Knafe (kunafeh) recipe

Knafeh is one of the popular desserts in the levant (Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon) and in Turkey.  Like many other middle eastern recipes, there is more than one way to pronounce and spell the name : Knafe, Kenafe or kunafeh. Along with the many names comes a number of forms, textures, presentations and fillings for this popular dessert. You will see knafeh presented in a pan,  knafeh shaped like cones, knafeh used as a crust and topping like the one I am serving today and many many more.The fillings also range from cheese to cream, pastry cream, Ashta (something similar to clotted cream) and nuts. The texture of the knafeh can also vary, it can be fine (knafe naameh) or rough like the one I am using today (knafeh khesneh). I will be sharing a number of Knafeh recipes over the next couple of weeks, with various fillings, textures and presentations so if you are into a dessert that is a wonderful combination of a slightly crunchy crust, creamy filling and an aromatic orange blossom syrup, stay tuned.

The type of knafeh I am sharing with you today is called Ottomali Knafeh  كنافه عثمليه (probably due to the Turkish origins of this particular form of knafeh). it is made with a very fine vermicelli-like Phylo pastry ,some call it shredded Phylo dough, kataif or knafeh dough. The traditional filling for this type of knafeh is Ashta which is the cream that floats on top of fresh milk when you boil it and then allow it to cool. That cream is collected, cooled, mixed with a little sugar and orange blossom water and it is not like anything that comes out of a box, it is rich and velvety with a subtle flavor. Sadly this type of cream is not sold in stores and not easy to come by so instead nowadays most knafeh is filled with a thickened type of muhallabeh that is a wonderful replacement.

This Knafeh makes for a wonderful summer dessert because you can make it ahead of time and keep it in the fridge and when your guests arrive you can simply take it out and serve it with a drizzle of syrup.

Knafe Ottmali كنافه عثمليه

For the knafe crust

1/2 kg vermicelli pastry (knafe dough or shredded Phylo dough)

1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter , melted

1/2 cup of sugar

For the filling

3 cups water

1 1/2 cup powdered milk

3 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

3 tablespoons orange blossom water (optional but recommended)

9 slices of white toast bread

For the syrup 

2 cups sugar

1 cup water

2 teaspoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons orange blossom water (optional but recommended)

To make the knafe crust

The night before you plan to make Knafeh, take the Phylo dough out of the freezer and place it in the fridge to defrost overnight.

The next day start shredding the dough or pastry in a bowl.

Drizzle it with the melted butter and sprinkle the powdered sugar and toss the Phylo dough until it completely absorbs the butter.

Divide the dough into two parts

In a pan that you have lightly buttered or oiled spread the shredded dough until the bottom is uniformly covered.

Then press the knafe dough in the pan.

Bake in a preheated oven (200 C) on the lowest rack of the oven till the bottom is golden brown (10-20 minutes)

Place the knafeh under the broiler till the top is golden brown

Allow the knafeh to cool for 15 minutes before removing it from the pan and placing it on a wire rack to continue cooling.

Repeat the steps with the remaining half of the dough (if you have two round pans of the same size you can bake them at the same time)

To make the knafe filling

Place the powdered milk, water, sugar, cornstarch in a pot, stir till the milk and sugar dissolve completely

Cook over medium low heat while stirring continuously till the mix thickens (10-15 minutes)

Take it off the heat, stir in orange blossom water.

Cut the crusts off the bread slices and cut them into cubes.

Add the cubes to the milk pot and stir till the bread pieces are completely covered, set aside to cool.

Here you have a choice, if you want the filling to be creamy place it in the food processor and pulse till completely smooth. If on the other hand you like your filling to have more texture,leave it as is

To make the syrup

Place the sugar, water, lemon juice in a pan over medium heat, bring to a boil and then lower the heat and allow to simmer for 5 minutes

Take the syrup off the heat, stir in the orange blossom water.

To assemble the knafeh

Place one of the knafeh crusts on your serving plate

Top it with the filling

Gently place the other knafeh crust on top of the filling and press gently.

Drizzle the top with syrup

Decorate with pistachios, candied cherries or lemon blossom jam

For a refreshing summer dessert place the knafeh in the fridge and serve cold  with some syrup on the side for those who like their dessert a little on the sweet side.