Konafa, Knefe, Kataifi. Whatever you call this dessert, it's essentially crunchy shredded pastry with either a dairy or nut filling. It's not an everyday food, but it's a food you'll remember everyday.
It's prepared in so many different ways across the Mediterranean and Middle East. Most people are familiar with the Jerusalem style Knefe which has an irritable fine caramalised crumb on top of the melted cheese. But I want to introduce you to the Egyptian Konafa which uses Kataifi shredded pastry on both top and bottom. Getting the pastry crispy is the key to success with this dessert.
I prefer my Konafa with a creamy centre. My mother fills hers with a milk pudding that she prepares ahead of time. I'm borrowing some time saving tricks from our Middle Eastern neighbors by using Akawi cheese. It's a mild cheese which is subtle enough to use in desserts but with a satisfying stretch like mozarella. The slightly salty filling with the sweet pastry is pretty special.
A word of warning that all self control goes out the window when the cold sugar syrup hits the hot Konafa. The sound, the aroma, texture and taste are exceptional.
Making a good Konafa takes a little practice. It's all about technique. I have shared some tips in my recipe below. Enjoy!
375g Antonio Kataifi shredded pastry
170g danish cream (you can use clotted cream, mascarpone or ricotta)
150g Akawi cheese
250g unsalted butter melted
1 cup white sugar
3/4 cup water
A squeeze of lemon
Start by making the sugar syrup. It's important that the syrup is completely cold when pouring over the hit Konafa. Add the sugar and water into a small saucepan over high heat. Mix gently until the sugar dissolves. Turn the heat down and leave the liquid to thicken without over stirring. Once it thickens, give it a squeeze of lemon and stir gently. Leave it to cool completely. On warm days you can store the syrup in the fridge.
Soak the cheese in cold water for a couple of hours. This will help remove excess salt and soften the cheese.
Drain the water from the Awaki well. Mash roughly with a fork. Add the danish cream and mix well. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius.
Now for the pastry. You need to work fast to avoid the pastry drying out. Using a food processor, pulse the Kataifi so it's finely shredded. Empty into a large bowl and pour enough melted butter to coat every strand. Add the butter in stages so you don't add too much. Use your hands to massage the butter thoroughly into the pastry.
Butter the base of a round pie dish (approx. 25cm diameter). Place 1/2 or 3/4 the buttery pastry in the base. Spread it out and use the base of a cup or small plate to apply pressure to flatten the pastry down. The base should be completely covered, thin and flat. Remove some of the pastry if the base is too thick. You'll need it for the top layer.
Pour in the cheese mixture and leave a 2cm border so the filling doesn't ooze out of the sides. Don't use all the mixture if you have too much for your dish size.
Now carefully use the rest of the pastry to patch a cover over the top of the cheese. The pastry needs to completely cover the creamy centre completely. Any bare patches will burn while cooking.
Place the dish into the hot oven for approximately 35-40 minutes or until golden. You'll know it's ready when sides have come off the edges and are crispy.
Carefully flip the Konafa onto a serving platter and pour the cold syrup over the top. Serve immediately.
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