Recipe by Walid Nazzal
Kunafa is like the Middle East's version of a cheese danish. Its base is mild, stretchy white cheese--very like fresh mozzarella or paneer--with a topping of rich semolina pastry, all of it soaked in sweet rosewater syrup. The sweet is baked in giant rounds, and cut into pieces for serving. Although kunafa is popular in many parts of the Middle East, it is apparently native the ancient Palestinian city of Nablus, on the West Bank. Nablus Sweets in Bay Ridge takes great pride in the confection, which it spells k'nafee. This morning, around noon, the sweet was still in the oven. When it finally emerged, it was an orange-tinted wonder, leaking melted cheese and syrup, probably more than two feet in diameter. The counterwoman cut a drippy slice and weighed it: $6 for a portion that would feed three enthusiastic eaters. And the kunafa is delicious, the mild, slightly tangy cheese anchoring the sugary, nutty semolina on top. In 2009, a pastry chef in Nablus (palestine) made the world's largest kunafa. It was 243 feet long and weighed 3,891 pounds. It was shared among the residents of the city.
- 1 lb konafa pastry dough (can be found in most middle eastern, arab or greek grocery stores or markets)
- 1⁄2 lb butter, melted
- 1 1⁄2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1⁄2 lemon, juice of
- 1⁄2 teaspoon rose water or 1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1⁄4 cup blanched whole almond
- 1⁄2 cup golden raisin
- 2 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped (or 2 1/2 cups pistachios and omit raisins)
- 2 1⁄2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 lb soft ricotta cheese (this is an alternative filling, if using ricotta omit the nuts, raisins, cinnamon and the 2 1/2 tbsp)
- butter, for buttering the pan
Directions See How It's Made
- 1. In a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, add water, the 1 1/2 cups sugar and lemon juice. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil. Let simmer to a syrupy consistency. Remove from heat, let cool and add rosewater or vanilla.
- 2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees Celsius Butter a 12-inch round, 2-inch high cake pan.
- 3. In a large bowl gently loosen kataifi. Mix very well with the 1/2 pound of melted butter. Place blanched almonds in a decorative pattern in the cake pan. Cover with half of the kataifi. Press down lightly.
- 4. If using the ricotta cheese, spread in an even layer over kataifi, then cover with the remaining half of the kataifi. Press down gently.
- 5. If using the raisins and walnuts sprinkle an even layer over kataifi. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Cover with the remainig half of the kataifi. Press down gently.
- 6. Bake until lightly golden, about 30 to 45 minutes. (Note: the reverse side will be more golden when you turn it out.)
- 7. Immediately pour cold sugar syrup evenly over the hot kunafa. Let cool completely to room temperature. Invert onto serving plate.
- 8. If using the ricotta cheese, kunafa should be served warm or hot. It may be difficult to invert with the ricotta filling so cut and serve from pan.