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Also called knaffeh, kanafeh is a Mediterranean dessert that originated in the city of Nablus in Palestine. Nablus is still famous for this dessert, and in fact, the dish is often called kanafeh Nablusi in this region. It is a sweet, cheese-filled pastry made with a special dough and topped with syrup. Though a variation can also be found in Greek cooking, it is most popular in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine.
Kanafeh is made with a special kind of dough called phyllo, or filo, which is shredded. This dough may come in rolled sheets or it may be pre-shredded. When pre-shredded, it is often called kataifi dough. If the dough is in sheets, it must first be cut into thin strips. Keeping the sheets rolled while cutting is the simplest way to produce the long, narrow, shredded dough required for the treat. Sometimes, the strips are crumbled.
Normally, two types of cheese are included in kanafeh. A soft, sweet cheese, like mascarpone or ricotta, and mozzarella cheese are normally chosen. In Nablus, the pastry is traditionally made with a local Nablusi cheese. The two cheeses are mixed together, and sometimes a milk and butter mixture may be added to increase the creaminess.
To make kanafeh, butter is melted and combined with the shredded phyllo. Care is taken to keep the strands of dough from clumping together during mixing. After all the phyllo is coated with butter, half is placed in a pie pan or circular baking dish.
The cheese mixture is then placed evenly over the phyllo. Although it should be pressed firmly in place, the cheese should not be squished into the dough below it. Once the cheese layer is complete, the second half of the dough is placed on top. The kanafeh is usually baked for about an hour, until it is a golden color.
The syrup that tops the kanafeh is usually made with orange blossom water, sugar, and lemon juice. Saffron may also be added. Plain water and sugar are boiled together and stirred until thick. Then the lemon juice and saffron are added. After all the ingredients are mixed, the orange blossom water is included.
Once cooled, the completed kanafeh may be removed from its baking dish by placing a serving plate over the top of the dish and inverting plate and dish. Then the baking dish can be removed. The syrup is poured over the completed pastry. Chopped pistachios also often top this dessert.