This glorious syrup soaked, cheese filled pastry strands, Kunefe, is one of the signature dishes of my hometown, Antakya, and it was one of the highlights at my recent Turkish cooking class.
I spent many happy holidays in Antakya in my childhood; I can still remember getting the freshly baked Tel Kadayif (the pastry strands) from the local bakery, watching the delicate strands forming from the huge sieve from Long Market (Uzun Carsi) in Antakya. And the golden memories of my grandmother cooking Kunefe in her stone oven in her garden, and, we, her grandchildren excitedly waiting for any leftovers of the butter soaked pastry strands is still vivid in my memory, glorious days.
Tel kadayif is a dough, pushed through a sieve to form delicate strands, which looks like vermicelli and when soaked in butter and baked, resembles golden shredded wheat. It is the basis for many desserts but this is the most impressive. The hot cheese should ooze out giving an interesting contrast to the syrup soaked, crunchy casing. Any unsalted cheese which melts easily can be used – fresh mozzarella works well. I also like to add a little clotted cream; my mother would add the wonderfully thick cream we get in Turkey, called Kaymak. Kunefe can be baked in one big pan or smaller ones as individual portions.
You can get Kadayif, packs of pale strands that look like vermicelli- in Middle Eastern stores (like the Turkish Food Market in Cheam, Surrey – England), online Turkish supermarkets carry them.
This Kunefe recipe and many more are included at my cookery book, Ozlem’s Turkish Table, Recipes from My Homeland, along with stunning photography and personal stories. Signed copies are now 20 % OFF for a limited time at this link and delivered worldwide.
If you live in the US, Canada or Mexico, you can order a hardback copy here with lower shipping rates.
Here are also other festive dishes like baklava and other festive desserts if you would like some more inspirations.
Syrup Soaked, Cheese Filled Pastry Strands – Kunefe
Preparation time: 20 minutes Cooking time: 45-50 minutes
225gr/8oz ready-prepared kadayif pastry, thawed if frozen
145gr/5oz melted butter
300gr/12oz fresh mozzarella, sliced (dil peyniri in Turkey or the white kunefelik peynir in southern Turkey works great if you can get)
3 tbsp kaymak or clotted cream – optional-
For the syrup:
120ml/4fl oz water
Juice of 1/2 small lemon – about 2 tbsp (you can use less, if you prefer)
1-2 tbsp crushed pistachios for garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to 180C/350 F
First make the syrup. Place the sugar and water in a pan and simmer over a low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Add the lemon juice, reduce the heat through and simmer for about 10 minutes, until it coats the back of the spoon. Then remove from the heat and leave the syrup to cool. The syrup needs to be cool when poured over the cheese filled pastry strands.
Using some of the melted butter, grease a large baking tray.
Soak the pastry strands well in the melted butter. Use more butter if necessary, as it is important that it is well soaked in order to prevent it burning during the baking time. Divide the pastry strands in two. Spread half of the strands in the base of the baking pan, press it down with your fingers.
Spread or crumble the slices of the fresh mozzarella cheese and the clotted cream (if used) over the top of the pastry and cover with the remainder of the pastry, pressing down firmly.
Bake the pastry in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until the strands are a deep golden color.
Cut the hot, baked pastry strands into portions and pour the prepared cool syrup over it. Serve immediately whilst still hot and the cheese is gooey. You can decorate with a sprinkling of ground pistachio nuts over the top if you like.