Kunafah – King of Middle Eastern desserts

Kunafah shot - 1 “You have to be a romantic to invest yourself, your money, and your time in cheese.” 
– Anthony Bourdain

Food as they say, breaks cultural barriers and brings people closer. More than satiating the cravings of the gut, it speaks out to the heart. Kunafah is one such dessert which evokes a loving nostalgia of the place we used to call home (not long ago).

For all those who are not familiar, it is a crisp cheesy pastry sweetened with rose-scented sugar syrup. Gooey like a pizza and with just the right hint of sweetness. Trust me, the deliciousness index of Kunafah is way above any middle eastern desserts I’ve ever laid my hands on. Hence, it is very rightly called “the king of Middle Eastern desserts”. Kunafah shot - 2Few months back, when I was truly, deeply, madly craving Kunafah (and since it isn’t readily available in the whereabouts of our current city) the foodie in me decided to give it a try.

Ok, so a bit of useless info here. Before coming up with the recipe that I am going to share with you guys today, I mixed and matched ingredients and created different Kunafah variations over a couple of months. Just to make sure that I am completely satisfied with the version that has to be shared with you 🙂

This recipe, from what I understand, breaks some conventional Kunafah making rules (since rules are meant to be broken..so lame hehe). That’s because I have not used the traditional Akkawi or Nabulsi cheeses here. Instead, I’ve used mozzarella cheese to get this pizza like gooey-ness that you are about to witness.

Disclaimer: Once you see it, you cannot un-see it. Proceed at your own risk 😉

So here it is..the mighty delicacy in all its deliciousness!

Kunafah shot - 3Alrighty, lets cut the crap and get to the recipe.

Cheese Kunafah
(Sweetened Cheese pastry)
Serves: 10 – 12

1 lb (454gm) Kataifi dough (I used the frozen one)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter (melted)
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tbsp fine semolina (sooji)
3 tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp cornflour, dissolved in 1 tbsp water
1 tbsp rose water
Cheese filling
500 gms shredded mozzarella cheese
3 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp rose water
Sugar syrup
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
4-5 cardamom pods
3 tbsp rose water
1/4 cup pistachios

Preheat oven to 390F. Prepare a 12-inch round pan by greasing it generously with melted butter or ghee.

Crust: Defrost the kataifi dough before you start working on it. While it is half-frozen, use your hands to shred it 1-inch long strands. Pour the melted butter on top and mix it with your hands until each and every strand is evenly coated.
Custard: Pour milk, heavy whipping cream, semolina, sugar and cornflour dissolved in water in a saucepan. Cook it on low-medium heat until the mixture thickens to a custard like consistency. Make sure that it is thick and easily spreadable, but not lumpy. Remove from heat and add rose water.
Cheese Filling: Mix mozzarella cheese, sugar and rose water in a big bowl and set aside.
Sugar syrup: Add sugar, water and cardamom pods in a small pot. Bring it to a rolling boil and lower the heat. Keep cooking until it reaches one string consistency. Turn off the heat and add rose water.

Layer 1: 2/3rd of prepared crust. Make sure you bring it up on the sides of the pan so that it can hold the filling.
Layer 2: 1/2 of custard. Spoon it over the crust.
Layer 3: mozzarella cheese filling.
Layer 4: remaining 1/2 of custard. Pour it all over the mozzarella cheese filling.
Layer 5: remaining 1/3rd of prepared crust

Bake the assembled Kunafa in a pre-heated oven for 30-35 minutes until the top turns a beautiful golden color. If you see that the top part of the crust is turning dark, loosely place a piece of aluminium foil covering the Kunafah to prevent it.

As soon as the Kunafah is baked, pour 2/3rd of scented sugar syrup over it. Make sure that the entire surface is generously covered with the syrup. Let it rest for 10 minutes and flip on your serving platter. Garnish with pistachios and dig in 😉

Recipe inspired by:
Cleobuttera’s Mozarrella Cheese Kunafa

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