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!
My husband is originally from Nablus and always craves knafeh from the blad. I’ve tried knafeh in Palestine and Jordan and let me tell you, this recipe is the closest you’ll get!! It is so easy to make and absolutely DELICIOUS!!! My only advice is to use a good baking pan and follow the directions on this blog step by step. You won’t regret making it!
WOW this recipe was amazing made it for my family and everyone said it was delicious and it reminded them of back home. Amazing recipe thanks Heifa!
I made this knafeh recipe and it was beyond amazing! My husband loved it and said it tasted better then knafeh shop knafeh! The flip was great too and Heifa’s steps were perfect!
Thank you for this recipe!
That is so amazing to hear, Sahar! Thank you for leaving such a kind review!
Hi there- is there a substitute for dried milk powder in this recipe? Thank you
There is no substitute for the dry milk powder for this recipe, sorry!
What do you mean by when assembling, the knafeh dough can be 3 inches deep? That sounds really high?
And also, does your knafeh only have one layer of dough and one layer of cheese? I don’t see you mentioning a 2nd layer of dough so I’m a bit confused.
It will be one layer of knafeh dough at the bottom of the pan and should be about 2 inches thick then the cheese on top of that (I will edit this), when it is flipped onto a platter then that will be the top of the knafeh.
Can you make this 2 days in advance and just bake the day of?
I have made it a day in advance and kept it in the fridge then brought it to room temperature before baking but never for 2 days so I am not positive.
Thank you for sharing this with us Heifa! I have a question about serving this. Even if I serve completely hot, the knafeh and cheese tends to get cold very fast making it hard for someone to cut through with only a fork. Is this something I’m doing incorrectly or is there something I can do to make eating it easier?
Np, I would try making the cheese layer not as thick if that is the case. That is all I can really think of. I have never had this issue if the knafeh is served immediately while hot. Much of the cheese pull also comes from the fresh mozzarella so make sure that is used!
I’m not sure what I did wrong but the dough seemed too sandy after baking the knafeh. It wasn’t tender but more crumbly. Can you maybe let me know what it could be. I may have left the dough in the oven longer than 20 minutes before cooling and blending, but that’s all I can think of.
My only guess is that the dough was too finely ground for it to have such a sandy texture. If you have an Instagram and would like to send me a photo so I can better see then that would be great. I am sorry it wasn’t the outcome you expected. It can be tricky to nail this dessert on the first try. I will do my best to help.
Hi there – what temperature do you usually use to reheat in the oven and for how long? thank you!
Typically, I microwave a piece for a few seconds. If you were to use an oven. try 350 F for 5-10 min until the cheese is semi-melted and the slice is warm.
This recipe does not disappoint! The knafeh comes out nice and toasted with a great crunch. The cheese is the perfect combination of stretch and chew. Everything about this recipe is great. Thank you!
Can we substitute all purpose flour with whole wheat flour?
I have not tried this before so I cannot say, sorry!
Farida, you sound like me! I make my own pita and sourdough with whole wheat.
There is nothing healthy about knafah however. Okay to splurge every once and a while. I would definitely skip the whole wheat flour. The increased fiber in whole wheat will surely mess with this recipe.
Can’t wait to try this! Thanks for posting.
hi there haifa!
is there a substitute for zdan sweet cheese?
Yes, akkawai cheese or nabulsi cheese (you can mix it with shredded mozzarella) but you would have to soak it in water to remove its saltiness. Also, any sweet cheese works-not necessarily this brand.
What is the weight of 1 package of Zdan? I don’t have this in my area and I’m trying to use like items but not sure how much to get.
About 8 oz!
My daughter LOVED this recipe after trying kanafeh at ther friend’s house. I’m not really into desserts much so I dont typically make them and had no idea how to make this……you’d never know because it came out amazing and just like from a pastry shop! Thanks again Fufu!