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Kunefa from Claudia Roden’s New Book of Middle Eastern Food

2010 August 10
by Reemski

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…

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11 Responses leave one →
  1. August 11, 2010

    Yuuum!

  2. August 11, 2010

    I always thought that kataifi (from appearance) was vermicelli but was lucky enough to see it made from scratch recently and it is quite amazing to see! 😮
    Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella´s last post..Veal- Mustard &amp Pickle Toasties For Rainy Winter Nights In

  3. August 11, 2010

    Claudia had a similar impact upon my life in my formative years and started me on a passion that still lives on, many years later!

  4. August 11, 2010

    I love this stuff & know which Greek shop you’re talking about in Marrickville. I’ve got to get down there!
    john@heneedsfood´s last post..HuTong Dumpling Bar- Melbourne

  5. August 12, 2010

    I’ve always thought that kataifi looks like rice vermicelli as well…
    mademoiselle délicieuse´s last post..Big Brekky the third- 12 April 2009

  6. August 12, 2010

    Reem…this looks so delicious. I lvoe syrupy based desserts and I love kataifi! Claudia Roden is a legend!
    Peter G @ Souvlaki For The Soul´s last post..Photo Friday-time for a quick break!

  7. August 13, 2010

    Very interesting, I didn’t know you could buy kataifi pastry in a bag! I’m going to get some so that I, too, can massage some melted butter into it 😀
    OohLookBel´s last post..What a pretty Strawberry mess

  8. August 18, 2010

    This looks deliciously syrupy and sinfully good! I don’t know much about Middle Eastern food so it all sounds so interesting and exotic – from the photo I would’ve guessed you’d used vermicelli. Got to find and taste some of this stuff now!
    Forager @ The Gourmet Forager´s last post..Of genetics- fast cars and good wine

  9. August 24, 2010

    wow that’s looks like vermicelli, that’s very clever, it looks like asian style shepherd pie.

  10. September 14, 2010

    Hello! How are you doing?

    It’s always confusing to me the different names used in different countries. The Lebanese call this “Osmaliyah “, and we also add a layer of ashta (arabic clotted cream). Amazing stuff! Knefe (or kunefa) for us is a semolina and awkkawi cheese cake, sliced and stuffed into a sesame seed bun to be topped with sugar syrup. In any case, whether it’s osmaliyah or kunefa, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, right? Still delicious.
    Fouad @ The Food Blog´s last post..The Mortal Coil

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