Künefe or Kanafeh
Künefe or Kanafeh is the Middle Eastern version of Cheesecake. Unlike the Western iterations of the concept Künefe does not contain cream as a cooking ingredient. There are many ways to make Künefe. Some call for a frying pan or skillet; others use the oven; most of them use sugar; others use honey; some suggest to serve Künefe with Kaymak (buffalo milk cream); others don’t care about cream – and so on, and so forth. Our Turkish Cheesecake recipe is made in the oven and uses honey syrup instead of sugar syrup.
Cooking time: approx. 30 min
You need: a small oven pan, a large bowl, a small saucepan and a small pot.
For the Pastry
- 250g (9 oz) kadayif or kataifi (angel hair) pastry.
- 250g (9 oz) fresh mozzarella* cheese, shredded to pieces. See Notes.
- 125g (4+1/2 oz) clarified butter, melted and cooled until lukewarm.
For the Syrup
- Scant 3/4 cup honey.
- 1/2 cup minus 2.5 Tbsp of lukewarm water.
- 1/2 Tsp baking soda.
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice.
- 3-5 drops of rose water (optional).
- 1/8 Tsp ground nutmeg (optional)
- A handful of ground green pistachios, about 1/4 cup (or less, or more – it’s up to you).
First, Make the Syrup
- Put the honey and the lukewarm water in a small saucepan.
- Stir until honey has dissolved.
- Turn on the fire to low-medium heat.
- Place the saucepan over the fire.
- Let the mixture simmer for 10 minutes or so, stirring it.
- Add the baking soda; wait for a few beats and then add the lemon juice; wait for another few beats and add the rose water and/or nutmeg if you’re using them.
- Continue to simmer and stir in low-medium fire for another 3 to 5 minutes.
- Set it aside to cool off.
Then, Make the Künefe Cheesecake
- Place the oven rack in the middle of the oven.
- Turn on the oven (to preheat) at 190C/374F.
- Take a medium oven pan and butter its bottom. Don’t overdo it. Put it aside.
- Take a large bowl.
- Untangle the kadayif (angel hair) pastry.
- Take a pair of scissors and cut the kadayif (angel hair) pastry into short, 1 to 2 cm or 1/2 to 3/4 inch, lengths into the bowl.
- Mix the lukewarm melted butter into the shredded kadayif pastry. Work the butter through the pastry evenly.
- Separate the now shredded and buttered kadayif pastry into two equal portions.
- Spread the first portion of the kadayif pastry over the bottom of your buttered oven pan.
- Cover the pastry with the the cheese.
- On top of the cheese layer spread the second half of the kadayif pastry.
- Put the pan in the oven and bake for approx. 30 minutes or more, or less, depending on your oven.
- You need the kadayif pastry to turn adequately golden or golden-brown so, do check progress, without leaving the oven door open for long: you don’t want to lose much heat.
- Turn off the oven.
- Take the golden or golden-brown pan of Künefe out of the oven and onto the stove.
- Pour the room-temperature honey syrup over the Künefe. Pour it evenly.
- Cut the Künefe into wedges or squares.
- Sprinkle the ground green pistachios on top of the Künefe.
- Serve hot. (Not piping hot… just hot.)
Notes on Turkish Cheesecake – Künefe
- Kadayif pastry is also known as Angel Hair pastry or Kataifi pastry. You can find it in Turkish, Greek and Middle Eastern grocery shops.
- Regarding the type of cheese… hmm. In Turkey they use Kashar (the Greeks call it Kaseri). Alternatives to Kashar or Kaseri: the Bulgarian Kashkaval, Italian Mozzarella (although it’s a bit bland), Mascarpone or even Pecorino Romano. The latter is saltier, so, go for it only you’re into more “salt & sweet” flavours than the rest of us.
- For the differences between Honey and Sugar, click here.