Happy Ramadan all! I’m republishing this classic Arabic dessert for the occasion.Jump to Recipe
I never, ever appreciated the beauty of Kunafa until I grew older. I clearly remember as a kid and teenager declining the obligatory family gathering kunafa without the faintest idea of what I was missing. How! Looking back, I want to shake my younger self silly. So much lingering regret about how much kunafa I missed out on eating. I’m spending my life making up for lost time. The best kunafa is in Jordan (yes I’m going there) with the exception of kunafa bilkaak from Lebanon- that’s kunafa that’s placed in toasted sesame kaak bread and soaked with syrup. I reside in Bahrain, so both are out of my reach and I knew I needed to find the perfect recipe for whenever my craving hits.
So what is Kunafa?
It is a glorious confection of soft melty cheese, sandwiched with shredded phyllo dough, and soaked in a rose and orange water scented syrup. It’s soaked with ghee and baked until golden brown and crispy. EAT IT WARM, when the cheese stretches out in soft strands to contrast with the crunchy bottom and upper layer. Traditionally, it’s made with Akkawi or Nabulsi cheese. With these cheeses, you need to desalt them by soaking them in water. However, Cleobuttera has an amazing recipe that uses none other than the very easily accessible mozzarella cheese!
I love this recipe. The genius that is Cleobuttera uses both mozzarella cheese and a rose water scented semolina pudding, ensuring the filling stays soft and gooey and the cheese doesn’t harden once out of the oven. It’s the perfect marriage of kunafa bil-ishta (kunafa stuffed with cream) and kunafa iljibn (cheese kunafa). The recipe below seems like a lot of steps, but they are easy and fun. Plus, you get the ultimate reward at the end. It is absolutely delicious. Just make it. Enjoy it with friends, and a warm cup of red tea!
Recipe below adapted from Cleobuttera.
FOR THE SUGAR SYRUP:
- 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar 500 g
- 1 1/4 cup water 300 ml
- squeeze fresh lemon juice
- 1 tbsp rosewater
- 1 tbsp orange blossom water
FOR THE SEMOLINA PUDDING:
- 1 1/2 cups milk 350 ml
- 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream 180 ml
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 3 tbsp semolina
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp water
- 1 tsp rosewater
FOR THE CHEESE FILLING:
- 400 grams mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 2 tsp rosewater
FOR THE KUNAFA CRUST:
- 500 g kunafa or kataifi/kadaifi pastry frozen (thaw just slightly before using)
- 1 cup ghee, melted – I used butter flavored 226 grams
TO MAKE THE SUGAR SYRUP – can be made up to 1 week in advance
- In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, water and lemon juice. Set on a stovetop over medium high heat. Stir just to combine then let it be. If sugar isn’t dissolving you can stir a couple times but as soon as it starts to boil stop stirring.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and let it simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from stove immediately once 10 minutes is over. It should have thickened to the consistency of maple syrup.
- Once off the heat, stir in rosewater an orange blossom water, and transfer to a container to cool.
TO MAKE THE SEMOLINA PUDDING:
- In a small saucepan, combine the milk, heavy cream, sugar and semolina. Dissolve the cornstarch in the 1 teaspoon of water and add to the mixture.
- Place over medium-high heat and cook, whisking constantly. Bring to a boil, and continue cooking for about 3 more minutes or until mixture thickens into a pudding like consistency. Remove from heat and stir in the rosewater. Allow to cool slightly while you prepare the kunafa.
TO MAKE THE CHEESE FILLING:
- Stir together the mozzarella cheese, rosewater, and sugar.
- TO ASSEMBLE AND BAKE:
- Preheat oven to 200 C/390 F, and grease either two 9 inch pans or a 12 inch pan with ghee or butter. I baked one 9 inch pan and assembled the second and froze it before baking. Yay! Future kunafa party.
- In a large bowl, shred the konafa dough into 1inch/2.5 cm long pieces. I like doing this with kitchen scissors, and Cleobuttera recommends the kunafa pastry be semi frozen while doing this so If it has thawed completely stick it back in the freezer for an hour or so.
- Pour the melted ghee over the shredded pastry, and toss with your hands until all strands are evenly coated and glistening with fat. Stir well!
- Transfer 2/3 of the pastry into the bottom of the prepared pan, and firmly press it down around the bottom and sides. Pack it in tightly, try using the bottom of a measuring cup to get it even and smoothed out.
- Pour in half of the cooled, semolina pudding and spread into a thin layer. Sprinkle with the cheese mixture and pat down into an even layer. Cover with the remaining semolina pudding.
- Scatter on the remaining third of kunafa dough evenly over the semolina pudding, pressing lightly to stick it down.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a deep golden brown. When you think it’s done, lift the sides away from the pan with a knife and make sure the sides and bottom are golden brown too.
- Remove from oven and immediately pour on 3/4 of the syrup, going in a circular motion to evenly disperse it. Serve the kunafa with the extra syrup for those who want to top up their slice (always me)
- Garnish with pistachios and serve warm! You can store leftover kunafa in the fridge and reheat in the oven or microwave but there’s nothing like that first slice out of a piping hot fresh kunafa.