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Künefe was one of those desserts that was on every menu in Istanbul restaurants but a dish I never ended up trying. I had copious amounts of Turkish baklava (I still much prefer it to the Greek version) and also the famed mastic ice cream known in Turkish as dondurma, but never künefe. Maybe I thought nothing could remotely compare to the incredible dessert I had on the last stop of my Istanbul food tour that I’ve written about plenty before.
But künefe intrigued me all the same. The first time I ever heard about a dessert involving cheese (aside from ricotta which is commonly found in many Italian pastries) was a Mexican dessert I made a couple of years ago, a banana and guava bread pudding which called for Muenster or Monterrey Jack cheese. I won’t lie, I turned my nose up at the idea of consuming a dessert that had Monterrey Jack cheese in it. But you know what? Taste-wise it worked. So that’s why I wasn’t opposed to the idea of making another dessert that called for cheese. I’ll be honest, I was like this years and years ago when sweet and salty sweets became a thing and now salted caramels are one of my biggest weaknesses.
This truly was not at all a difficult recipe to make (as you can see from the steps below, one of which is making a simple sugar syrup). If you’d like to try more global recipes but are intimidated perhaps by the steps or foreign ingredients, this is a perfect dish to start with. Yes, kadayif is “different” but it’s still just a variation of filo pastry that most people have eaten before in some capacity. And it makes a ridiculously large amount so it’s great if you finally want to graduate beyond serving sheet brownies but still have something AS simple as sheet brownies to make.
Truth be told, I ended up liking this much more than the banana and guava bread pudding. The inclusion of the shredded cheese (I used mozzarella for what it’s worth) gave it that perfect addition in a subtle, non-overpowering way. Sometimes the oddest pairing of ingredients truly ends up being what works best.
Just be sure to eat the künefe when it’s right from the oven and the melted cheese is at its best ooziness.
Have you eaten künefe before? Was it in your home country or in Turkey?
(Shredded Pastry with Cheese and Sugar Syrup)
Recipe from Sevtap Yüce’s Turkish Fire
1 lb 2 ounces kadayif (shredded pastry)
Note: Kadayif is a kind of filo pastry that has been shredded into fine threads or strands, and looks like a shredded wheat breakfast cereal. It also goes by the Greek name kataifi and is available at Middle Eastern and Mediterranean grocery stores. I didn’t have the time to check out any stores in Pittsburgh so I bought it online from this seller. Not cheap with shipping costs but it did come super quick.
9 ounces unsalted butter, melted and cooled
14 ounces unsalted young cheddar or mozzarella, grated
1 cup ground pistachio nuts
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
-Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
-Mix all the syrup ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
-Meanwhile place the pastry in a large bowl. Gently loosen the strands with your fingertips. Pour the melted butter over the pastry and mix well with your fingers, to coat all the pastry with butter.
-Spread half the pastry in a large baking dish and sprinkle the cheese over the top. Spread the remaining pastry on top, then flatten the pastry down all over. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the pastry is golden.
-Remove from the oven and pour the cold syrup over the hot pastry. Sprinkle the ground pistachios over and serve immediately.
-The recipe yields a huge amount so if you’re not needing to feed 8-10 people with dessert, halve the recipe.
-If your kadayif is frozen (as mine was when it arrived), be sure to defrost it prior to cooking. It won’t take too long to defrost but it will be a lot easier to work with when untangling the strands.