Kunefe

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Kunefe, also known as knafah is a classic Middle Eastern dessert made of pastry filled with cheese that is then soaked in syrup. There are several regional varieties. The Turkish version, which inspired this recipe, uses the shredded phyllo called kadayif and sweet cheese (an unsalted melting cheese; unsalted mozzarella is a common substitute). The key to a good kunefe is having your syrup cooled to room temperature when it's time to pour it on the hot kunefe. (If the syrup is too warm it will turn the pastry mushy and cause it to fall apart). Kunefe is usually made in kunefe pans, which are available at specialty stores and online.
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  • Level: Intermediate
  • Total: 1 hr (includes cooling time)
  • Active: 35 min
  • Yield: 2 servings
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Ingredients

Syrup:

Kunefe:

Directions

Special equipment:
two 5-inch kunefe pans
  1. For the syrup: Put the sugar and 1 cup water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring it to a boil, lower the heat to medium low and simmer until it thickens a bit, 10 to 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the syrup cool to room temperature.
  2. For the kunefe: Cut the kadayif into small pieces and put it in a large bowl. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter, add it to the bowl and mix with a spoon to make sure all of the kadayif pieces are coated in butter.
  3. Coat the bottoms of two 5-inch kunefe pans completely with 1 tablespoon of the butter. Spoon out a quarter of the kadayif mixture into one of the pans, spread and press down using a spoon. Crumble 1 ounce of the sweet cheese onto the kadayif, leaving about a 1/2-inch border on all sides. Top with another quarter of the kadayif mixture and press with your hands.
  4. Place the pan over medium-low heat and cook until golden on the bottom (there will be an aroma of toasted nuts), 4 to 6 minutes. Place the other prepared pan over the kunefe and flip (be careful, the pan is hot). Place it back on the heat and cook uncovered until the underside is golden, 4 to 6 minutes. Remove from the heat, drizzle 1/4 cup of the syrup all over the kunefe and top with 1 tablespoon of the ground pistachios. Re-butter the pans and repeat with the remaining kadayif, cheese, syrup and pistachios. Serve immediately with extra syrup for drizzling.

Cook’s Note

Sweet cheese can be found at most Middle Eastern, Arab and Mediterranean shops in both the refrigerated and frozen sections (some packages even show a photo of kunefe). There are different version, such as Armenian and Syrian, and they all work well for this recipe. If you cannot find sweet cheese, you can use unsalted mozzarella. Refrigerate any leftover syrup in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

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