Künefe (a sweet cheesy pastry)

A sweet & cheesy treat covered with crispy kadayif! Künefe is a treat found throughout Turkey & the Middle East.

 

One of my all time favorite Turkish desserts is künefe! It’s something that I enjoyed going out to eat but it is also something I learned to prepare when I attended culinary school in Turkey.

Like pizza, künefe is best enjoyed when it is hot and fresh. The cheesy is melted, the kadayif is crispy & buttery and the simple syrup, referred to as “sherbet,” is still bubbling. Mmmm!

If you’ve never tried it, I think you should find a place asap that sells it and give it a try. Künefe places in Turkey have perfected the art of the service. They specialize in a myriad of different types and make each künefe to order. At your table, they serve some seasonal fruit, kayamak (a sweet clotted cream) and shot glasses filled with milk. All of these items uniquely compliment and enhance the flavor of the künefe.

The beauty of künefe, is that you can make it at home pretty easily. You just need the kadayif, which I have found can be difficult to find in some countries even in the Middle East especially since there are different variations of künefe such as the one in Nablus that uses a finely ground kadayif instead of the shredded kind.

In southern Turkey, I love to visit the kadayif shops. They are small little shops filled with massive machines to make the kadayif. Once it’s made, when you walk in the shop you’ll find piles and piles of it. It looks like a golden wonderland!

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Here’s the recipe:

Peynirli Künefe

  • 4-5 cups of tel kadayif (shredded kadayif)
  • 1/3 c melted butter plus 2 TBSP for greasing the pan
  • 12 oz cheese (I used Hatay Peynir, a special Turkish cheese but you can substitute an unsalted mozerella; it needs to be a neutral cheese that melts well)
  • 1/2 c white sugar
  • 1 small lemon wedge (like the size that you put it iced tea)

Essential Tools

  • Künefe pan (Two are better than one, but I used one in my recipe) -Substitute: a 6-8 inch frying pan
  • Spatula
  • Pastry brush
  • large bowl
  • a small plate

Preparation:

Grease your künefe pan (or frying pan) with 1 TBSP of butter.

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In a small saucepan, prepare the sherbet (simple syrup) by combining 1/2 c white sugar with 3/4-1 c of water and the lemon wedge. Gently stir and place over low heat for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. You don’t want it to come to a rolling boil, just lightly simmer.

Place the kadayif in a bowl and drizzle over 1/3 cup of melted butter. Toss to evenly coat the kadayif.

Then layer half of the kadayif in the bottom of the künefe pan pressing it down to create an even layer.

Slice the cheese and then layer it evenly on top of the kadayif.

Cover the cheese with the remaining kadayif being sure that no cheese is exposed.

Using a small plate, press it down on top of the künefe to compress it.

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Now, it’s ready to the stove. Note: a gas stove is preferrable because you can have better control over the heat. But if you’re using an electric stove, place the heat on low, be patient and diligently watch your künefe so it doesn’t burn. When it’s ready to flip it should smell like browned butter not burnt butter.

Over a low flame, cook the künefe until golden brown on the bottom. (Note: this takes about 5-6 minutes but you can check it by gently lifting up a corner. If it’s golden brown, then it’s time to flip it.)

When it’s ready to flip, take a large plate (big enough to cover your pan) and place it on top of the künefe. Gently, with oven mitts holding the pan and the plate, flip the künefe to reveal the browned side up.

Then, place the pan back on the stove and using the pastry brush, coat it with the last tablespoon of butter.

Then carefully place the künefe back in the pan by placing the plate over the pan and gently moving it into the pan with a spatula.

Then cook the künefe again until it is golden brown on this side.

Remove from the heat, and place on a  heat proof surface.

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Gently stir the sherbet (simple syrup) again and then ladle it onto the künefe making sure it is fully covered. Note: It might seem decadent to top it with a sugar syrup but really this is the only sugar being used in the entire recipe so it actually has less sugar than my average cake recipe.

Serve & Enjoy immediately because it is sooooo delicious.

And of course, Afiyet Olsun Arkadaş!

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©All Rights Reserved

All photos & text by EE Winkler

Peynirli Künefe

A sweet delicious dessert packed with sweet cheese, pistachios and a crunchy base and top layer! A Mediterranean classic dessert.

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Okay so I’ll admit that way before I started learning about Mediterranean cooking, the idea of cheese in a dessert (besides marscapone) didn’t sound so appetizing to me. It wasn’t until a friend took us out for a couple of rounds of künefe, that I finally wised up to discover just how delicious this combination is.

The cheese that used, is not salty and savory like what you use in pizza or pasta. It’s thick like ricotta in some variations while in others it has the flavor of ricotta with the texture of mozzerella.

Filled generously with pistachios and covered with a sugar syrup it’s actually not too sweet. It’s hits the palate as a perfectly balanced dessert.

At my favorite künefe place, they serve it with clotted cream, fresh fruit and shot glasses of milk. It’s a beautiful thing and worth experiencing at least once in your life. But once you try it, once will never be enough.

Although making künefe is an art, it is possible to make it at home. The biggest challenge may be acquiring the ingredients but once you’ve jumped over that hurdle then the rest will seem like a breeze.

Here’s the recipe:

  • 6 c kadayıf (made from shredded yufka or phyllo dough. NOTE: buy pre-prepared)
  • 2 c sugar water (equal parts sugar and water, simmered on low heat to form a thick syrup)
  • 2 c unsalted pistachios (shelled & chopped)
  • 3 c Urfa peynir (substitute a moist, crumbly ricotta cheese)
  • 2 TBSP oil
  • 4 TBSP butter (for greasing the pans)

Preparation:

Grease two 12 inch round shallow pans with 2 TBSP of butter each.

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Fill one of the pans with 3 cups of the kadayif. Press down gently.

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Sprinkle the chopped pistachios evenly over the kadayif.

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Then evenly crumble the cheese on top of the pistachios.

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Cover with the remaining 3 cups of kadayif and press down gently.

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Then drizzle the oil on top.

Cook the künefe over an open flame until it is light brown on the bottom. Remove the künefe from the heat. Using the other pan, cover the künefe and flip into the other pan so that the browned side is facing up.

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Cook until the other side is light brown. Pour over the sugar water and let simmer for a few seconds. Then remove the pan from the heat.

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Serve & enjoy warm with some clotted cream.

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Afiyet Olsun!