Updated: Nov 12, 2022
Knafeh is one of the desserts that people in Israel are willing to stand in long lines or drive far to bakeries in Arabic villages. I’ve read that in Lebanon, people line up for it at 4 in the morning after coming home from the nightclub. It is amazing how much this desert, with origins tracing back hundreds of years to the Palestinian city of Nablus, is still popular in the Levant. Kanafeh consists of layers of shredded filo pastry (called Kataif) and cheese (usually goat cheese), all soaked in sweet syrup and topped with roasted chopped pistachio (stay away from Knafeh with dark-orange topping–it’s food coloring). The contrast between the crispy pastry to the soft cheese is what makes this pan-dessert so rich and tasty.
We fell back in love with Knafeh when we started to host our outdoor dining events and realized it would be the perfect dessert to cook on the fire. Our version of Knafeh is made with only one layer of pastry, ricotta, or farmer’s cheese, an additional layer of seasonal fruit, and a sweet syrup made with honey. It’s best served warm, so you can either cook it straight on the grill in front of your guests or indoors - on your stovetop.
Serves 6-8 (use 8” skillet)
180 gr Kataif (shredded phyllo dough, store-bought) thawed in the fridge. (Or about 10 sheets of filo pastry, finely shredded – use your hands for that)
150 gr unsalted butter, melted.
450 gr cheese: use Ricotta cheese (unsalted), or Farmers' cheese, combined with fresh shredded or thinly sliced soft mozzarella cheese if you have some
1-1.5 cups (about 12 oz) fresh cranberries
3/4 cup (150gr) sugar
1-1.5 cups seasonal fruit, sliced. Use soft fruit such as grapes, figs, cherries, plums, or berries (if using firm fruit saute them first on the skillet with 1/2 cup sugar, to break up a bit and soften).
¼ cup sweettahini's sweet dukkah or toasted pistachios, thinly chopped - for garnish.
For the syrup:
170 gr (1/2 cup) honey
60 ml (1/4 cup) water
1 teaspoon rose water syrup OR lemon juice from ½ lemon.
Make the syrup: Mix the honey and water in a small saucepan over low heat, add in the rose water or lemon juice and set aside.
In a bowl, toss the Kataif and melted butter until all strands are coated with butter and separated.
Transfer the Kataif strands into a hot skillet, and spread them firmly and evenly.
Spread a uniform layer of cheese on top of the Kataif.
Arrange a layer of fruit on top of the cheese.
Place the skillet on the grill, or on a stove, and cook until the bottom is golden brown.
Flip and transfer to a serving plate and drizzle the honey syrup.
Scatter sweettahini's dukkah or pistachios and serve immediately.
You can also bake the Knafeh in a preheated oven to 38 degrees F (use an oven-safe dish for that). Bake for 13-17 mins.
Knafeh should be served hot. However, if you must prepare it ahead, you can assemble the Knafeh and cook/bake it later. Syrup can also be cooked ahead and drizzled on top of the hot Knafeh just before serving.