Kanafeh – Sweet Cheese Pastry

Kanafah , also spelled kunafeh or kunafah is a Middle Eastern cheese pastry soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup, typical of the regions belonging to the former Ottoman Empire. It is a specialty of the Levant and adjoining areas of Lebanon and Turkey.

Kanafeh pastry comes in three types:

  • Khishnah (rough) – Crust made from long thin noodle threads
  • Na’ama (fine) – Semolina dough
  • Mhayara (mixed) – A mixture of khishnah and na’ama

The pastry is heated in butter, margarine, palm oil, or traditionally semneh and then spread with soft white cheese, such as Nabulsi cheese, and topped with more pastry. In khishnah kanafeh the cheese is rolled in the pastry. A thick syrup of sugar, water, and a few drops of rose water or orange blossom water is poured on the pastry during the final minutes of cooking. Often the top layer of pastry is tinted with red food colouring (a modern shortcut, instead of baking it for long periods of time). Crushed pistachios are sprinkled on top as a garnish.


Kanafeh Nabulsieh

It is generally believed to have originated in the Palestinian city of Nablus, hence the name Nabulsieh. Nablus is still renowned for its kanafeh, which consists of mild white cheese and shredded wheat surface, which is covered by sugar syrup. In the Levant, this variant of kanafeh is the most common. The largest plate of kanafeh was made in Nablus in an attempt to win a Palestinian citation in the Guinness World Records. It measured 75×2 meters and weighed 1,350 kilograms.

Kadayıf and künefe

The Turkish variant of the pastry kanafeh is called künefe and the wirey shreds are called tel kadayıf. A semi-soft cheese such as Urfa peyniri (cheese of Urfa, or Hatay peyniri, cheese of Hatay), made of raw milk, is used in the filling. In making the künefe, the kadayıf is not rolled around the cheese; instead, cheese is put in between two layers of wiry kadayıf. It is cooked in small copper plates, and then served very hot in syrup with clotted cream (kaymak) and topped with pistachios or walnuts. In the Turkish cuisine, there is also yassı kadayıf and ekmek kadayıfı, none of which is made of wirey shreds.

Riştə Xətayi

This type of Azerbaijani variant is prepared in Tabriz, Iran. «Riştə Xətayi» is called to mesh shreds that are cooked typically in Ramadan in the world’s biggest covered Bazaar of Tabriz. It is made of chopped walnuts, cinnamon, ginger, powder of rose, sugar, water, rose water, olive oil.


In this variant, called also καταΐφι or κανταΐφι in Greek (kataïfi or kadaïfi), the threads are used to make pastries of various forms (tubes or nests), often with a filling of chopped nuts as in baklava.

A Bosnian style kadaif pastry is made by putting down a layer of wire kadaif, then a layer of a filling of chopped nuts, then another layer of wire kadaif. The pastries are painted with melted butter, baked until golden brown, then drenched in sugar or honey syrup.


Kanafeh - Sweet Cheese Pastry
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Recipe type: Dessert
  1. The day before, slice the akkawi and mozzarella cheese into thick slabs. In a plastic container, cover with water to soak overnight in the refrigerator to desalt the cheese. Change the water several times the first day.
  2. Also in advance, prepare the syrup so it’s completely chilled before the Kanafeh comes out of the oven.
  3. About two hours before cooking, remove the kataifi pastry from the fridge and sit on the counter to ensure it is completely defrosted. Melt the clarified butter.
  4. Prepare a 30 cm round pan or a 40 cm deep-dish pizza pan. Spread 3 tablespoons of the clarified butter in the pan. Add the orange colouring a little at a time. Using a pastry brush, spread the butter and the colouring evenly all over the pan and up the sides.
  5. Preheat the oven to 190°C
  6. Prepare the kunafe pastry. Remove from package and cut into four sections. In a food processor, gently blitz ¼ of the thawed pastry at a time with a few pulses keeping it coarse.
  7. Place pastry in a large bowl and gradually pour the remaining hot clarified butter over top. Use the full amount of butter or the pastry will be dry or stick to the pan. Using your fingers, mix in the butter to evenly coat the strands of pastry.
  8. Drain the desalted cheese and pat dry with a dish towel. Grate cheeses into a large bowl. (If using ricotta, no need to grate.) Sprinkle the sugar and orange blossom water over the cheeses and gently mix together.
Layer the pastry
  1. For the bottom layer, sprinkle handfuls of the buttered pastry and press into the prepared pan going slightly up the sides. Use approximately half the pastry mixture or a bit more to completely cover the pan. (This will be the top when the pastry is flipped.)
  2. Add the cheese filling, spreading the cheese evenly and pressing to cover completely.
  3. Cover with the remaining layer of pastry, ensuring it is even and pressing gently.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 - 35 minutes until pastry becomes crisp and slightly golden.
  5. Remove pastry from oven and give it a gentle shake. The kanafeh will separate from the sides of the pan. If not, separate with a butter knife. Invert the hot kunafe onto a serving platter.
  6. The orange pastry should be slightly crisp. Pour the cold simple syrup over the hot pastry until the kunafe is saturated and glistening. Reserve the remaining syrup to serve in a small pitcher on the side.
  7. Cut the kanafeh into squares or diamonds, 5 cm x 5 cm or larger. Garnish with pistachio nuts and serve while still hot.
  8. Leftovers can be stored for up to four days in the refrigerator and warmed up in the oven or microwave.
1.700 g of akkawi cheese can be substituted with 500 g ricotta - If using ricotta you should only use 400 g mozzarella

2.Allow kataifi pastry to thaw completely before opening the packet. Remove from the refrigerator a minimum of 2 hours before using.


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