Lets start this year with a big bite of sweetness from the Middle East !
For me this got to be one of the best desserts I have ever cooked. Melted white cheese is not the only factor, but it is a big one ! The fragrant rose water and crispy pastry topped with chopped pistachios makes Kunafa a very hard dessert to turn down. Eaten all year round but mainly during the month of Ramada and Eid, it’s just the dessert you need to give you a sweet little tummy comfort. A few countries claim it to be their dessert from Palestine and their famous ‘Kanafeh Nabulsieh’ to the Levant, Greece and even Azerbaijan.
Wikipedia says “kunafeh or kunafah is a Middle Eastern cheese pastry soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup, typical of the regions belonging to the former Ottoman Empire.” I say it is an easy must bake sweet dessert that should be tasted by every household.
The first hurdle and only one is finding the pastry ! I recommend you go to your local Middle Eastern or Turkish grocers. I went to my Lebanese food store and asked them for the shredded Kunafa pastry. It will be clearly marked that it is for Kunafa.
Kunafa has two steps. The first is the sugar syrup and the second is the actual Kunafa itself. There are many varieties and methods with different cheese alternatives to use. I am using mozzarella cheese as it gives it the distinctive gooeyness. I have seen recipes recommending Ricotta or Akawi cheese.
Kunafa is made in big round trays, so this is not a dessert for four, more like 10 or more, depends on your portion I guess, but I could easily finish a tray ! So you got to make it either in a baking tray, pizza pan or large oven proof dish. I am using a glass Pyrex dish in the photos.
I cup sugar
1 cup water
splash rose water
squeeze of lemon juice
2 mozzeralla cheese rolls
tub double cream
1 teaspoon food colouring
crushed pistachios to decorate
Step 1- to make the sugar syrup you mix the water and sugar in a pan on low heat and stir constantly till simmering.
Step 2- Once you see the sugar water at boiling point, turn of the heat add a squeeze of lemon and a splash of roast water and continue to stir well. Leave it to cool.
Step 3-To prepare the Kunafa, you unpack the kunafa and cut it into small sections. In a bowl you shred the pastry by hand (you can put it in a food processor if you prefer but I like to work with my hands and transmit my love!) and tear into even smaller pieces.
Step 4-Add melted butter to the bowl of shredded Kunafa pastry and with your hands work the butter into the mix trying to make sure all the kunafa is buttered. Add more butter if you feel it is necessary.
Step 5- Assembling the kunafa. Get your pan or oven proof dish and with a nob of butter , butter the dish well then add orange food colouring. This is to give a nice colouring to the base that you will flip once it is cooked.
Step 6-Chop the cheese into pieces , or if you have ready grated mozzarella to use the will easier. The more cheese you add the better in my opinion. Spread the cheese out evenly and add double cream on top. If you can find Kymer that would be even better, a nice thick double cream should do the trick. Enough to cover the cheese layer.
Step 7-Add the final layer of Kunafa pastry and push down firmly. Place in the oven on 180C for 30 min or until the pastry is golden.
Step 8-Turn the kunafa into a plate, so the bottom become the top! Be careful when flipping the hot plate from the oven. Shake the kunafa well before to loosen the pastry. Once flipped on to a plate add the sweet sugar syrup you made in step 1 and 2. This must be done whilst the kunafa is hot. Then with a knife cut the pastry into square or diamonds, these will be your portion sizes.
Step 9- Decorate each section with chopped pistachios and serve hot.
This dessert can be preserved in the fridge for 4 days and heated in oven or microwave. more sugar syrup can be added to it.