What is Kunafa?
As a popular dessert, kunafa is enjoyed in many different Arabic countries. This sugar-coated pastry is especially popular during Ramadan.
For each region, the word Kunafa is spelled differently and there are variations in the preparation. In most cases, the dessert is filled or layered with either cream or cheeses including everything from soft regional cheeses to goat cheese.
The dessert is then topped with pistachios or another type of ground nut. Shredded phyllo dough is used to create long, thin strands to make kunafa. This is referred to as kataifi. Kunafa can be interchanged to mean either the dough or the actual dessert.
The dough is generally baked or fried using oil or butter until it becomes nice and crisp. In certain variations of the desert, a rich semolina dough similar to cake is used instead. Kunafa is available in two different types, na’ameh and khishneh.
Na’ameh is very smooth, with ground semolina dough or farkeh used for the topping. Khishneh is much rougher with crunchy pieces of pastry created using shredded dough or kataifi for the topping.
The type of cheese is dependent on the region. In certain regions, cheese is replaced with either custard or cream.
There are easy recipes to ensure making this treat is simple. The basic ingredients include:
- Kataifi dough (Purchased from the supermarket)
- Ricotta cheese
- Rosewater (Vanilla extract can be used instead)
The combination of these ingredients results in a dessert both delicious and sweet. The sugar syrup can also be made without rosewater.
History of Kunafa
One of the most popular ways to prepare kunafa originated in Nablus, a city in Palestine. This dessert is called kanafeh nabulsiyeh and is one of the most iconic in the country.
This dessert is made using Nabulsi, which is a white-brine cheese. There are also stories showing kunafa originating in other areas. The reason it is not possible to trace the specific origins of this dessert is due to its popularity throughout numerous countries.
Kunafa has also been prepared for centuries. The majority of the popularity comes from specific countries including:
There is a strong belief among culinary experts and residents of these countries that the origin of kunafa is Syria.
According to history derived from a variety of legends and stories, the dessert was created during the 7th century in a Syrian city called Damascus by Muawiyah I.
This was the first caliph of the Umayyad Dynasty. The stories say he asked his cook to prepare a dish rich or great enough to serve during Ramadan.
There are also stories that Nablus Palestine is where the dessert originated. The Guinness World Record is held by this city for the biggest kunafa ever prepared. In 2009, 170 bakers worked together to create a kunafa measuring two meters in width and 75 meters in length.
The ingredients for this massive pastry included:
- Cheese: 600 kilograms
- Pistachios: 35 kilograms
- Sugar: 300 kilograms
Mentions of this dessert can be found in an Andalusian medieval cookbook from the 13th century.
The name of this book is Kitab-al-Tabikh. Kunafa is one of the recipes found in the book. The recipe calls for a thin crepe, with fresh cheese used for stuffing once the pastry has been baked.
It is then drizzled with rose water syrup and honey. There are different spellings of kunafa according to the region or country including:
The root of kunafa is derived from the Arabic word kanaf. The meaning is to protect or shelter.
The belief is this word was selected due to the cooking style using two layers consisting of dough with a filling of cheese in the middle.
Despite many people believing kunafa originated in Syria, the cradle of kunafa is generally referred to as Nablus, Palestine.
Throughout history, kunafa has been special to those enjoying the dessert. This is because the pastry has different symbolism depending on the country.
1) A symbol of goodwill once a solution has been found for a conflict.
2) Prepare for happy celebrations such as someone reaching an important milestone or achievement to show admiration.
3) Prepared during times of grief or sadness including a death.
During the past few years, a lot of experimentation has taken place resulting in a variety of modern variations.
The most common is adding more flavor to the choice of cheese. There is a debate concerning tampering with such a classic recipe or style. Some people believe these new recipes are welcome, but others believe the ancient and famous pastry has been betrayed.
Some of the new versions include red velvet, custard, Nutella and creme Brule. Regardless of the specific form, most people believe kunafa is delicious.
Although it may never be known where kunafa originated due to so many conflicting reports, kunafa is found in one variety or another in Arab homes for Ramadan in addition to many restaurants and shops offering this delicious pastry.
Due to the length of time this pastry has been prepared, people from all over the world have found different ways to transform kunafa.
The result is a wide range of variations. Each country or region offers different types of kunafa with some countries offering more than one.
The specifics of the dessert also depend on the restaurants and bakeries preparing and serving this popular favorite.
Some bakeries have created their own recipe while others have simply made changes to modernize older versions. Three of the most popular versions according to the country are detailed below.
The name of the dish in Turkey is kunefe. The pastry is individually baked using little metallic molds. Dil peyniri is a specific Turkish cheese used as one of the ingredients as opposed to a Palestinian cheese called akkawi.
In Turkey, dil peyniri is prepared using unsalted milk from cows and sheep. The people of this country enjoy topping kunefe with kaymak, a sweet whipped cream.
The dessert in Lebanon is called knefeh-bi-jibn. The ingredients include mozzarella and wheat semolina soaked in syrup containing some type of orange blossom flavor.
In Lebanon, people often enjoy kanafeh for breakfast in addition to a traditional type of bread roll called sesame seed kaakeh.
This pastry is called kanafa in Jordan. The dessert is prepared using a combination of mozzarella and ricotta to provide a melting, creamy and rich texture.
The people in the country enjoy spreading a combination of raisins, nuts and almonds over the top.
Lebanese Kunafa Recipe
Below is an extremely popular recipe for kunafa in Lebanon. The ingredients required are:
Kadaif angel hair (eight ounces)
Akkawi cheese (16 ounces)
2/3 cup samneh (Clarified butter or ghee can be substituted)
Crushed pistachios (three ounces)
1/2 cup water
Orange food coloring (1/4 teaspoon)
Rose water (Three teaspoons)
Caster sugar (1 1/2 cups)
Directions for Making Kunafa
The cheese must be desalted one day before preparing kunafa. This is accomplished by cutting akkawi cheese into slices.
The slices need to be medium-size as opposed to thin or thick. The slices are then soaked in a lot of water changed on a regular basis.
The water must remain salty to make certain the dessert is prepared correctly. To begin preparing the dessert, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Take a medium saucepan and place it over low heat. The clarified butter and food coloring are then melted in the pan.
Put the kadaif into a blender a small amount at a time. Pulse the blender three to four times as the kadaif is added to disentangle and decrease the size. Remove the kadaif and put it into a large bowl.
Pour in the melted clarified butter and use your hands to stir. Make certain the angel hair is covered with butter.
Use a rectangular, round or square pan and use the kadaif and butter mixture to line a little more than 50 percent of the pan. Flatten the mixture onto the bottom of the pan with your hands.
Grate the cheese with a grater and use it to cover the kadaif. Press down on the mixture lightly. Use the remaining kadaif to cover the mixture. Use your hands to flatten the mixture until it is level.
Place the pan in your oven and bake for between 20 and 30 minutes. When the pastry is slightly browned, it is done.
Prepare the syrup while the pastry is baking. To begin, place the sugar and water over low heat. Keep using the same heat until the sugar has dissolved completely.
Now add the rose water into the mixture. Take the pan off the heat and let it cool down for a few minutes.
When the pastry is done, remove it from the oven. Take the syrup in the pan and drizzle it over the top. Use some crushed pistachios as a topping. Serve hot and enjoy.