There is truly no dessert in the world like gooey, cheesy and sweet knafeh. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll never stop craving it!
Knafeh is a dessert that has become synonymous with celebration. It is present at graduations, weddings, birthdays, or any big gatherings in the Levant, especially in Palestine, but popular all around the Middle East. This dessert originates from the city of Nablus in Palestine and is made with Nabulsi cheese. However, there is also a Turkish version.
Since I live in the West, where it is hard to find Nabulsi cheese, I have found that a combination of Akkawi cheese and fresh mozzarella works well. The goal is to have a nice firm cheese that is also stretchy. Since Akkawi cheese is a salty brined cheese, it needs to be cubed and soaked overnight. Make sure to change the water 3-4 times. If you can’t find Akkawi, Halloumi is a good alternative, but make sure it is finely shredded because is doesn’t melt easily.
Knafeh mainly comes in three variations, khishneh (rough), na’ameh (fine), and mabrouma (rolled). In this video, I will be making khishneh, which is made from shredded filo pastry. When preparing the dough, you need to tear it into shorter strands and make sure they are coated well with the butter. It is important to press the dough well onto the tray before adding the cheese, and make sure it is distributed evenly.
The traditional way to make knafeh is on an open flame, constantly turning it until the cheese melts and the dough crisps up. However, not everyone has a gas burner, so it is possible to bake it in the oven. If you want to make it in the oven, you’ll need to bake the dough for 10 minutes, add the cheese, and then bake it another 10 minutes. If your oven has a setting that only heats the bottom, then that is best. You don’t want to cook the cheese, just slightly melt it, otherwise it becomes rubbery.
Once the knafeh is cooked and has rested, douse with syrup. The sugar to water ratio must be one to one, unlike syrups for other desserts, to ensure that it is absorbed properly and isn’t too sweet. Finish with a sprinkle of pistachios and prepare for a life-changing experience!
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- 3 cups water
- Juice of half a lemon
- 400g Akkawi cheese (or Halloumi)
- 400g fresh mozzarella cheese
- 500g Knafeh dough
- 250g melted butter
- 100g ghee
- 3g deep orange food colouring
- 100g spreadable butter
- To make the syrup, combine the sugar and water and let cook for 10 minutes. Add the lemon juice and cook for 3 more minutes. Leave to cool.
- To prepare the knafeh dough, tear by hand into shorter strands. Make sure to spread the butter evenly and rub the dough together to make sure it absorbs the butter.
- Combine the ghee, spreadable butter, and food colouring and grease the tray with it. It is important to use spreadable butter, as it is mixed with some vegetable oil, giving it a higher smoking point and therefore keeping the knafeh from burning.
- Press the dough evenly in the tray, reserving a little to go over the cheese.
- Spread the cheese evenly. The best way to do this without ruining the dough layer is to make small patties out of the cheese, distribute them evenly, avoiding the edges, and then press them over the dough.
- Sprinkle the remaining dough over the cheese.
- If you are making on a gas burner, set it to medium heat and continuous turn the tray over the fire. Make sure you are wearing an oven mitt, as the tray will get really hot. The process will take about 20 minutes. You want to keep turning until the cheese starts to melt. Don’t over cook it, otherwise the cheese will be rubbery and tough. Cover for 5 minutes to allow the cheese to continue to melt, then turn over onto the serving tray.
- Alternatively, if you are making it in the oven, once you’ve done the dough layer, bake on 180C/160C fan for 10 minutes. Then add the cheese layer and bake for another 10 minutes. Cover for 5 minutes to allow the cheese to continue to melt, and then turn over onto the serving tray.
While the knafeh is still hot, ladle the cooled syrup over the hot knafeh. Let the knafeh absorb the syrup for a few minutes. Garnish with pistachios and serve immediately. Enjoy!