Kunafa. I could talk about this decadent dessert for days. If you haven’t had it yet, it’s a wet, gooey, hot, and rich pastry made with shredded fillo dough and baked with a stretchy sweet cheese stuffing, and as with most Levantine desserts, it’s topped with a generous drizzle of orange blossom syrup. Palestinians defend this culinary masterpiece like Italians defend their napoletana. It’s a big deal. And if you haven’t had the pleasure of tasting the glory yet, now is the time.
Don’t be intimidated by the grand appearance, it’s actually quite simple to make. Like all things made at home, home-made kunafa is most delightful to the taste. Just be sure to to find a good-quality sweet cheese as cheese is what characterizes this dessert. I like to use a combination of sweet cheese or desalted akawi cheese and mozzarella for more stretch and depth, but you can use additional sweet-cheese or alternatively, mozzarella, if you prefer. You should be able to find Arabic sweet-cheese, shredded filo dough, and kunafa coloring at your local Middle Eastern market or international foods store.
If you give this recipe a try, do let me know how you liked it in the comments section below or tag your photo using the hashtag #hanadykitchen on Instagram. We love hearing your stories, memories, and food experiences.
I hope you will enjoy this recipe as much as my family and I do.
With love, Hanady.
INGREDIENTS/ SERVES 4
For the pastry:
1 tablespoon butter or ghee, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon orange kunafa food coloring, optional
1/2 cup (115 ml.) melted butter or ghee
1/2 package (300 gr./ 4 packed cups) shredded filo dough (kataifi), thawed
1 1/2 cups (300 gr.) Arabic sweet cheese or desalted akawi*, drained of any water
2/3 cups (180 gr.) (mozzarella cheese, or additional sweet cheese, shredded
2 teaspoons orange blossom water
ground pistachios for garnish
For the syrup (qatir):
2 cups (400 gr.) sugar
1 1/2 cups (354 ml.) water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water
1. Preheat oven to 200 C/ 400 F and grease a 25 cm (10 in.) cake pan with 1 tablespoon of butter and kunafa coloring if using. Note: The coloring is completely optional`, but adds a traditional quality to this recipe.
3. Combine the cheeses and chop them into small pieces or blitz them in a food processor until fine. Place them in a bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon sugar and 2 teaspoons orange blossom water. Set aside
4. Shred the filo dough in a food processor just until becomes loose and you can run your fingers through it. Place the dough in a bowl and combine with the melted butter until evenly distributed.
5. Place half of the dough in the pan and pat down until flat. Spread the cheese over the dough until well distributed. Spread the second layer of dough over the cheese and gently pat down until even.
6. Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until the surface is lightly golden. Leave to rest for 5 minutes after removing from oven and gently shake the pan to loosen the pastry. Afterwards invert onto a larger pan or stand with a flat surface. Drizzle the pastry with orange blossom syrup, garnish with ground pistachios, and serve immediately.
For the syrup:
Heat a small saucepan over medium heat, add the water, lemon juice, and sugar, and simmer for 5-7 minutes or until the sugar has full dissolved. Stir in the orange blossom water and let cool for at least 5 minutes before drizzling over the kunafa pastry.
* Let the dough thaw overnight before using.
* Substitute the butter with ghee for a more traditional flavor. I personally prefer butter.
* Double the quantity of this recipe and use a large baking pan for a larger style of kunafa.
*If you do not have access to akawi sweet cheese, use additional mozzarella or a combination of ricotta and mozzarella.