It’s hard to pin-point exactly where and when kunafa originated, but it seems that all of the Middle East have played their part in perfecting the sweet and golden dessert throughout the years. They have all added a special touch unique to their community. These are just some of the things that make one appreciate this dessert so much more and what has dubbed it as the ‘Queen of Arabic desserts’ – a name she certainly deserves. Kunafa is no longer just an Arabic dessert, but one you can also find with slight variations in Greece, Turkey and Iran.
Living in the Middle East, it seems to be very rare that this treat will be prepared at home, and why would it be? You can find every flavour and size in Arabic sweet shops located everywhere, more so than your favourite coffee shops. But those who live abroad and are nostalgic for flavours from their homeland, are quite happy to create their favourite crunchy, yet creamy dessert.
There are so many delicious variations that you can use to fill your kunafa such as Arabic qashta, which is like a thick sweetened cream, bananas, cheeses such as mozzarella and soft Syrian cheeses, pistachios and custard – just to name a few. And of course, what is a Ramadhan dessert if it’s not drenched in clear, sweet sugar syrup? The perfect drink to pair with your sweet would be Ramadhan favourites such as Vimto, Kamir Al Din, Tang, tea or a strong cup of coffee, as we do in the Middle East.
For the syrup:
1-1½ cups sugar
1- 1¼ cup water
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp orange blossom water or rose water
On low heat, add sugar, water, lemon juice and flavoured water. Stir until thick. Allow to cool in refrigerator.
1lb Akawi cheese, cut into large pieces
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp orange blossom water or rose water
In a food processor, add mozzarella, ricotta, sugar and flavoured water and mix well. Set aside.
1 lb defrosted Kataifi (knafi)
2 sticks (1/2 lb) unsalted butter, melted
Pistachios to garnish
1. Place cheese in a water bath for around 3 hours to reduce the salt content. Remove cheese from water and crumble/chop it to a very fine consistency.
2. Place kataifi in a large bowl with butter, mix and untangle strings with hands. In a large mixing bowl, add sugar, cheese and flavoured water and mix well.
3. Place cheese in an even layer in a deep oven tray (14-16 inches). Cover it with dough and flatten it out gently with the palm of your hand. Bake kunafa for 30 minutes in a preheated oven at 200°C, until the dough turns golden in colour.
4. After pastry has baked, place the pan on the hob for a few seconds to make the top brown and not pale. Remove from the oven and immediately pour cold sugar syrup over the hot kunafa. Let it cool to room temperature, then invert onto a plate and serve. Garnish with pistachios.