Cheesecake (Knefeh)

February 23, 2010  •  Category:

Knefeh is our national cheesecake; it is eaten in Lebanon forbreakfast as well as dessert. Like all pastries, it does not contain eggs; made of  a cheese  similar to mozzarella and a semolina and butter crust. It is sweetened by dousing syrup on it after it comes out from the oven, piping hot. It is served with a sesame  bread, kaak.

Each neighborhood in Beirut has a place that  locals go to for their knefeh fix. One summer, one of my dad’s oldest friends, an Iraqi cardiologist, was visiting from Baghdad. Dr. Aladdin El-Jaafar  and I were both craving knefeh and so we decided to roam  the streets of Beirut looking for a good spot to buy some. He had heard of a street  vendor in Hamra (the shopping district) that sold  the best knefeh in West Beirut;  we found it and had a bite and  decided it was mediocre; so we kept walking until we finally landed on the Corniche (a large boulevard lined by the sea).

Set right  next to a mosque was a pastry shop with squeaky clean marble floors; the superior knefeh we were looking for was brought to our table with some Turkish coffee and glasses of water. Oh joy and relief! We immediately started plotting my trip to Baghdad the following spring. I wanted to interview Dr. El-Jaafar  in depth and get his full  life story on record; I was fascinated by the titbits I had been hearing over the years. It was a story filled with kings, high-level politics, passion, love affairs, assassinations, conspiracies, jewels, maharajahs, prison, torture, riches, bankruptcies, Saddam, etc.  I was convinced it would makeJohn Le Carrégreen with envy; this was a story that was real and more exciting than his spy novels.

Unfortunately, a few months later Irak was victim of a colossal invasion and my project had to be shelved.

This recipe is called “mock knafeh”, because the crust is made of American-style toasted bread instead of the semolina; in Lebanon, you can buy the traditional semolina  dough ready-made which makes the dessert easy to complete at home. The process of making the semolina dough is usually left to professionals. This is why ingenious Lebanese pastry chefs came up with this mock version, which is lighter and simpler to execute.

INGREDIENTS: 8 servings


  • 1 package of Ackawi cheese (substitute fresh mozzarella) (12 ounces or 340 g) This cheese is sold at middle-eastern stores and is produced in California for the US market.
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter (4 ounces or 112 g)
  • American-style bread toast, about 12 pieces (200 g)
  • 2 cups of milk
  • 1/2  cup of farina (cream of wheat)(or coarse semolina)
  • 3 pebbles of mastic (optional), pounded in a small mortar with a teaspoon of sugar.


  • 1 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 3/4 cup of water
  • a few drops of fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons of orange blossom water
  • 1 teaspoon of rose water


The day before:

  1. Desalt the cheese: Cut the cheese in 1/4 inch slices. Place them in a bowl and cover them with cold water. Keep in this water for about 12 hours, changing the water frequently. This process will desalt the cheese; (another method is to place the cheese under the faucet and let it run slowly all night).
  2. Prepare the crust: Dry out the toast by leaving it outside for a day or two or placing it for one hour in a 200F oven; cut the toast in coarse crumbs by pulsing it in a food processor (or by hand); the texture of the crumbs should resemble coarse bulgur or finer. Add the butter, cut in chunks and process until the mixture is crumbly and a bit moist.
  3. Place the mixture in a pyrex pie pan and press firmly to adhere to the bottom  and sides of the pan. Note: The crust can be prepared the same day.

Prepare the cheese filling:

  1. Remove the cheese from the water and dry very well with paper towels. Grate the cheese in a food processor. Set aside.
  2. Heat the milk to reach the boiling point. Add the cream of wheat gradually while stirring continuously for two or three minutes. Add the grated cheese to this mixture and stir until the cheese melts. If using the mastic, add it now to the cheese mixture and stir for a few seconds.
  3. Cool the cheese mixture for a minute or two  and pour over the toast crust.

When ready to consume:

  1. Bake the cheesecake in a preheated 350F oven for about 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden-brown. Let it rest for 15 minutes and flip it over on a serving plate, accompanied by the syrup on the side. You can also precut portions and keep in the freezer; heat in the microwave when needed for a few seconds. The syrup will keep for one month in the fridge.
  2. While the cheesecake is baking, place the sugar and water in a heavy-bottomed pan; add a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice. Bring to a boil and stir to melt the sugar. Boil for 7 minutes or so.
  3. Turn off the heat and add the flavorings. Set aside.

NOTE: To help release the crust, I place ice cubes on the pan, wrapped in a towel. Also, be careful not to cook the syrup too long, or it will be harder to pour. If that is the case, add a bit of water and reboil for a few seconds to get the right consistency.

Also, unlike American  cheesecake which is served cold, this is served piping hot,the cheese oozing out,so if you had it in the fridge, plop into the microwave for 15 seconds or so.

Source: مايدة مارلين منالشرق والغرب مارلين متر


58 Comments  •  Comments Feed

  1. Angie@Angie's Recipe says:

    Cheesecake served rosewater syrup sounds like a heavenly treat.

  2. Rachana Kothari says:

    This is such a delicious Cheesecake…have never had it though but looks really great:) I love the 1st Click!

  3. oum mouncifrayan says:

    bien faite et surement délicieuse, moi personnellement je l’ai jamais dégusté!!! mais j’aime cette recette, merci pour les détails.. et bravo pour le new look de ton site!! j’aime bien, l’ancien aussi était jli! lol

  4. cmiranda says:

    I have some recipes for this desert but for some reason have been afraid to try it because it just seemed really complicated to me but your recipe seems so much easier than all the others.Thanks again for sharing.

  5. Priya says:

    Wow wat an awesome cheesecake, looks fantastic !!

  6. Sarah says:

    what a beautiful presentation. I bought 1 kg of kadaif a few weeks ago (its waiting for me in the freezer) and I would love to try a version of knefeh with it. I love the story of your search for the perfect knefeh.

  7. Jagruti says:

    Lovely and delectable cheese cake..looks awesome and ready to have whole cake..;-)) yummy

  8. Rosa says:

    That is a dessert I really love! This version with toast bread is interesting!



  9. Simply Life says:

    oh this looks great! i love the look of your site!

  10. Julie says:

    J’aime beaucoup ta nouvelle déco ! Tu as tout mis sens dessus dessous, même ton cheesecake 😉 Je crois que c’est la première fois que je vois une recette à la mozzarelle, vu que je ne pense pas trouver de fromage Ackawi, mais ça doit être bien crémeux, miam !
    Tu m’as aussi donné envie de connaître l’histoire de M. Aladdin. Taste of Beirut : premier blog culinaire-photographique-culturel-politique, je suis fan! Gros bisous!

  11. 5 Star Foodie says:

    Wow, this unique cheesecake sounds absolutely heavenly! And I love the syrup with the orange blossom & rose water!

  12. Arlette says:

    Looks great…..
    Never tried this easy version before… I do have a simple recipe to prepare the knefah from scratch…. and tastes the same like the knefe dough.
    if you are interested I can email it to you.

  13. Faith says:

    Knefeh is my absolute favorite Middle Eastern dessert! I’ve never had it made with semolina and butter crust, I’ve only had it with a kataifi and butter crust…but this looks incredible also!

  14. FoodFitnessFreshair says:

    This sounds delicious! Although, I think I’d handle it better for dessert than breakfast! I love the syrup touch on top.

  15. Turkish Food Passion says:

    I would not mind eating knefeh with Turkish coffee every morning.

  16. Christine @ Fresh Local and Best says:

    This looks and sounds like an upside-down cheesecake. I like that there orange blossom accents are infused in the syrup. Delicious!

  17. sophia says:

    Holy cow…how gorgeous is that? I’m not a big cheesecake fan, but this has intrigued me beyond belief. You always have such amazing recipes, and food I’ve never heard before! I love your blog SO much!

  18. rebecca says:

    wow looks amazing love the new look of your blog, nice job oh and I write for an Alaskan Seafood company could I feature the lobster soup and link to you
    rebeccasubbiah at yahoo dot com


  19. Sushma Mallya says:

    seems like a lot of work but really worth doing it for sure….looks damn tempting and extremely delicious…i just loved the new look of your blog too…

  20. Nadjibella says:

    L’histoire de l’Irak est et reste une histoire très douloureuse.
    La disparition ou l’élimination de Saddam valait-elle la destruction d’un pays et d’une société ?????
    J’ai l’habitude de faire le kneffé, version kadayef.
    Ta version me plait beaucoup et il faut que je la teste bientôt.
    Le pain grillé français devrait convenir aussi non ?!
    A bientôt.

    • Joumana says:

      Nadjibella, tu peux imaginer mes sentiments vis-a-vis de ton commentaire au sujet de l’Irak! Il vaut mieux passer à autre chose! C’est trop douloureux.
      En ce qui concerne le knefeh, oui, tu peux utiliser le pain de mie ou la mie d’une baguette je suppose. Il faut just que ce soit bien rassit.

  21. Ivy says:

    Wow, this sounds heavenly. We make a similar tyropita with kourou phyllo but it’s savory. I can imagine that it’s great with the syrup.
    I have read your other posts as well. Good luck with relocating to Beirut.

  22. Maninas says:

    Lovely cheesecake. I love knefeh with kataif pastry, and I’m sure this is tasty, too.

    Btw, I love the new look of your website. There’s something very calming and elegant about it.

  23. Juanita says:

    Great story! Lord bless the day that eating cheesecake for BREAKFAST became a worldwide phenomenon 🙂

  24. peter says:

    AN interesting take on cheesecake, a dessert thats enjoyed internationally and given it’s own unique character in each instance.

    Is your use of Cream of Wheat because you can’t find semolina there or is it your preference?

    When crushing mastic, try placing it in the freezer and then between some plastic wrap and crush with your rolling pin – I get every last granule!

    • Joumana says:

      it is because it is easier to find, you got it! btw, thanks for the tip on the miske; you’re right, when I pound it in my cute little mortar I always leave some behind -incrusted at the bottom- i’ll try the freezer next time.

  25. Nathalie says:

    Mmmm ! Quel délice ça doit être … moi je veux bien en manger à tous les repas !!!!! Bises

  26. Fearless Kitchen says:

    This is great! I think people will be more willing to try your version rather than deal with making their own semolina crust.

  27. Ann says:

    yum! That looks so delicious. And I especially had a quiet LOL amount with your friends name in disguise…;-)

  28. Camille says:

    What an interesting take on cheesecake! I love that the crust is on top to soak up that delicious syrup!

  29. Kitchen Butterfly says:

    I ♥ your new theme! And this looks like a great cheesecake….but must confess I’m bowled over by the theme!

  30. Amelie says:

    C’est une trés belle recette, originale pour moi, mais bien gourmande et à tester dés que possible.
    Merci pour la gentille visite.
    Bonne soirée

  31. spice says:

    For a second I thought by mistake I came to some other blog….nice make-over of the blog….that an interesting cheesecake, def. my kind, love warm cakes….

  32. HistoryOf GreekFood says:

    I love kunefe with kataif pastry, but this looks equally delicious. I will certainly make it!

  33. Azita says:

    this looks absolutely heavenly and i like the orange blossom and rose water syrup! delicious!

  34. Mimi says:

    Love your new look.
    Knafeh looks so good. What is Mastic? Does it add flavor or help the cheesecake in some other way?

  35. TastyTrix says:

    Yes, I agree with the Iraq sentiments expressed by Nadjibella.
    On another note, this is a wonderful dish – I learn something every single time I visit your site.

  36. heni says:

    I love the new look as well! I too learn something new every time I visit Joumana!I have never actually had this version but enjoy the kunafa with shredded pastry dough and cheese alot!

  37. Erica says:

    This looks seriously amazing! Cheesecake for breakfast? I’m in! Great recipe.

  38. HistoryOf GreekFood says:

    Yesterday I finally made mock knafeh. I didn’t use rose water but I sprinkled it with fine minced green pistachios and it was delicious!! 🙂

  39. Cindy says:

    Do we still have to put the cheese in water to unsalt if using fresh Mozarella and not Akawi cheese?

  40. Nazira says:

    Hi Joumana,

    I tried this recipe today and wow it was pretty spot on. I liked the fact that I could get a hold of all the ingredients or the substitues.

    My only down fall was that my crust did not become as golden brown as yours did in the picture.I cooked it for about 45 mins and the top was golden but the base (i.e. the crumbly bit) was still light honey colour. Do you have any advice for me as to how I could get it as dark as yours in the pic?

  41. Roula says:

    Thank you soooo much for the knefe recipe. u have no idea how long i’ve been searching the webs for it & nobody could give such accurate details.

  42. remi says:

    lovely recipe, nevertheless, i am allergic to wheat. Do you have any alternative? thank you so much. J’ai essaye avec de la semoule d’Epautre, ca n’a pas du tout reussi…

    • Joumana says:

      Remi: Si vous avez un biscuit sec ou quelques tranches de pain sans blé, fait avec de la farine de riz ou au sarrazin, par exemple, ça vaudrait la peine d’essayer.

  43. domi says:

    Bonsoir Joumana, excellent ce déjeuner-dessert qui laisse s’ échappé cette délicieuse ” farce ” au fromage ” knefeh ” son effet visuel…..

  44. Romain says:

    I tasted Knefeh yesterday at Taj Al Moulouk, in Hamra area, it was one of the most delicious breakfast I had in a while. I ignore if we can find this food in Dubai.

  45. carol says:

    Had this in a London Lebanese restuarant & adored it. Will try to get the ingredients in Scotland!!

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