Creamy, crunchy, sweet… an irresistible trio that is kunafeh. It makes complete sense that something this good would be a hit, and that’s exactly why you can find it throughout the Balkans, Levant, and into Egypt. Although it’s known by different names, we’ll be paying homage to the birthplace of the dessert, the Levant, by referring to it as kunafeh.
When making kunafeh, there are two major variations: kunafeh bil kishtah (kunafeh with cream) and kunafeh bil jibneh (kunafeh with cheese). Each offers different flavors and textures, and you can even have a combination of both.
This recipe will be for a kunafeh bil jibneh variant, complete with rougher shreds of pastry for a crunchy texture – perfect for those looking to have a balanced sweet and salty dessert. With only three parts to this dish: the pastry, filling, and the syrup and topping, this recipe makes for an impressive dessert without much hassle.
Ingredients for the Orange Blossom Syrup & Topping
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup of water
- 2 teaspoons Orange Blossom Water
- 1/4 cup roughly chopped pistachios
Ingredients for the Pastry
- 16 oz. package of Kataifi Shredded Filo Dough (completely thawed)
- 1 cup unsalted butter
Ingredients for the Filling
- 2-3 cups shredded Oaxaca Cheese (Mozzarella is ok too)
- 4 oz. cream cheese (can be substituted for unsweet spreadable cheese like Kiri or Laughing Cow)
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/4 cup farina (cream of wheat)
- Start with your simple syrup. In a small saucepan, combine sugar, water bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 4 minutes. Add your orange blossom water, pour into a heatproof container, and cool to room temperature before refrigerating to chill.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, positioning a rack to the center of the oven.
- Place your Kataifi in a large bowl and begin to shred the dough with your hands, ensuring an even consistency amongst the shreds as best you can. Once shredded, melt your unsalted butter and combine it with a 1/4 cup of your orange blossom simple syrup (if you have disposable gloves, get them ready) before mixing the liquified butter and syrup in with the shredded kataifi, ensuring the dough is coated evenly.
- Using a 10-inch pie or cake tin (I used a tart pan for a fun shape) add your shredded dough to coat the bottom, compressing it firmly with your hands to create an even layer. Use the bottom of a jar or cup to better compress the layer of dough around the edges and center.
- Finely shred the cheese and place it into a bowl, adding in the cream cheese or spreadable cheese of choice.
- In a saucepan, heat the whole milk over medium-high heat until it is hot but avoiding bringing it to a boil. Add the cream of wheat and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thickened. Pour the farina over the cheese mix and stir to ensure it is well combined.
- Add a small amount of pastry dough around the edges of the pan before pouring the cheese mixture into the center. Coat the filling with the remainder of the filo dough and carefully smooth the top with light pressure, ensuring the filling isn’t visible.
- Place in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the kunafeh is a deep golden brown on the top. Remove from the oven and allow it to cool for 15 minutes.
- Turn the kunafeh out onto a serving dish and drizzle with 1/4 cup of the orange blossom syrup. Garnish with pistachios and serve or set aside and reheat before serving. Add orange blossom syrup as desired onto each piece cut to serve.
Don’t let homemade syrup and all that cheese discourage you, this recipe is simple! There are a few techniques to ensure success with your kunafeh – so let’s break them down:
- Simple syrup is always a 1:1 ratio, so ensure you measure accordingly to prevent a grainy mix. Also, keep an eye on the stove as there’s a major risk for burning if left unattended.
- Shred your filo dough with your hands, not the food processor or blender. If some strands are a little longer than others, don’t worry, the main focus is ensuring there’s a standard consistency and that the dough is broken up well. Ensuring your dough is fully dethawed is a must!
- I add cream cheese for a hint of sweetness, but also to provide a creamy texture in the filling mixture. Any spreadable cheese can be substituted if you’re worried about the sweetness of the dish.
- Add pastry dough to the edges of your pan before pouring in your cheese mixture. This will help keep your filling inside and prevent it from seeping beneath your first layer and potentially burning.
- Keep an eye on your kunafeh! Once there’s a deep golden brown on the top around the target cook time, it’s time to take it out. If your dough is browning rapidly or unevenly, you can always cover the kunafeh in tin foil to prevent burning.
You don’t have to travel to the Levant for great kunafeh. Making it at home allows you to customize it as you see fit, and kunafeh bil jibneh is perfect for stashing away and serving later. Regardless of the ocassion, this dessert is a hit and near and dear to my heart.
Bilhana wa shifa! Enjoy!