I have to admit why I don’t make this more often (my rate is once every 5 years) The answer is I CAN’T RESIST EATING IT ALL. So, again, when I pulled it out of the oven all crispy andbuttery-crunchy and doused some cold syrup on it, my fate was sealed. A few hours later, I only have one piece left that is destined to Mary, my next-door neighbor.
What is the secret ingredient in knefe bel-jeben that makes me lose control like that? You don’t see me gulping 15 snickers bars in one sitting. It must be the super crispy shredded knefe pastry, that cheese redolent of orange blossom water, that pure unadulterated unsalted butter ( I use the butter imported from France which I find at the middle-eastern grocer ) and that sweetness of the syrup that was dosed just right.
For directions, I used Mrs. Bsisu’s The Arab Table because I love her enthusiasm for knefe and the fact that she devoted 5 pages to the recipe! I deviated from her directions a bit by not baking it as a large pie and by slightly modifying the filling. I baked it as a jelly roll instead. I just did not want a large knefe pie in the vicinity knowing its spell on me.
INGREDIENTS: Quantity will yield two rolls or up to 12 servings. Can freeze one of the rolls and use one which will then yield up to 6 servings.
This dessert is made up of 3 main components:
- The pastry
- The filling
- The syrup
Each component can be prepared ahead of time. The assembly of the dessert can be prepared ahead as well, and even frozen and heated right before serving.
- One 1- pound package KATAIFI pastry, available in the frozen section of most ethnic grocery stores and some supermarket chains as well.
- 3 sticks of unsalted butter (12 ounces)
- 2 pounds akkawi cheese or a mixture of akkawi and mozzarella or all of one or the other.
- 1 Tablespoon of orange blossom water or rose water or a combination
- 2 Tablespoons of sugar (optional)
- 3 cups of sugar
- 1 1/2 cups of water
- 2 Tablespoons of orange blossom water
- 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice
A. Start with the syrup, because you can store it (covered) in the fridge for several weeks and use it for other purposes (with a fruit salad, to coat cupcakes, to make sorbet, etc).
Making the syrup:
- Pour the water and the sugar in a heavy-bottom saucepan. Heat, stirring, to dissolve the sugar and bring to a boil.
- Stir the lemon juice and boil for about 10 minutes without stirring. If you own a candy thermometer, check to see if it has reached 225F. If not, the syrup needs to be a bit thickened so that if you pick some up in a teaspoon and pour it you will see a thin thread forming. Don’t boil too much though or you won’t be able to pour it at all!
- Add the orange blossom at the last minute. Stir and let it cool.
- Store covered in the fridge.
B. Making the filling:
- Slice the cheese of your choosing ( I like akkawi the best) and set it in a bowl for at least 2 hours, changing the water every 20 minutes. OR, 2 days and changing the water twice a day. The goal is to desalt the cheese and the length of time required is variable.
- Remove the cheese from the water, pat it dry, and shred it in coarse shreds.
- Place all the cheese in a bowl and sprinkle the blossom water (or rose water or both) on it. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
C. Prepare the pastry:
- Make the clarified butter by melting the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat until it is completely melted. Heat it for a few minutes more until the milk solids get cooked a bit and fall to the bottom of the pan. Be careful that the butter does not burn. Let it cool and then strain it through a sieve lined with a paper towel.
- Remove the pastry from the package. Divide it in half, cutting it with kitchen scissors.
- Take the one half and place it in a bowl. Separate the strands gently while pouring some clarified butter over the pastry. Your goal is to cover each strand of pastry with butter.
- When all the pastry is glistening with the butter and separated into fine strands it is ready to be shaped into a rectangle on which you will place a smaller rectangle of cheese and enclose it.
- Lay the rectangle of pastry strands on a large piece of plastic wrap in the form of a long rectangle. Make sure the surface underneath the pastry does not show. It needs to be a thick rectangle, big enough to be folded over once the cheese filling has been placed in the middle.
- Place the cheese in a long row in the middle of the pastry.
- Fold the pastry tightly to form a long sausage-like shape. Make the other roll and proceed as above.
- Wrap each roll in 2 layers of aluminum foil and freeze for at least 10 minutes till they harden. You can leave one of them in the freezer for later consumption.
- When ready to eat, heat the oven to 350F and unwrap the pastry. Place it on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or foil. Bake for about 45 minutes, turning it over once during baking to make sure it is golden all over.
- Remove from the oven when it is golden and crispy. Douse it with the cold syrup and enjoy!
I served it with a raspberry coulis and some pomegranate seeds to offset with a bit of tartness the richness and sweetness of the kunafa. Traditionally it is garnished with chopped pistachios and additional syrup is served on the side.
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