa.
- Garnish with pistachios and serve warm! You can store leftover kunafa in the fridge and reheat in the oven or microwave but there’s nothing like that first slice out of a piping hot fresh kunafa.
Recipe Notes and Top Tips :
- Optionally serve with extra syrup: You can pour some of the syrup over the dessert, then serve the remainder in a little jug for guests to pour over their dessert to adjust how sweet/sticky it is.
- If you only have whole pistachio kernels: rather than spending AGES hand-chopping the nuts, transfer them to a blender/food processor and pulse several times.
- Adjust the cheese amount: feel free to add more/less cheese based on how thick you want the middle layer to be.
- Make mini knafeh: instead of making one large dessert, you could make several smaller ones using mini tart pans. For example, you could use three or four 4-inch (10cm) pans. Reduce the baking time accordingly until golden brown.
- For orange knafeh dough: it’s popular in one variation of knafeh to use orange food color to dye the shredded phyllo dough (kataifi dough). To do so, add a few drops of natural orange food coloring to the ghee/melted butter before mixing it into the dough. I usually skip this step.
- The baking time will vary: based on your particular oven. So I recommend you check on it at 30 minutes and continue to check every few minutes until golden brown. It will become dark very quickly.
- If you’re using akkawi/Nabulsi cheese: you may need to de-salt these cheeses by soaking them in water for 6-8 hours, changing the water a couple of times.