What to CookBakingDessertMiddle-Eastern CookingCheeseHeirloom Recipes

An Impressive, Sweet & Cheesy (Yes, Cheesy) Middle Eastern Dessert

8 Save

If you like it, save it!

Save and organize all of the stuff you love in one place.

Got it!

If you like something…

Click the heart, it's called favoriting. Favorite the stuff you like.

Got it!

Born in Beirut, Irene Sankari came to the U.S. with her parents when she was seven years old. They settled in upstate New York and began trying to acclimate to their new surroundings while preserving homeland traditions, swapping pita bread for Wonder Bread.

Irene's Middle Eastern Knafeh with Orange Blossom Syrup
Irene's Middle Eastern Knafeh with Orange Blossom Syrup

On holidays, her family would travel all the way to Sahadi’s in Brooklyn for Middle Eastern specialties like grape leaves. “Now, you can get hummus in fifty different flavors, right in the regular grocery store,” she exclaimed.

Advertisement

Irene taught me to make the easy and delicious Lebanese dessert knafeh (also spelled kanafeh). Interestingly, Irene’s mother is Syrian and her father Egyptian, but this dessert is served in those countries, too, and you can also find similar versions in Turkey and Greece.

A delicious cheese center is sandwiched between kataifi (shredded phyllo dough), and then Irene drizzles a sweet simple syrup made with orange blossom water to drizzle all over the top while it’s still hot from the oven. (I think of it like a dressed-up Danish.)

When preparing the kataifi, Irene likes to use margarine, but unsalted butter will also do the trick. Make sure the heavy cream is whipped to nice, stiff peaks to ensure a gooey yet creamy center.

Advertisement
A little bit higher now.
A little bit higher now. Photo by Mark Weinberg

In regards to the cheese, Nabulsi is the traditional choice, but Irene found that shredded mozzarella—which is much easier to find—provides the same results. She insists any soft white cheese will do and told me that when she lived in Mexico City, they would fill the knafeh with Mexican cheeses they had on hand.

Irene serves this dessert right from the oven because it hardens as it cools. When her family is over for a big meal, the knafeh bakes up while they eat.

The syrup is what makes this dessert truly special. Generously poured over the top, it gives a sweet, floral hint. Irene doubles the batch, then keeps a bottle on hand to use in other desserts, as well.

709f638d fc7f 4770 9c2c 90e3c136c3cb  2016 0510 knafeh with orange blossom syrup mark weinberg 196

Irene's Middle Eastern Knafeh with Orange Blossom Syrup

8b6a6442 b404 4c7e 9c09 96d9521a8687  anna 21 Anna Francese Gass
46 Save Recipe
Serves 6 to 8

For the pastry:

  • 1 pound kataifi, shredded phyllo dough
  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter or margarine, melted
  • 1/2 pint heavy cream, whipped to stiff peaks
  • 1 pound shredded mozzarella

For the orange blossom syrup:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon orange blossom water

See more from the illustrated biographies of 16.5 global desserts

Tags: knafeh, middle eastern, kenafeh, lebanese, dessert, phyllo dough