This recipe was taught to me as part of my you’re-getting-married-time-to-learn-how-to-cook training by an amazing cook…. who does not use measurements. I stood with her and watched closely, taking notes diligently. After making this a few times on my own, a measurable recipe was born.
Named after its main ingredient, kanafeh is shredded phyllo dough with a creamy-ricotta filling drizzled with rose-fragrant simple syrup. Traditionally, it is baked in a round pan but a pyrex will do just fine. Making kanafeh is kind of labor intensive, so this is not your everyday dessert (if there is such a thing). Generally, this dessert is made for special/happy occasions – big family holiday meals or [my future sister-in-law's] bridal shower, for example. It freezes really well, so it is a perfect dessert to make in advance and take out when needed. This recipe is also perfect for Shavuot dessert! Now you can stray from cheesecake or the banana cream pie we made last year. [Editor's note: but why would you ever not want to make that banana cream pie? serve alongside!]
This is not a healthy dessert, but oh-my-gd is it good.
- 1 lb shredded phyllo dough, aka kanafeh. You can find this at specialty stores, like — I know we’ve mentioned this a million times — Kalustyan’s or Syrian stores, if you live in Brooklyn.
- 3 1/2 sticks butter
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2/3 cup milk
- 3.5 tbsp corn starch
- 15 oz ricotta cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Start by pulling apart the shredded phyllo dough. You want to pull it apart as much as you can. Don’t worry about keeping the strands long, just keep shredding.
3. Toast the kanafeh in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until it gets nice and golden on top.
4. While this is toasting, take 3 and a half sticks of butter - hey, if you’re going to splurge, you might as well do it right – and brown it on the stove top. Now, you can always cheat and just melt them in the microwave, but if you brown the butter, you will most definitely taste the difference. Browning this much butter is gonna take way longer than you’re used to (lets face it, how often do you use that much butter in one shot?). For me, on a med low flame, it took about the time the kanafeh took to toast. So, its a good idea to do them simultaneously. However, the time will depend on your pot and stovetop, so keep an eye out. You don’t want to burn it! The butter will will change to a light brown color and start smelling like heaven.
5. Pour the browned butter over the toasted kanafeh – careful, this is going to be very hot! – so wait til it cools a little, and then mix and shred everything again – very very well. You want to get mad at the kanafeh – you want to separate the strands and rip them up into tiny tiny pieces.
6. Mix the heavy cream, milk and corn starch well. Try to break up any corn starch lumps. Move it to the stove top, and cook on med heat, stirring constantly “in one direction only” (as my teacher told me), until it is thick, about 7 minutes. Do NOT let this boil. Let it cool for a few minutes, thickening a little more, and then add in the ricotta. Mix well.
7. Divide the buttered kanafeh into two. Layer one down at the bottom of your tray, spread the ricotta mixture over it, then cover with the second layer.
8. I have never made this recipe start to finish in one shot. I always stop at this point, cover and freeze the kanafeh, and take it out when I need it. While its frozen, before you bake, its a good idea to cut your knafe into small pieces. Otherwise, once its cooked, it will be too soft to cut into without mashing it. You can put it directly in the oven while frozen (if your pan can handle freezer-to-oven temps) and bake for 1 hour @ 350 degrees, rotating halfway through. [If you're baking immediately, it will probably take a less time, so keep an eye on it. It will be done when the top is golden brown.]
9. Pour syrup on it immediately before serving (recipe follows).
To make the syrup:
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup water
- a drop of lemon juice
- a drop of rose or orange blossom water (optional, but yummy!)
Directions: Bring all ingredients to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then simmer for 7-10 minutes. You want the syrup to be thick.