|Mozzarella Cheese Kunafa|
A not-so-authenic cheese kunafa made with everyone’s favorite mozzarella cheese! Crunchy shredded pastry filled with an ooey gooey mixture of mozzarella and a secret ingredient that keeps the cheese from hardening even after it cools. A rose and orange blossom water scented sugar syrup, sweetens and perfumes this scrumptious Middle Eastern favorite.
Serves: 1 (12″/ 30cm or up to 14″/ 35cm) round kunafa
For the Scented Sugar Syrup:
2½ cups (1 lb 1oz/ 500g) granulated sugar
1¼ cup (300ml) water
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice (about 1 teaspoon)
1 tablespoon (15g) rose water (more or less according to taste)
1 tablespoon (15g) orange blossom water (more or less according to taste)
For the Semolina Pudding:
1½ cups (350ml) milk
¾ cup (180ml) heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons (37g) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons (30g) semolina
1 teaspoon (3g) cornstarch
1 teaspoon (5g) water
1 teaspoon (5g) rose water
For the Cheese Filling:
600 grams/ 1lb 3oz mozzarella cheese, shredded (preferably fresh)
3 tablespoons (37g) granulated sugar (omit if your cheese does not taste salty) (*see note)
2 teaspoons (10g) rose water
For the Kunafa Crust:
1lb/ 500g kunafa or kataifi/kadaifi pastry, fresh or frozen. If using fresh, freeze for an hour for easier cutting. If using frozen, thaw slightly
1 cup (8oz/ 227g) ghee or butter, melted and slightly cooled
Pistachios, for garnish
To make the Scented Sugar Syrup: (Can be made up to a week in advance)
- In a medium saucepan, combine together the sugar, water and squeeze of lemon juice. Set on a stovetop over high heat. Try to avoid stirring it as it heats to prevent crystallization from happening, but if the sugar is not dissolving, then help it out with a few stirs. Once it comes to a boil, STOP stirring.
- Bring to a rolling boil, then immediately reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for no longer than 10 minutes. Set a timer! The syrup will thicken slightly, and have a consistency similar to pancake syrup. If it simmers for longer it could thicken too much and become candy-like.
- Remove from heat, then stir in the rose and orange blossom waters. Transfer to a medium bowl, liquid measuring cup or gravy boat and allow to cool to room temperature before using.
- In a small saucepan, combine together the milk, heavy cream, sugar and semolina. Dissolve the cornstarch in the 1 teaspoon of water and add to saucepan.
- Place over medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly with a whisk. Bring to a boil, and continue cooking until the mixture thickens into a bachamel-like consistency; about 3 more minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the rosewater. Allow to cool slightly while you prepare the kunafa.
- In a medium bowl, stir together the mozzarella cheese, sugar (if using) and rose water.
- Adjust panggangan rack to lower middle position and preheat panggangan to 200C/ 390F.
- Heavily grease a 12″/ 30cm round cake pan with ghee or butter. A larger pan size (like a 14″/ 35cm deep dish pizza pan may be used, but note that the kunafa will turn out thinner) Alternatively, the kunafa could also be split over 2 (9″/ 23cm) or 4 (6″/ 15cm) pans. You could bake one now and freeze the other(s) for later.
- If using fresh, extra thin, Arabic-style konafa dough, it is preferable to use only the butterfat in the melted butter, leaving behind the milk solids or just use the full amount of ghee instead, to ensure a crunchy, evenly browned crust. If using thicker, Greek-style frozen kadaifi/konafa, you can use the butter in its entirety; milk solids and all. Unlike thin, fresh konafa, thicker/frozen kadiafi dough can handle the extra moisture, while still crisping up. To separate the butterfat from the milk solids, let the butter sit for a few minutes after melting. The milk solids (the whiter substance) will sink to the bottom and the butterfat (the yellow liquid) will float up. You could now simply pour the butterfat, being careful to leave the white bottom layer behind. It’s OK if a little of the milk solids get poured in as well. (Get more details about clarifying butter here).
- Over a large bowl, shred the konafa/kataifi dough into 1inch/ 2.5cm long pieces. I’ve found that cutting the kunafa while semi frozen, makes for the easiest way to break it. So even if using fresh kunafa, stick it in the freezer for about an hour before cutting it.
- Pour the melted ghee evenly over the kunafa. If using butter instead of ghee, for fresh, extra thin konafa dough, just pour the yellow liquid (butterfat) of the melted butter, leaving behind the white layer (milk solids). If using thicker, frozen konafa/kadiafi, just pour all the butter in. Mix the butter evenly with you hands, into the kanafeh shreds, making sure it gets well coated and every strand is glistening.
- Transfer two-thirds the amount of konafa in the prepared pan and firmly press it on the bottom and up the sides. Make a wall with the konafa around the sides of the pan; this will help contain the filling during the baking process and prevent it from burning. Pack the konafa as tightly as possible. Use the bottom of a cup or measuring cup, to help pack it tightly and smooth out the konafa.
- Pour in half of the cooled, semolina pudding and spread with a spatula into a thin layer. Top with the cheese mixture and pat down into an even layer. Cover with the remaining semolina pudding.
- Scatter on the remaining third of the konafa over the cream filling, lightly press it on to adhere.
- Transfer the pan to the panggangan and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the top and sides of the konafa are deep golden brown in color. Use a knife to push the side of the konafa, to check the color. The longer it bakes, the crunchier it gets. So bake it for less time if you prefer a softer crust.
- Remove the konafa from the panggangan and immediately pour on about ¾ of the scented syrup, starting from the edge and moving towards the center, in a circular motion, making sure to cover the entire surface. Reserve leftover syrup for drizzling over individual servings.
- Let the konafa rest for 5 to 10 minutes to allow for the syrup to soak in, then flip on to a serving platter. Decorate the edges with halved pistachios, or for a more traditional look, Cover the entire surface with ground out pistachios.
- Cut into wedges and serve right away, while still hot, passing along extra syrup, as desired. Kunafa is best enjoyed warm, while the filling is still gooey, but it still tastes delicious at room temperature and the filling will still be soft but not gooey. Leftovers maybe stored in the refrigerator, then rewarmed in the panggangan or microwave.
*This recipe will also make 2 (9″/ 23cm round) kunafas, or 4 (6″/ 15cm round) ones.
**Kunafa freezes really well before baking. Assemble the kunafa in the pan, don’t bake, and cover with a double layer of plastic wrap and 1 layer of foil. When ready to bake, let it thaw, then bake as normal.
***The amount of sugar added to the mozzarella filling, depends on how salty the cheese tastes. If using fresh mozzarella, you may choose to leave out the sugar sugar because its not salty. So taste your cheese and you be the judge of how much sugar needs to be added. I use pre-shredded mozzarella, not because its the best choice, but rather because its the most easily accessible where I live. It’s slightly salty, so 3 tablespoons is perfect to balance it out.
****In non-Middle Eastern countries, Kadaifi/kataifi/konafa dough can be found in the frozen Greek section of most big supermarkets, or in Middle Eastern speciality stores.
Semolina pudding recipe adapted from Embers Mezze Bar.