Every time I visit Beirut, I have to have various dishes including ka’ket k’nafeh which is one of my favourite breakfasts, a luscious cheese pie drenched in sugar syrup then stuffed into a sesame galette the inside of which is also drenched in sugar syrup. An insanely delicious sweet sandwich that clocks in at more than a thousand calories a bite!
Here is a short clip of the sweet-maker at Amal Bohsali making ka’ket k’nafeh and a recipe from my Lebanese cookbook. Though I have to warn you that however good you are (or will be) at making k’nafeh, it will never be as good as that at Amal Bohsali, the present Lebanese masters of k’nafeh. They still make it the traditional way with no short-cuts (they use the best ghee made from sheep’s milk and imported from France and still use rubbed hair pastry and not semolina like some other places); and no stinting on the quality of the cheese (akkawi and not some cheap mozzarella) and finally, they buy in the best ka’keh with no hint of vanilla to interfere with the taste of the k’nafeh.
K’nafeh bil-Jebn (Sweet Cheese Pie)
for the sugar syrup
350 g golden caster sugar
150 ml water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon rose water
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
Put the sugar, water and lemon juice in a saucepan and place over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, occasionally stirring the mixture. Let boil for 3 minutes, then stir in the rose and orange blossom water and boil for a few seconds more. Take off the heat and let cool.
for the k’nafeh
300 g akkawi cheese
250 g hair pastry
125 g unsalted butter or ghee (samneh)
A few hours before
Cut the cheese into thin slices, about 5 mm thick and put to soak in cold water. Change the water at regular intervals, every 15 minutes or so, until the cheese has lost all trace of saltiness.
Finishing and serving
Preheat the oven to 200 C/400 F.
Chop the hair pastry into small pieces (about 1 cm). Put the chopped pastry in a wide pan and make a space in the centre. Weigh 100 g of butter (or samneh), cut it in small pieces and put in the middle of the pastry. Place over a low heat. Rub the melting fat into the pastry with your hands until all the shreds are well coated and the fat is completely melted, this will take a few minutes..
Grease a round baking dish which is the traditional shape (about 22.5 cm in diameter) or a rectangular one 1(8 x 32 x 3 cm) with the rest of the butter (or samneh). Spread the shredded pastry (or k’nafeh mafrukeh ) across the dish in an even layer and press it down with your hands. Bake in the preheated oven for 5 minutes.
Drain the cheese and when the time is up, take the pastry out of the oven and spread the cheese slices evenly over it. Bake for 10 more minutes or until the cheese is completely melted and the pastry underneath is golden brown.
Serve hot or warm. Ideally, you should turn the pie over onto a serving dish which you will have previously brushed with sugar syrup, so that the cheese does not stick. You can also cut the pie into pieces about 8 cm square and serve these upside down on a platter, again brushed with syrup, to show the golden pastry. However, because the pastry is quite crumbly, the presentation will not be as nice as if you turn over the whole pie. Pour a little sugar syrup all over the pastry and serve with more syrup on the side and with or without sesame galettes.
* You can vary on the above by replacing the cheese with qashtah (Arabic clotted cream; you will need 450 g). Prepare and serve as before.
* You can also cook the pie on top of the stove in which case it is best to use a round baking dish. Spread the cheese slices over the pastry and place the round baking dish over a low heat. Cook for about 20 minutes, turning the dish regularly to make sure the pastry browns evenly. When ready, the pie should move in one block if you shake the dish from side to side.
©Anissa Helou from Lebanese Cuisine