Kunefe is a Middle-Eastern dessert consisting of layers of crispy pastry filled with a soft cheese filling, which melts when baked into sweet gooey heaven. The pastry is then soaked in a fragrant syrup and finished with chopped nuts. This is probably one of my favourite all time desserts, the flavours just sing of home for me, and the textures cover everything from creamy to crunchy to sweet, spiced and nutty all at once. It’s like a beautiful hybrid of baklava and cheesecake.
It can be prepared the night before and baked ready to serve, as it is best eaten warm with ice cream. I like to top it with seasonal fruits, so I have used fresh plums here but figs are a very classic combination or summer berries work well.
My method involves toasting the pastry in a pan first before finishing the baking in the oven. However, if this seems like too much work, you can make the pastry in a 22cm cake tin or baking dish and simply bake the whole thing for 30-40 minutes, although you won’t achieve the same crispiness.
You will need a oven-proof or cast iron frying pan. Serves 4-6 people.
For the Syrup:
175g caster sugar
3 rinds of orange zest
4 cardamom pods, lightly bashed
2 tsp rose water
For the Filling:
150g mozzarella, grated or broken into small
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1 orange, zested (use the remaining from the syrup)
20g pistachios, roughly chopped
20g walnuts, roughly chopped
200g kataifi or kadeyif pastry - can be found in most middle eastern food stores usually in the frozen section.
150g unsalted butter, melted
Fresh seasonal fruit to garnish, optional
1. Heat the oven to 200C/180C fan.
2. Place the sugar, orange peel, cardamom and water in a saucepan over a low heat gently stirring to dissolve all the sugar. Turn up the heat and boil until slightly thickened and syrupy, then take off the heat and stir in the rose water. Leave to cool and infuse.
3. To prepare the filling, beat the ricotta to break it up and add the mozzarella, feta, spices and orange zest. Add half the chopped nuts, saving the rest to garnish later.
4. Place the pastry in a bowl and use your hands to pull apart the pastry strands. Pour over the rest of the melted butter and use your hands to rub in the butter making sure all the strands are coated.
5. Spread half the pastry over the base of the pan pressing it down into the corners. Spread the cheese filling over the pastry base and cover the top with the other half of the pastry.
6. Place over a low/medium heat for 5 mins, gently swirling the pastry around in the pan to evenly brown and crisp the base. Carefully flip the pastry over by sliding it out on to a plate or lid and sliding it back in the pan. Cook the other side for another 5 mins, checking until it turns golden and crispy.
7. Transfer the pan to the oven to bake for 10 minutes until the cheese has completely melted. 8. Use a sieve to pour over half of the syrup and catch the orange zest and cardamom pods, which can now be discarded. Pour the syrup slowly so it has time to soak through all the layers, then leave to stand for 5 minutes to absorb. Scatter over the rest of the nuts and any fresh fruit, if using. It needs to be served hot while the pastry is crispy and the cheese is gooey.