Kunefe (or Kunafa/Knafeh) is a heavenly Turkish / Middle Eastern Cheese Dessert made with kadaif pastry filled with cheese and soaked in syrup.
Künefe is one of the most loved desserts in Turkey. You can eat it at almost every kebab restaurant around the country.
And the best way to enjoy this cheese-stuffed sweet pastry is with a cup of Turkish tea while it is still warm and the cheese is still soft and stringy.
WHAT IS KUNAFA?
Künefe or Kunafa is a very much loved Middle Eastern pastry dessert made with Kadaif pastry (shredded filo/phyllo pastry strands) filled with stringy cheese, baked, then drizzled with simple syrup and garnished with crushed pistachios.
Same as Muhallebi – Mahalabia Dessert, Kadaif Dessert – Turkish Tel Kadayif, Ayva Tatlisi – Turkish Quince Dessert, and Gullac, this cheesy dessert was traditionally served during the fasting period called “Ramadan”.
However, it is a heavenly dessert you should consume at any time of the year.
THE ORIGINS OF KUNEFE
Kunefe is originated from Hatay (Antioch), Turkey’s south-eastern part, but also popular in Eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries.
They all have their own variations of this delicious dessert with different names (Knafeh, Kunafa, or Kanahef) and recipes.
This recipe explains how to make the Turkish version of this buttery, crispy, and cheesy Kunefe dessert.
Other versions of Kunafa are made with a crust from kadayif (shredded filo) pastry and semolina dough, which yields a softer dessert.
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS
- This authentic Turkish Kunefe dessert has a very well-balanced combination of cheese and sugar.
- Although this delicious cheesy Turkish dessert looks tricky to prepare, It is very easy to make it with step-by-step pictures and instructions.
- All you need is 30 minutes and a few ingredients to make Kunafa dessert.
- The leftovers would keep refrigerated for up to three days. If you want to keep them longer, you can freeze kunafa and keep them for up to 3 months.
INGREDIENTS AND SUBSTITUTES
WHAT IS KADAYIF?
Kadayif is a shredded dough, pushed through a sieve to form delicate strands, which look like vermicelli.
It is a popular ingredient in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries, mainly for making desserts.
You can find kadayif fresh or frozen in Turkish/Middle Eastern shops. Alternatively, you can buy it online from Amazon.
WHAT CHEESE TO USE?
Kunafa is a dessert originally from Hatay, so it’s best when you use the special cheese originally from this city.
However, it’s not possible for everyone. You can substitute it with Buffalo Mozzarella, or any mild, stringy unsalted cheese.
- Butter – Use good quality unsalted butter for the best results. You can substitute it with ghee.
- Sugar – Both caster sugar and granulated sugar works perfectly for the syrup.
- Pistachios – You can use either raw or roasted pistachio kernels (crushed/chopped) to top the kunafa. I prefer lightly toasting them for extra flavor.
Making this crispy, cheesy, and buttery Kunefe is very easy. However, to achieve the best results, you need to follow a few simple steps:
PREPARE THE SYRUP
For making the simple syrup, add the sugar and water to a pan.
Bring it to a boil and gently simmer it on low heat for 10 to 12 minutes, until the sugar has completely dissolved.
Add a few drops of lemon juice and simmer for another 5 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool down to room temperature while cooking the kadaif pastry.
COOK THE KUNEFE
Roughly chop the kadaif pastry into small pieces and mix well with the melted butter.
If using molasses, mix it with 10 grams of soft butter and generously butter the bottom of a sahan pan size of 23 cm ( 9″ ) with half of the mixture.
Scatter half of the kadaif pastry over the butter and press it down with your palms until solid and firm.
Shred the cheese and spread it over the kadaif pastry evenly, leaving one cm around the edges.
Cover the cheese with the rest of the kadaif pastry and press it down until firm and even.
Place the sahan pan over medium heat and 30 seconds later, turn it down to the lowest.
Cook it until golden brown while pressing firmly with something flat. This would take 10 to 12 minutes.
Turn over the künefe on a flat plate. To do that, put the plate face down over the sahan pan and then flip it over the plate cooked side up.
Generously butter the sahan pan with the remaining soft butter and then slip the Künefe back into the pan.
Cook for another 8 to 10 minutes, until nicely browned, pressing firmly to keep the kunefe evenly flat.
Remove the sahan pan from the heat and add the syrup (at room temperature).
Garnish with chopped Pistachio nuts and serve immediately.
TOP TIPS FROM THE CHEF
- When pouring the syrup, the pastry should be hot, and the syrup should be at room temperature. If both syrup and the kunefe are hot, the dessert will lose its crispy texture.
- If you want to make this dessert ahead, prepare the pastry with the cheese and keep it refrigerated for up to five days. You can also prepare the syrup up to a month in advance and keep it at room temperature until you are ready to cook your pastry. When ready to serve, cook the pastry as stated in the recipe and drizzle on the syrup.
Kunafa is typically served either in the sahan pan or flipped onto a serving platter, garnished with pistachios.
My favorite way to serve kunefe is with ice cream or Turkish Kaymak (Geymar) on top. Cut it up into wedges if you want to serve onto individual platters.
You can serve Kunafa with some sweet syrup on the side in a little jug for guests if they want their dessert extra sweet.