Recipe

Knafe

by Sarit Packer

A sweet, syrupy cheese and pastry pud from one half of the Honeys

This is the dessert I crave when I go home to Israel for a visit: not just any knafe, but the one in Acre market, though if I don’t have the time to head to Acre, the knafe in downtown Haifa will do the trick. It is one of those specialist products that you seek out, find your favourite pastry shop and stick to it for years. Though I have tried others—in fact, I try them whenever I can.

There is something about the combination of really sweet syrup, salty cheese and pastry with a crispy and yielding texture that just makes so much sense to me. Itamar has always claimed this isn’t his favourite but it truly is mine. And whenever I make it, thinking that I finally have a dessert all to myself, I notice that he manages to eat his fair share, making me doubt the truth of his claim.

Ingredients

For the syrup:
5 whole cardamom pods
3 wide strips of orange zest (use a peeler)
250g caster sugar
1 tbsp orange blossom water

For the filling:
125g (1 small log) rindless goat’s cheese
150g feta
100g mascarpone or full fat cream cheese
½ tsp freshly ground cardamom pods
Zest of ½ orange (use the remaining zest from the orange for the syrup)

For the base:
200g kadaif pastry
100g unsalted butter, melted

To garnish:
20g pistachios, chopped
1 tbsp dried rose petals

Equipment:
1 x 18-20cm frying pan

Method

Start by making the syrup so that the flavours have time to infuse. Press the cardamom pods to open slightly and expose the seeds in the centre, then pop into a small saucepan, pods and all. Add the other syrup ingredients and mix well with 140g/ml water to start the sugar dissolving, so that it doesn’t catch when you heat it.

Set the pan on a high heat and bring the syrup ingredients to the boil. Skim off any foam that forms on the top, then remove from the heat. Leave to cool in the pan with the orange zest and cardamom pods still in it, until you are ready to assemble the knafe (you can prepare the syrup a few hours in advance if you wish). This syrup is very thick and will need to be strained before using.

To make the filling, crumble the goat’s cheese and feta into a bowl and add the mascarpone, cardamom and orange zest. Mix to combine, but allow the cheeses to stay in rough clumps. Don’t worry that no sugar is added at this point, as the filling will get plenty of sweetness from the syrup.

Preheat the oven to 200C. Place the kadaif pastry in a large bowl and pull apart a little to separate the strands. Pour over the melted butter and mix it in, using your hands to rub it all over so that the pastry is well coated (a little like putting conditioner in your hair). Place half the pastry in an 18-20cm frying pan and flatten down to cover the base of the pan. Evenly distribute the cheese filling all over and then top with the rest of the pastry as a second layer.

I always start by giving the knafe some colour on the stove top: set the frying pan on a low to medium heat and swivel the pastry around in it every 20 secs to start it crisping. After 2 mins, press down on the top layer with the lid of the frying pan or a plate that fits into the pan, and (holding firmly onto the lid or plate) carefully turn upside-down. The knafe will now be sitting on the plate or lid, crispy side uppermost. Set the frying pan down and very carefully slide the knafe back into the pan so that you can crisp the other side for 2 mins, before transferring the pan to the oven for 10 mins to complete the baking.

Alternatively, if this sounds too much like hard work, just set the whole thing straight in the oven for 20 mins, without browning in the pan first—you won’t get all the tiny crispy strands of pastry top and bottom, but this is definitely the easier option.

Once the knafe is baked, remove from the oven and carefully pour all the syrup over it, using a sieve to catch the orange and cardamom pods (you can discard them now that they have done their job). Allow 5 mins for the syrup to absorb, then sprinkle the pastry with chopped pistachios and rose petals. Serve straight away—you can carefully cut into wedges or use a large spoon to scoop out portions. This really isn’t a dessert to eat cold; you want to have it while the cheese is still oozing and the pastry is warm.

If you are making this for a dinner party, follow all the stages up to the point where it is ready to put in the oven, then keep it in the fridge until needed (up to 24 hours). Simply add an extra 5 mins to your baking time when you come to cook it.

Recipe: Sarit Packer
Honey & Co: The Baking Book