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Knefeh – Lebanese Cheese Dessert

2021-08-24
  • Servings: 4 or 6

Knefeh, Knafeh or Kunafa is a baked cheese dessert made with a vermicelli-like phyllo pastry also known as shredded phyllo dough or Kadaifi/Kataifi. It’s popular across the Levant region (Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan), Turkey and Greece. The recipe here is the Lebanese version which is made with Akkawi cheese – not clotted cream – and shredded phyllo dough – not fine semolina dough.

If Akkawi cheese is not available it can be replaced by Nabulsi cheese or mozzarella cheese. Phyllo dough and the 2 Middle Eastern cheeses can be found in Lebanese, Middle Eastern or in Greek shops. In fact the Kadaifi I used was made in Greece (You can also find it online). It’s weight was 480g. I used only half of it. It’s sold frozen so don’t forget to thaw it before use.

NB: The Akkawi and Nabulsi cheeses are quite salty. They need to be soaked in cold water, at least overnight or 48h in the fridge, to desalinate. Change the water as often as possible. Taste it before using it.

Ingredients

  • 250 g of Kadaifi dough, finely shredded
  • 125g of ghee or clarified butter, melted
  • 1 tbsp of rose water
  • 1 tbsp of orange blossom water
  • 750g of desalinated Akkawi cheese (or mozzarella), finely sliced or grated
  • Sugar syrup: 1 cup of sugar + half cup of water + 1 tsp of lemon juice + 1 tsp of orange blossom water + 1 tsp of rose water

Method

Step 1

Preheat the oven to 200 C. The Kadaifi vermicelli-like dough is quite long so you need to pull the strands apart then cut them into into smaller pieces before placing them in the food processor to make them finer.

Step 2

Place the shredded phyllo in a bowl then add the melted butter, the orange blossom and rose waters and mix well using your hands. The butter must cover all the shredded phyllo.

Step 3

Put 2/3rd of the pastry into a buttered tart dish. Spread it evenly and press it firmly into the bottom. Distribute the cheese all over then spread thinly the remaining phyllo dough, this time, over the cheese.

Step 4

This second spread of phyllo is necessary to avoid the cheese to colour as it bakes between 30 to 40 minutes in the oven. The professionals usually cook the knefeh on top of a heat. NB: After the first 15 minutes in the oven lower the temperature to 180C.

Step 5

While the knefeh is being baked, prepare the syrup by boiling the water with sugar and lemon juice. When it thickens add the rose and orange blossom waters and remove from the heat. Cool it before using. In Lebanon the syrup is used individually, to top your piece of knefeh; not poured all over.

Step 6

When the top is nicely coloured you can assume that the knefeh is ready. remove it from the oven. Place a large plate or baking tray over the baking dish. Using oven gloves, carefully invert the baking dish onto the plate so the good side is on top. Cut into pieces and serve while hot. The person who was served will use the syrup to her liking.

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