Friends do I have a killer recipe for you 😉
Kunafa/Kanafeh, in my opinion, is the Middle East’s version of gulab jamun (loved by all and such a gorgeous presentation). It consists of a top and bottom layer of buttery and crispy shredded phyllo dough (called Kataifi), with a cream or cheese filling. The whole thing is drenched in sugar syrup and a liberal dusting of pistachios.
The most popular variety of Kunafa is the cheese-filled kind. I mean after all, who can resist a super long cheese-pull? The variety I am sharing today, Kunafa bil Ashta, is the humble counterpart to the more showy cheesey variety. It’s kunafa with a cream filling.
Here is an overview of how to make Kunafa bil Ashta–
Ashta/ Cream Filling– Ashta is traditionally prepared by skimming off the layer of fat that forms when boiling milk. It is similar to clotted cream, and is the Middle Eastern counterpart to South Asian malai. Here, we’re using a cheat’s version by preparing a pastry cream consisting of milk, eggs, cornstarch and sugar. We’ll be using it here to stuff the Kanafeh.
Sugar Syrup– Sugar syrup is widely used in Arab desserts. We’ll be pouring it over the Kanafeh once they come out of the oven.
Preparing the Kataifi– Kataifi is finely shredded phyllo dough. It’s found readily at Middle Easters/Arab markets, and keeps well frozen. Here, we’re simply bringing it to room temperature and breaking it up into smaller pieces and using it as the base of our recipe.
Middle Eastern Cream Filled Kunafa / Kunafa bil Ashta
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup water
- ½ teaspoon lemon juice
Ashta/ Cream Filling
- 2 large eggs
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 teaspoons orange blossom water
- 1 pound package kataifi (shredded phyllo dough), thawed
- ½ cup unsalted butter, melted
- ½ cup neutral flavored oil
- Sliced or roughly chopped pistachios, for garnish
- Dried rose petals, for garnish, optional
Prepare Sugar Syrup
Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir and cook until the sugar has dissolved, then remove from heat. Refrigerate the syrup once it has reached room temperature.
Prepare Ashta/ Cream Filling
In a medium saucepan, whisk together eggs, sugar, cornstarch until smooth. While continuously whisking, pour in milk and whisk until completely combined.
Place the saucepan over medium heat and cook until thickened, while regularly stirring or whisking to prevent scorching, about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in orange blossom water. Transfer to a heat-safe container and cover with cling film (making sure that it’s directly on top of the cream/custard) to prevent a skin from forming.
Preheat oven to 350°F and set aside two greased 9-inch round cake pans.
Place kataifi in a large bowl, and shred into 1 to 2-inch pieces. Gently toss the shredded kataifi with melted butter and oil, making sure they are evenly coated.
Transfer ½ of the prepared kataifi to both prepared pans. Gently press them down to form an even layer. Spoon the prepared ashta evenly over both pans, leaving a ½-inch border along the edges. Top both pans with the remaining kataifi and gently pat it down into an even layer.
Bake the prepared kunafa for 30 minutes. For a golden color, place under the broiler for a few minutes.
Remove kunafa from oven and immediately pour the prepared sugar syrup evenly over both pans. Garnish with pistachios and rose. Allow the syrup to absorb for a few minutes before serving.
Kataifi can readily be found at your local Middle Eastern/Arab grocery markets.
All of the components of Kunafa can be prepared beforehand. The Ashta and assembled (unbaked) kunafa can be kept refrigerated up to 2 days prior, and the sugar syrup keeps well refrigerated for several days. Simply bake before serving.
Leftovers keep well in the refrigerator. Warm up leftovers in the oven for best results.
Kunafa can be baked in a 9”x13” pan as well. Baking temperature will remain the same, but the baking time will be increased by 5 to 10 minutes.
Adapted from a now-defunct blog.