This is how I discovered Kanafeh
I had been in Jordan for several weeks and my love affair with Arabian sweets had reached a lofty peak. In fact, I would begin and end each day with a platter of pastries, smothered in honeys and syrups that would flood through heaps of pistachios on my plate.
I had reached junkie status and began seeking out a greater high, exploring labyrinthine neighborhoods to reach legendary bakeries. But it was in Wadi Musa where my friend, Khaleed, led me right into the snare of Kanafeh.
An unmarked door led to an unnamed bakery where, despite the raging 100f degree day, a father and son were cheerfully slaving away, racking out sheets of pastries. They were using round, shallow pans and alchemy to produce what many call “Arabian cheesecake”.
This “cheesecake” was Kanafeh
A definitive oxymoron- soft and crunchy, sweet’n’salty, cheesy, gooey and crispy. All neatly encased in a glaze of simple syrup and rose water. Good enough to make one prostrate in reverence to the baker.
The ingredients are few yet they lend themselves to an endless array of pastries. We all know and love baklava but it wasn’t until I discovered Kanafeh that the Arabian culture opened up before me, so delicate and sweet behind that mysterious veil.
Let’s just say there’s no right/wrong way to spell it- “A rose by any other name” and all that-
There are three variants of kanafeh but in this recipe we’ll focus on khishnah (rough Kunafa)
- 1 Package- Kataifi Pastry (kataifi is something like spun phyllo. Rather than laid out in thin sheets, it is processed in a way that produces vermicelli-like noodles. Check out this great video to see how it’s made)
- 1 cup- Ghee
- 2 cups- Akkawi cheese (you can substitute with mozzarella)
- 1 cup- water
- 1 1/2 cup- sugar
- 2 tbsp- Rose water (or orange blossom water)
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- Pistachios (crushed)
- Almonds (whole or crushed)
- Whatever else catches your fancy (if you dare stray from pistachios…)
As with all recipes- preheat your oven (350f/180c)
Prepare the simple syrup (so that it can cool entirely before the kanafeh is finished) by mixing the water and sugar in a pot- bring to a boil. Add the lemon juice and continue boiling for 10 minutes or until the mixture has thickened. Promptly remove the syrup and allow to cool for several minutes. Then add the rose water, or orange blossom water.
At this time, you’ll want to begin shredding the kataifi. This is best done with a food processor but can be achieved by hand. As packaged, kataifi comes in endless noodles and you’ll need to shred them further- so that the average noodle is around one inch in length.
Once you have the noodles at the right size, place the kataifi in a large mixing bowl and gently incorporate the melted ghee (clarified butter.)
As the noodles set, begin the process of cutting down the cheese, or even shredding it if possible. I’ve experimented with many cheeses, some sweeter, some saltier, and there’s no rule for what you use. Just be sure to have 2 cups of a quality melting cheese to your liking either shredded or cut in long, narrow strips.
Taking a 9×13 pan, spread out a generous layer of the processed kataifi (about 2/3 of your noodles). Press the noodles firmly into the pan working it into a flat, even surface so that you can then evenly distribute the cheese, all of the cheese.
Follow the cheese with the remaining kataifi and, again, pack the noodles into the cheese, evenly.
With the oven heated, cook the kanafeh until the noodles have become a golden brown (around 10-15 mins)
Once the kanafeh has baked through you’ll want to allow it to cool for 10 mins
At this point, the kanafeh should have become more firm and set into its cheesy, sexy self.
Now, carefully place a cookie sheet atop the baking dish with the kanafeh and invert the pan so that the kanafeh is now on the cookie sheet.
Litter the surface with crushed pistachios and drown your darling with the simple syrup/rose water concoction.
OK, so the example given below, about that. I had a tough time finding kataifi, so I substituted the noodles for simple phyllo sheets… no harm done. Yet, I will admit that iteration does neglect all the pleasing textures that comes along with kataifi. However, i’ll take what I can get. So get creative.
So, any takers?