The ultimate Middle Eastern dessert is knafeh. There is no debate about it. Almost every region in the Middle East has its own variation of it. Knafeh has become so much more universal now that you can find it in frozen aisles of supermarkets but nothing is better than homemade. The quality is unmatched. How can I describe this dessert to you? This Knafeh is delicately crunchy yet smooth with a layer of gooey sweet cheese and a drizzle of simple syrup.
Nablus, Palestine is most known for its Knafeh Na’meh. Some of the best in the world can be found in the streets of Nablus. I am not even kidding. It is incredible. It is a must-try if you ever have the chance. Now, there are two kinds of knafeh. Knafeh Na’ameh (smooth knafeh) and Knafeh Khishneh (rough knafeh). The second one is more crunchy, with the topping being kataifi dough which I have a recipe for.
This variation I think, is tastier and more popular. Making the dough, it requires 2 major steps which you will learn of below. I learned this first hand from my mom while I watched her make it. She always makes baking look so effortless. All our family friends love my mom’s knafeh too so I definitely wanted to share it with you guys.
Feel free to check out these other traditional Middle Eastern desserts:
I cant wait for you to impress your family and friends with this showstopping dessert!
- 1 package Zdan Sweet Cheese crumbled, completely drained of any moisture
- 1/4 cup Ghee melted
- 1 tsp Kunafa Coloring optional
- 8 ounces Fresh Mozarella crumbled, completely drained of any moisture, make sure to use fresh as it will melt better
- 3 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour
- 1/2 cup Fine Semolina
- 1/2 cup Corn Starch
- 1/2 cup Dried Milk Powder
- 1/8 tsp Turmeric
- 1/2 cup Crisco butter or room temperature/semi soft unsalted butter
- 1/2 tbsp Baking Powder
- 1.5 cups Room temperature water mix the turmeric with this water
- 1/3 cup Crushed Pistachio
- Simple Syrup See below to learn how to make it
- First, combine the dough ingredients in a kitchenaid with a paddle adjustment or by hand or with a kitchen utensil.
- Spread the dough mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Let it be about 2 inches thick. Don't worry if the dough seems not as smooth. It will eventually get crumbled. Bake in a 300 F oven for 20 minutes until it has dried. It shouldn't be browned but rather just baked to get dry. Then set it room temperature to cool. Once cooled, crumble in a food processor until fine.
- To the bottom of a 14 inch round baking pan (I used Wilton cake pan)(you want a little barrier to your pan), add the ghee with the kanafeh coloring and spread very well on the bottom and edges of the pan so the knafeh won't stick. The ghee will add great flavor too. Make sure there is enough ghee to coat your pan very well.
- Spread out 3/4 of the dough mixture or all of it if you have an even bigger tray. Just make sure the entire bottom is covered with the knafeh dough about 3 inches deep. Most importantly, make sure you pat down the dough very well into the ghee and have an even layer. Press down hard. You can do so by putting parchment paper on top of the dough and using a plate to press the dough into the bottom of the pan. This is very important so the knafeh does not crumble upon flipping.
- Then, add the crumbled Arabic sweet cheese all over leaving just the edges without any cheese. Make sure the cheese has no moisture before using and be sure to pat down the cheese very well into the dough. Then, do the same with the fresh mozzarella.
- Cover with aluminum foil and bake in a 450 F oven for 20-25 minutes on the bottom rack. After 20-25 minutes, check to see if cheese is melted and edges appear browned. If not, give it a few more minutes but keep an eye on it. The knafeh is ready when you are able to move the pan and if you feel the bottom is loosened and moves a bit.
- Once ready, remove the foil. Loosen the edges with a spatula or butter knife. Slightly jiggle the pan and see if it completely loosened. Then, using a slightly bigger plate/baking sheet than the one you baked in; you will flip over the knafeh onto it.
- Do this by placing the larger plate on top of the knafeh. Using oven mits hold the pan and quickly flip and gently place. This is why it is very important to loosen the knafeh before flipping. Also why it is very important to grease the pan with ghee.
- Drizzle all over with homemade simple syrup and sprinkle with the crushed pistachios. To make the syrup, just combine 2 cups of white sugar with 2 cups of water. Stir together and bring to a boil then allow to simmer for 7 minutes until just slightly thickened. Make sure it is warm when pouring on the hot knafeh. Add more syrup on the side for those who prefer a sweeter knafeh.
- Cut and enjoy this amazing dessert!