Kunefa from Claudia Roden’s New Book of Middle Eastern Food
Claudia Roden is the doyenne of Middle Eastern food in the Western world. Born in Egypt, educated in Paris and then based in the UK she has influenced millions with her books; A Book of Middle Eastern Food, A New Book of Middle Eastern Food, The Book of Jewish Food and Arabesque. You may know her indirectly, as it was she who popularised the Middle Eastern flourless Orange Cake, with whole oranges and almond meal. A Book of Middle Eastern Food and The New Book of Middle Eastern Food were my mum’s go to reference books for the cooking of her homeland and of her mother’s kitchen. When I left home, Mum gave me the original book. I devoured it. It was written unlike any recipe book I’d ever read before. Interspersed with the recipes and details of ingredients, were stories and folk tales about these dishes and their place in Middle Eastern society. It was illuminating, and connected me to a culture and history I’d not previously felt part of. It is still my favourite cookbook and possibly my favourite book ever. If you’re going to buy just one book about Middle Eastern food, buy this one: A New Book of Middle Eastern Food. Now to the food!
Pastries. Middle Eastern pastries. Syrupy and buttery Middle Eastern pastries. I love them, I grew up eating them and only ate homemade before I ever tasted commercially cooked Middle Eastern sweets. Ma’amoul, baklawa, basbousa and my favourite: Kunefa. Kunefa is a lot like baklawa, but using the shredded “Kataifi” pastry instead of plain Filo pastry. It can also have cheesy (think more ricotta/mascarpone than cheddar) variations, which are also moreish, though impossibly rich. Recently, I was lucky enough to score a bag of kataifi pastry and knew straight away, kilojoules be damned, Kunefa get in my belly!!! Previously, I hadn’t seen the bags of pastry around except at a Greek sweet shop in Marrickville, so if you see it, snap it up.
Like Baklawa, kunefa is a very straightforward recipe. Nuts, sugar, honey, butter, pastry and some rosewater or orange blossom water. But here is Mme. Roden’s recipe:
- 500g kataifi pastry (the bag above is 375g, more than enough)
- 250g unsalted butter (drop to about 175g if going with the 375g bag as above)
- 500g caster sugar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons orange blossom water ( I used rosewater)
- 300ml water
- 375g walnuts or pistchios, coarsely chopped (I used both)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
Thaw your pastry and pre heat your oven to around 160°C
The amount of syrup the standard recipe makes is huge, so you can reduce it to half if you want.
Stir the sugar, water & lemon juice over moderate heat till it thickens, and can coat the back of a spoon.
Stir in rose or orange blossom water & cook for another two minutes. Leave to cool until required.
Mix the cinnamon with the chopped nuts
Now for the fun stuff! Place the kataifi pastry in a bowl and start pulling it apart gently. Melt the butter then pour it over the pastry and massage it through so every strand is covered.
Place half the pastry in a deep oven dish and spread evenly. Sprinkle nut mixture evenly over base. Then place the other half of the pastry evenly over the top, flattening it with the palm of your hand
Bake for about 1 hour, then jack up the temperature for another 10 minutes or so until it turns golden.
Take it out of oven and immediately pour over the cold syrup over the hot kunefa.
Lucky for my belly it wasn’t all for me, but also the bellies of some of my neighbours…