Knafeh or kunafa is a flat platter usually made with semolina dough(farek) and a filling of melted gooey cheese or clotted cream. It is baked to golden brown and drizzled with sugar syrup. Conventionally, knafeh is made using Akkawi cheese that needs to be soaked to desalt it, alternatively, mozzarella can be used as a substiute.
Knafeh/kunafah is eaten is for breakfast; local sweet shops in Beirut sell this treat early in the morning, sandwiched in a sesame bread. When you walk in the door of any of these shops, you will be drawn by the heavenly oroma and the sweet scent of the orange blossom water. In Lebanon no one bothers to make knafeh at home. Here is a tasty version using bread instead of semolina dough.
The texture of the knafeh does become dense when refrigerated but can be rewarmed later. Thanks to my sister-in-law, Hoda, for the inspiration. The recipe truly exceeded my expectations. Serve it for breakfast or brunch or even as dessert.
Prepare sugar syrup (Ater)
Tear the bread into small pieces. Add the melted butter and knead with your hands, ending up with a dough of one texture.
Coat a 30cm/12 inches round baking tin with a small piece of butter, and press the bread into the bottom of the tin.
Add the sliced mozzarella (the middle layer) almost covering the bread in the tin.
Crush the mastic gum, if used, with a mortar and pestle. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the milk, semolina, heavy cream, sugar, cheese and crushed mastic gum (if used). Whisk constantly over medium heat. Continue whisking until the cheese is melted and the mixture is thickened.
Pour the pudding (you prepared) over the sliced mozzarella in the baking pan.
For the sugar syrup:
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup water
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon orange blossom water
For the knafeh:
For the lower layer:
- 500 g. / 1lb. 2oz. slices of white bread, crust removed
- 200g. /7oz. unsalted butter, melted
For the middle layer:
- 400 g. /14 oz. mozzarella cheese sliced.
For the pudding layer:
- 1 cup coarse semolina
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 cups milk
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 200g. / 7oz. mozzarella cheese, diced
- Mastic gum, optional
- 1/3 cup of coarsely ground raw pistachios, optional
For the sugar syrup:
- Place the sugar, lemon juice and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon to dissolve the sugar.
- Once it boils, reduce heat to low, and simmer for seven minutes. Do not cover the saucepan.
- Add the orange blossom water and simmer for one more minute. Set aside to cool down.
The lower layer:
- Tear the bread into small pieces.
- Add the melted butter and knead with your hands, ending up with a dough of one texture.
- Coat a 30cm/12 inches round baking tin with a small piece of butter, and press the bread into the bottom of the tin.
- Add the sliced mozzarella (the middle layer) almost covering the bread in the tin. Set aside.
For the pudding:
- Crush the mastic gum, if used, with a mortar and pestle.
- Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the milk, semolina, heavy cream, sugar, cheese and crushed mastic gum (if used). Whisk constantly over medium heat.
- Continue whisking until the cheese is melted and the mixture is thickened.
- Pour the pudding (we prepared) over the sliced mozzarella in the baking pan.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Position the rack the lower third (just below center) of the oven.
- Loosely cover the knafeh with foil.
- Bake for about 30-35 minutes, or until the lower layer of knafeh is deep golden in color.
- Turn the knafeh onto a flat serving dish, and garnish with some ground pistachios.
- Cut into slices and drizzle sugar syrup over each serving. Enjoy!
Note: Mastic gum could be quite difficult for many of you to find. If not available, then use ½ teaspoon of sugar vanilla. However, if mastic gum is available in your household, then do not hesitate to use it in this recipe. It really enhances the flavor.
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