The first time I ate this dessert, I was visiting a local Lebanese bakery that specialized in baklava. It tickled my curiosity because I haven't before seen an Arabic dessert that has cheese baked into it. It turns out that the bakery had two kinds of kanafeh: One made with akkawi cheese and the other with kashta cream. I ordered the cheese one and the cashier asked me if I wanted it heated. I said yes, of course, and sat down at a table to unbox this delight. The first bite was nothing short of amazing! The slightly salty, melted cheese was a great contrast to the very sweet, floral crust. I suddenly felt compelled to learn how to make this dessert at home. After talking to Lebanese friends and plenty of trial and error, this is my simple recipe for making kanafeh.
Soaking the cheese in water will extract out the excess salt within it. I like a tiny bit of saltiness in my cheese, so I will periodically taste the cheese throughout the soak time until the right saltiness is achieved. Sometimes I substitute some ghee in place of some of the butter to give the dish a nutty flavour (replacing about 25 to 50 grams). The catch is that the crust will have a slight change in texture, making it more brittle and prone to crumbling. The rose water can be a bit overwhelming to some and can be omitted. Same with the lemon juice.
- Step 1
Slice the cheese into 1 centimeter thick slices and soak them in cold water for 1 to 2 hours. Drain and dry the cheese.
- Step 2
Rough chop the kataifi dough by hand into small shreds. Place the dough in a food processor and process until fine. It will have the appearance of crushed shredded wheat cereal.
- Step 3
Melt the butter in a bowl and mix in the chopped dough and sugar until well blended.
- Step 4
Lightly butter the bottom and side of an 8 inch round baking pan.
- Step 5
Firmly press half of the dough mixture onto the bottom and the sides of the pan.
- Step 6
Lay the cheese onto the crust in the pan, breaking the cheese to fill in any gaps to create an even layer.
- Step 7
Top with the remaining dough mixture, pressing firmly.
- Step 8
Bake in a preheated 350°F (175°C) oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until golden brown.
- Step 9
In the meantime, make the syrup by mixing the water and sugar in a saucepan. Heat the saucepan until all of the sugar has dissolved, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.
- Step 10
Stir in the orange blossom water, rose water and lemon juice. Allow to cool while the kanafeh is baking.
- Step 11
When the kanafeh is taken out of the oven, slowly pour the syrup all over it and allow it to soak up the syrup and cool before serving. Kanafeh can be reheated in the microwave to melt the cheese. Sprinkle some crushed, toasted pistachios on top as garnish.