Ramadan recipe: kunafa with cream

Throughout the holy month, 'The National' is teaming up with Table Tales to share daily recipes to experiment with at home

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, April 10, 2021.  Ramadan Recipes.  Kunafe.
Victor Besa/The National
Section:  AC
Reporter:  Hanan Sayed Worrell
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Join The National and Table Tales on a culinary journey around the Middle East to savour the quintessential dishes that embody the spirit of Ramadan. From table staples to family favourites, this series of recipes – one for each day of Ramadan – pays homage to the holy month and the home cook alike.

If there were to be a queen of Arab sweets, it would probably be kunafa. There are variations across the region – in pronunciation and preparation – but all forms use threads of dough made from flour and water.

The summer highlight for my children was going to teta's and diving into her home-made kunafa with its creamy filling and crunchy crust

“Wherever it is made, this dessert is sinfully sweet, creamy, nutty, cheesy and crunchy all at once,” says Hanan Sayed Worrell of Table Tales. “Kunafa is prepared year-round, but is especially popular during Ramadan. It is said that Muawiya, the first Umayyad caliph, on advice from his physician, ate kunafa during the holy month to satisfy his insatiable hunger.”

Recipe contributor Mona Zaki, a talent manager who splits her time living in Egypt and the US, says: “My mother-in-law makes kunafa that melts in your mouth and rivals any speciality pastry makers.

“The summer highlight for my children was going to teta’s and diving into her home-made kunafa with its creamy filling and crunchy crust. I have made this recipe with consistently delicious results.”

Mona Zaki's kunafa with cream

Serves 8 to 10

Ingredients for the syrup:

  • 315g granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla or 2 tsp orange blossom water

Ingredients for the filling:

  • 60ml cold whole milk
  • 40g cornstarch
  • 820ml whipping cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla or 2 tsp orange blossom water

Ingredients for the crust:

  • 340g kunafa dough, thawed
  • 200g butter, softened
  • Pistachios, shelled and coarsely chopped

Method for the syrup:

  1. Mix the sugar and 180 millilitres (¾ cup) of water in a small saucepan over high heat, stirring frequently until the sugar dissolves.
  2. Add the lemon juice and boil for two minutes.
  3. Stir in the vanilla or ­orange blossom water. Remove from the heat and let it cool completely.

Method for the filling:

  1. Combine the milk and cornstarch in a medium saucepan, whisking until the cornstarch is completely dissolved.
  2. Over low heat, slowly pour in 240 millilitres (1 cup) of the cream. Whisk until well combined.
  3. Add the second cup of cream, continuing to whisk. Do not let the mixture get so hot that it curdles or gets lumpy. As the mixture ­thickens, add the remaining cream, whisking continuously. The consistency should be like bechamel sauce.
  4. Remove from the heat, add the vanilla or orange blossom water, and stir until combined. Allow the mixture to cool completely.

Method for the kunafa crust:

  1. Shred the kunafa dough into inch-long pieces in a large bowl, keeping it covered while you work, so it doesn't dry out.
  2. Coat the bottom of a round 12-inch non-stick pan with a third of the butter. Cover the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of dough, about 1 centimetre thick, patting it down firmly.
  3. Evenly spread the cream filling over the dough. Distribute the remaining dough over the filling to completely cover. Pat down the dough so all layers are connected.
  4. Melt the remaining butter and drizzle it evenly on top of the kunafa.
  5. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Place the pan on the lower rack of the oven and bake for 30 minutes. The edges should be golden, and the top should be starting to turn golden. Move the pan to a rack in the middle of the oven and bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until the top is golden.
  6. Working from the outside to the centre, drizzle about half of the cool syrup on to the kunafa in a circular pattern. Flip the kunafa on to a serving platter and drizzle with more of the syrup.
  7. Decorate with chopped pistachios, and serve it warm with the remaining syrup on the side.

This dish has been brought to you by Mona Zaki and curated by recipe hunter Hanan Sayed Worrell, author of Table Tales: The Global Nomad Cuisine of Abu Dhabi. The Table Tales concept celebrates the people and stories that give flavour to recipes of the Middle East.

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Read more:

Ramadan recipes: daily dishes to try from the 'Table Tales' series

Ramadan recipe: asheh anar – pomegranate soup with green herbs

Ramadan recipe: luqaimat – sweet dumplings

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