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Knafeh كنافة: The Nabulsi Treat

Posted on October 31, 2013 by Sahar

Go anywhere in the Leventine and you will be presented by one of the greatest amalgamation of shredded phyllo, farmers cheese, and sugar known to humankind: Knafeh.

This sweet traces its origins back to the Ottoman Empire and can still be found in various forms all through the former empire’s dominion.

However, all through the Middle East, the city of Nablus is the place where everyone knows the best knafeh is made.  An entire knafeh culture exists there and Nabulsis take great pride in their craft (http://tinyurl.com/knlv2zh).  In fact, the World’s Largest Knafeh was made in Nablus in July 2009 (http://tinyurl.com/jw83r29).  (Videos from YouTube)

And, wherever Palestinians have settled, they have taken the art of Knafeh making wherever they go.

Trays of knafeh in Amman, Jordan. I could've sat there all day eating this.

Trays of Knafeh in Amman, Jordan. I could’ve sat there all day eating this.

Now, I have to honestly say my dad and ‘Amto (aunt) Siham make the best Knafeh I’ve ever tasted.  I don’t know what they do, but it’s simply etherial.

However, I think my recipe is pretty good, too.  And, now, I’m going to share it with you.

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A few things about Knafeh:

1.  The cheese:  This uses a farmers cheese called Jebne Nabulsi (literally translated “Nablus Cheese”).  Here in the States, it is always packed in brine.  Of course, this is done for preservation.  But, it also makes the cheese semi-hard and salty rather than young, soft, and either unsalted or lightly salted in the Middle East.  To rid yourself of the salt and to somewhat soften the cheese, you have to soak and simmer it.  A good alternative is fresh mozzarella.  However, if you can’t find unsalted mozzarella, you’ll need to soak it as well.

2.  Buy the dough already shredded.  Don’t try to shred sheets of phyllo yourself.  You’ll never get them as fine and it’s a huge hassle.  Any good Middle Eastern market will have the dough in the freezer section.  Let it thaw overnight in the fridge before using.

3.  Coloring the top of the knafeh a bright orange color is traditional.  However, Knafeh coloring isn’t necessary.  There is a powdered coloring available in Middle Eastern markets especially for Knafeh.  However, unless you plan on making a lot, don’t buy it.  Some people use gel color (for coloring icing).  Don’t use regular food coloring, however.  It’s not fat soluble.

4.  Using Rose or Orange water is up to you.  I prefer the orange.  Others, rose.

5.  Don’t skimp on the syrup.  I know that when you first begin to pour it over, it looks like too much.  Believe me, it’s not.

6.  Clarified butter is absolutely necessary to this dish.  Regular butter will burn.  See the end of the post on how to make clarified butter.

 

The ingredients

The ingredients

The Nabulsi Cheese and orange Blossom Water.  These are my two favorite brands.  The cheese isn't too salty and the Cortas, along with being and excellent product, is readily available in upscale and Middle Eastern markets.

The Nabulsi Cheese and Orange Blossom Water. These are my two favorite brands. The cheese isn’t too salty and the Cortas, along with being and excellent product, is readily available in upscale and Middle Eastern markets.

 

 

Thin Qatr (Ka-tr) (simple syrup)

2 c. sugar

1 1/2 c. water

1 tsp. lemon juice

1 tbsp. orange or rose water (optional)

 

Knafeh

1 lb. knafeh dough (kataifi), thawed

2 lb. Farmers Cheese (Jebne Nabulsi) or fresh mozzarella

1/4 c. sugar

1 1/4 c. clarified butter

1 tsp. knafeh coloring (optional)

1/4 c. chopped pistachios (optional)

1 recipe Qatr (see above)

 

1.  Make the Qatr: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, mix together the sugar and water until the sugar is dissolved.

Starting the Qatr.

Starting the Qatr.

Bring to a boil.  Let the syrup boil for 3 minutes and then add the lemon juice.  Boil for 2 more minutes.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the orange blossom or rose water, if using.  Set aside and let cool.

The finished Qatr. Once you put the orange or rose water in, the fragrance is amazing.

The finished Qatr. Once you put the orange or rose water in, the fragrance is amazing.

2.  Make the Knafeh:  Prepare the cheese – If using the Farmers cheese, you will need to soak and cook the cheese to remove the salt.  To do this, thinly slice the cheese (almost to the point of shaving it) and place in a large bowl.

The cheese. Slice it as thin as you can; almost to the point of shaving it.

The cheese. Slice it as thin as you can; almost to the point of shaving it.

Cover the cheese with water and let soak for two hours, changing the water every 30 minutes.  After you have soaked the cheese, drain it and place in a large saucepan and cover with water.  Bring the water to a simmer (do not let it boil – it will harden the cheese) and cook the cheese for 10 minutes.  Drain.  Repeat the process at least 2 more times or until the cheese is salt-free. (Taste as you go.)

If you are using fresh mozzarella, buy salt-free.  If you don’t find any, thinly slice the cheese and soak it in water for 30 minutes  – 1 hour.  Drain and taste.  Repeat if needed.

Drain the cheese on paper towels to remove some of the excess moisture.  Place the cheese in a medium bowl and toss with the 1/4 c. sugar.

The cheese after its been de-salted and tossed with sugar.

The cheese after its been de-salted and tossed with sugar.

3.  Meanwhile, take the knafeh dough and, with a very sharp knife, chop the dough into approximately 1″ pieces.

How the Knafeh dough comes out of the package. Kind of like a soft brick.

How the Knafeh dough comes out of the package. Kind of like a soft brick.

The chopped dough. Use a very sharp knife and quite a bit of caution when cutting the dough.

The chopped dough. Use a very sharp knife and quite a bit of caution when cutting the dough.

Have 1 cup of the clarified butter heating in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add the dough to the saucepan.

Stir and cook the dough until it has absorbed the butter.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and let sit until cool enough to handle.

The Knafeh dough after it's been tossed with the hot butter.  I personally use wood spatulas to complete this step.  I have literally seen my dad and aunt stick their hands into the hot saucepan to mix the dough and butter together.  If I decide to do more mixing ith my hands, I generally wait until it's at least warm.

The Knafeh dough after it’s been tossed with the hot butter. As a general rule, I personally use wood spatulas to complete this step. I have literally seen my dad and aunt stick their hands into the hot saucepan to mix the dough and butter together. If I decide to do more mixing with my hands, I generally wait until it’s at least warm.

4.  Preheat the oven to 400F.  Prepare 2 baking sheets by lining with foil and spraying with non-stick spray. (I use 9″ x 12″ x 1″ sheet pans from a restaurant supply. Invest in some. You won’t be sorry.)  Pour the remaining 1/4 c. butter in the bottom of one of the baking sheets and mix in the knafeh coloring (if using).

Mixing the coloring and butter together.  While it isn't necessary to color the butter, it is traditional.

Mixing the coloring and butter together. While it isn’t necessary to color the butter, it is traditional.

5.  Take 1/2 of the Knafeh dough and spread it as evenly as possible over the bottom of the baking sheet.

Spreading the first half of the dough over the sheet pan.

Spreading the first half of the dough over the sheet pan.

Spread the cheese over the top in an even later.  Top the cheese evenly with the remaining dough.

The cheese layer.

The cheese layer.

The final layer of dough on top. This will eventually become the bottom.

The final layer of dough on top. This will eventually become the bottom.

6.  Place the baking sheet in the lower 1/3 of the oven and bake for 25 – 30 minutes, or until the top is a golden brown.

The Knafeh after the first baking. Now, time to flip.

The Knafeh after the first baking. Now, time to flip.

Take the baking sheet from the oven, place the second sheet on top, face down, and carefully flip the Knafeh.

Getting ready to flip.  Have the courage of your convictions when you do this. Along with an apron and very good potholders.

Getting ready to flip. Have the courage of your convictions when you do this. Along with an apron and very good potholders.

A perfect flip. This doesn't happen often. At least to me.

A perfect flip. This doesn’t happen often. At least to me.

Place the new baking sheet with the knafeh, now bottom-side-up, back in the oven for another 10 minutes.

7.  Once the knafeh is done, take it out of the oven and set the baking sheet on a rack.  Pour the Qatr over the knafeh as evenly as possible.

Pouring over the Qatr. Don;t skimp on this. It will soak in.

Pouring over the Qatr. Don’t skimp on this. It will soak in.

Top with the chopped pistachios (if using).  Let cool slightly and allow the syrup to soak in before eating.

The finished Knafeh.

The finished Knafeh.

Sahtein!

Sahtein!  P.S. This is excellent with a cup of strong Arabic coffee.

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Clarified Butter

At least 2 lbs. of unsalted European or European-style butter (it has a higher percentage of fat than American butters. American butters tend to have more water.)

Basically, clarified butter (also known as ghee or samneh) is butter where the milk solids have been removed.  When butter burns, it’s these solids that burn, not the fat.

Cooking with regular butter is fine, as we all know, in most cases.  In fact, sometimes browned butter is a beautiful thing.  However, for desserts like this, or even direct high-heat cooking, clarified butter is the way to go.  It has a much higher smoke point (about 450F as opposed to 325F for regular butter) as well as a longer shelf life (I’ve had some for at least 6 months and it’s still good).

It’s very simple to make.  It just takes a little patience.

Here is a lovely essay on clarified butter written by Edward Schneider for the New York Times in 2008: http://tinyurl.com/lj6ozhr

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I generally like to do at least 3 pounds at a time and store it in the refrigerator.

To begin, place the butter in a medium to large saucepan over very low heat.

 

Starting the process.

Starting the process.

Allow the butter to very slowly melt.  This is done to help the butter separate slowly and let the milk solids settle on the bottom of the pan.

The butter almost ready for skimming.

The butter almost ready for skimming.

Remove the pan from the heat.  With a large spoon, begin to carefully skim off the milk solids on top.

Skimming off the foam.  Some people save it for using on popcorn, in dairy recipes, or on rice.  If I don't have an immediate use for it myself, I tend to just discard it. It's up to you.

Skimming off the foam. Some people save it for using on popcorn, in dairy recipes, or on rice. If I don’t have an immediate use for it myself, I tend to just discard it. It’s up to you.

The remaining milk solids and little bit of butter in the bottom of the pan.

The remaining milk solids and little bit of butter in the bottom of the pan.

Once you have skimmed off all (or most) of the solids, carefully pour them into a clean container.  Some people will pour the butter through a cheesecloth as well to be sure to get every bit of milk solid out of the clarified butter.  However, if you are fine with a few bits of milk solid, you can skip that step.

The finished clarified butter. I generally get 4 1/2 cups from 3 lbs. of butter.

The finished clarified butter. I generally get 4 1/2 cups from 3 lbs. of butter.

 

 

Enjoy!

 

 

1 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 10 01 15 03:47

    Knafeh with mango and cream | Arabianmama

3 to “Knafeh كنافة: The Nabulsi Treat”

  1. Chris says:

    This sounds so amazingly good. I’ve read about knafeh, but never thought about making it myself.

  2. ahmedlulaa@gmail.com says:

    I love it. I just make it couple days ago. I cloud not stop eating it. It is so good so delicious. Thanks

  3. Sahar says:

    I would appreciate it if you could link back to my blog. I have many recipes from the Middle East throughout the blog.



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