Kanafeh/Künefe (Sweet Cheese Pastry)

Kanafeh/Künefe (Sweet Cheese Pastry)

A few months ago I got an email inviting me to explore Israel, it's people and it's cuisine on a project called Taste of Israel put on by a group called Stand With Us. At first I was a little leery about the offer but after a bit of research it seemed legit and it was an opportunity that I simply could not pass up and so I went! It turned out to be an absolutely amazing experience filled with lots of great people and of course plenty of amazing food! I enjoyed a lot of dishes in Israel and I just had to try making a few of them at home and sharing them with you!

Flat Bread topped with Garlic Butter and Roasted Tomatoes
The adventure started as soon as we got off the plane, after almost 20 hours travel time from Toronto, as we were whisked away to the beautiful Dan Hotel Tev Aviv where after checking in we headed out for dinner at Yaffo Tel Aviv restaurant by Haim Cohen. The meal that we had there was filled with plenty of tasty dishes including a flat bread that was covered in melted garlicky butter and roasted cherry tomatoes but the one dish that really stood out for me was a dessert, the kanafeh.

I had never heard of kanafeh before but as soon as I heard that it was warm cheese in between two layers of light flaky pastry, I was sold! I mean you really cannot go wrong with cheese and I loved the idea of using it in a dessert! This particular künefe was made with goat cheese and it was topped with a sweet apple sauce and the combination of sweet and savoury was phenomenal; I knew immediately that I would have to make kanafeh when I got home!

Kanafeh (aka Kunafeh, aka Künefe, aka...) is a pastry that is common to countries in the Levant region including Turkey, Israel, Greece, etc. and and there are as many different ways of spelling it as there are of making it. It's commonly made with the shredded phyllo like pastry, with the same name as the final dish, and it is usually filled with a neutral, non-salty, stringy cheese and it is baked until the pastry gets nice and golden brown and crispy and it is then smothered in a simple syrup. (Imagine something like a single layered baklava with a cheese filling instead of nuts.)

Of course the first task that I had before I could make it was finding the pastry which turned out easier than I expected because Greeks use something similar, called kataifi, so I was able to find it next to the phyllo pastry in a local grocery store. Next up was the cheese and different cultures use different cheeses, most of which I had never heard of, but the common properties are that it is neutral and not salty and that it is stringy. As it turns out, as easy substitute is to combine feta, that has been soaked in water to remove the saltiness, and mozzarella.

Haim Cohen
Once I had all of the ingredients it was as easy as coating the pastry in butter, pressing it into a pan and topping it with the cheese and more pastry before baking it until golden brown and crispy. I do not normally think about using cheese in desserts and it's really a shame since they work so well and this dish is a perfect example with it's crispy pastry outside and stringy cheese inside all covered in sweet syrup! I will definitely be making this a lot in the days to come!

As it turns out Haim Cohen, the owner of the restaurant is also a judge on the Israeli Top Chef show and he was at the restaurant when we were there so we got to chat with him about food for a while.

Taste of Israel group at Yaffo-Tel Aviv
The fantastic group of people that I traveled with. Jennifer Melo Alice D'Antoni Philis of Allys Kitchen, Amy Huntley of The Idea Room, Heather Thoming of Whipperberry and the amazing people that organized everything!

Stay tuned for more recipes from my adventures in Israel!

Künefe  (Sweet Cheese Pastry)
I could not leave you without some stringy cheese shots!

Kanafeh/Künefe (Sweet Cheese Pastry)

Kanafeh/Künefe (Sweet Cheese Pastry)
In addition to making the standard kanafeh I did make one with goat cheese and topped it with a simple home made apple sauce and it was also amazing!

Kanafeh/Künefe (Sweet Cheese Pastry)
Kanafeh/Künefe (Sweet Cheese Pastry)

Kanafeh/Künefe (Sweet Cheese Pastry)

Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 25 minutes Total Time: 35 minutes Servings: 12

A pastry consisting of hot cheese in between layers crispy shredded phyllo dough in a sweet syrup that is common in Greece, Turkey, Israel and many other countries in the area.

  • 1/2 pound shredded phyllo (called: kataifi or kunefe), thawed as directed on package
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 cups mozzarella, shredded
  • 2 cups feta (soaked in water for an hour) or goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup simple syrup or 1/4 cup apple and/or pear sauce
  1. Break the pastry apart into one or two inch long pieces, separating the strands. (A few pulses of a food process helps with this.)
  2. Mix the butter into the pastry with your hands in a large bowl until coated and press half of it into the bottom of a greased metal baking pan in a thin layer.
  3. Pulse the cheeses in a food processor until the mixture reaches the consistency of a coarse meal and press it into the dough in the pan.
  4. Press the remaining dough onto the cheese and bake in a preheated 350F/180C oven until lightly golden brown, about 20-30 minutes.
  5. Serve warm covered in syrup or topped with apple and/or pear sauce.

Note: Top make the simple syrup, simmer 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar until the sugar has disolved and let cool.
Nutrition Facts: Calories 280, Fat 18g (Saturated 11g, Trans 0.3g), Cholesterol 57mg, Sodium 489mg, Carbs 20g (Fiber 0.3g, Sugars 9g), Protein 9g
Nutrition by: Nutritional facts powered by Edamam


Heather Christo said...

THis is so beautiful and unique- gorgeous Kevin!

Aimee @ Simple Bites said...

What a cool recipe, Kevin! Can't wait to try it.

Dixya said...

i absolutely love kanafef, I want a slice Kevin.

Marian (Sweetopia) said...

How great is that, Kevin! Glad you enjoyed your trip - looking forward to trying out this and more amazing recipes from you!

Anonymous said...

This version is known as the Nabulsi Knafeh, and it's my favorite. My mom adds a little food coloring to the shredded phyllo so it comes out bright orange. I've only ever had it with the rose water syrup, so will have to try it out with the apple sauce.

Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar said...

Holy smokes Keven! What an amazing experience AND amazing dish! Love this!

Julie @ Table for Two said...

omg i've never had anything like this before and i'm simply dying to try this!!!

Ella-HomeCookingAdventure said...

Oh my.. this is looking gorgeous!!!

Mia said...

When you did it with goat cheese, did you use straight goat cheese? I do not like feta and would like to try this but using goat cheese.


Oh my word!!! I MUST make this immediately!

Sara Angel said...

It's well know mainly in the Arabian country: from wikipedia:
is a dessert specialty of the Levant, especially in Lebanon, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and northern Egypt. It is a first cousin of the Greek kadaifi and the Turkish künefe and ekmek kadayıfı.

Kevin Lynch said...

Mia: Use 2 cups mozzarella and 2 cups goat cheese and pulse them together in a food processor until them form a 'meal'. Whit both you get the stringiness of mozzarella and the flavour of goat cheese!

Pauline said...

Can't wait to try this...... heavenly!

Anonymous said...

This looks so bad for you that it HAS to be good. I think it might be great as a dessert for those who don't really like desserts.... yes, I know some people like that.

janet @ the taste space said...

Lucky you! Good choice, though, because kunefe was my favourite dish while travelling in Turkey, too. :)

Anonymous said...

I was just talking to my supervisor about kunefe. I've had it at a Turkish restaurant a few times (with tea of course =) ). They serve it with a syrup very similar to the syrup used in baklava and toasted pistachios on times. I tell you, kunefe is absolutely a heavy dessert that is absolutely delish. Usually, if my husband and I are out and know that we are going to have kunefe, we'll share lettuce wraps (or a crepe) at the Vietnamese restaurant in the same strip mall.

Angie said...

Wow Kevin - this looks absolutely amazing! I love the crispy outside and melted gooey cheesy inside. Yum!

Tieghan said...

This is so different, Kevin! It looks like my kind of food!

Nada said...

Kevin, I've been checking your blog for recipes for awhile now, and I love the way it all turns out.You're an amazing cook, and I love those little notes you put at the top, explaining how you got this recipe, and such things. But, I just wanted to tell you that "Kanafeh" is not an Israel dish. It's actually an Arabic dish. :)

Joanne said...

Oh my gosh, what an amazing experience!! I am so intrigue by the flavors at hand here...it's such an interesting mix of sweet and salty!

Ally said...

Kevin!! Thank you sooooooooo much for posting this...I'll be making and sharing, too...love piggybacking on you, my friend...miss you!! ***hugs***

Anonymous said...

Hi Kevin, your recipes and food photography are just so mouthwatering. I love Kanafeh; it's my favorite Arabic dessert by far. I'm originally from Egypt living in Canada and I grew up with Kanafeh present in every special occasion & especially during the month of Ramadan. The Egyptian version is made with a cream filling though, that is absolutely out of this world, I highly recommend that you give it a shot someday. This particular kanafeh that you've made is called kanafeh Nabluseya which is native to the Palestinian city of Nablus, but is equally popular in Jordan, Lebanon & Syria. The Israelis might have adapted as their own but the origin is definitely Arabic, so credit should be given were credit is due.

Anonymous said...

Wow looks amazing!! Kevin, your trip to Israel sounds so tasty and the people sound so warm, can't wait to hear more about your time in that small but amazing country. It's so fun to see the diverse cultures in Israel through their yummy food!

bellini said...

What an amazing opportunity Kevin I look forward to hearing more.

Jae said...

My mother is from Ramallah, Jordan, and this was my favorite growing up. When my grandmother used to make it, she would also use mozzarella as a substitute along with another cheese from an Arabic store (don't know the name). The dessert was also a light pink color when she would serve it and it was always very syrupy - almost honey like.

Little Z. said...

I've made this before, and I used Ricotta. It's already a little sweet, and it holds up nicely with the mozzarella. Mmmmmmm... I might just have to make this again... my mouth is watering for it now! :)

vanillasugarblog said...

I've never heard of this.
What a fun trip, lucky you.
I love learning about the food history of cultures.
I can't wait to read more. Is there more? lol

Katie said...

What an amazing trip and experience and this bread... I want some asap!

Amy {The Idea Room} said...

And now I want to go back! I can't believe I didn't see this before! So fun to have met you on this amazing trip!

Kevin Lynch said...

Amy {The Idea Room}: It was great meeting you as well! I had such a great time there!

Carmen said...

I absolutely love knafeh. It's been my favourite sweet ever since I tried it for the first time in the city of Nablus, in 2006.

I bumped into your blog by pure chance and the pictures made me keep the tab open and go on reading. As glad as I am that you enjoyed your visit to Israel, I felt a bit confused about Palestine not being mentioned even once (or the Palestinian Territories or the West Bank, if you prefer so) even when the knafeh na'me is the most famous palestinian dessert.

I'm not talking about politics here, just cooking and people´s heritage, and knafeh is definitely an arabic delicacy.

Heather Hartlaub said...

Knafeh was definitely one of my favorites while studying in Jordan. I'm so glad to have finally found a recipe so I can make it at home!

Just to second the numerous comments - knafeh is a traditional Arab dish from Jordan, Syria, Palestine, etc. and was adopted by the Israelis, like many other Arab dishes.

I'm glad that the word is getting out!

Ella H said...

This is by far the most famous Palestinian dessert of all time. No credit to be given to Israel here. This is not a politics forum, but it's enough these people lost their home. It's not fair to give credit to their occupier.

sultana trabulsi said...

A correction : kunafa is a pure arabic , ottoman cuisine

Anonymous said...

Couldnt help but notice that in your tags there is no arabic tag, despite there being a turkish, and greek tag. Smells like ignorance

Anonymous said...

Kunafa is not from Israel but a Palestinian dessert

Anonymous said...

I had this on a trip to Istanbul last year and loved it so much without even knowing what it was called, and I was sad because I thought I'd never be able to eat it again. So thank you so much for posting the recipe!

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