What is kunefe?
Kunefe (Turkish spelling: künefe, pronounced “kuu-neh-feh”) is a Turkish dessert consisting of a crispy baked, buttery wisp of kadayif dough, filled with cheese and topped with sweet syrup.
To make the special kadayif dough, it is pressed through a sort of sieve to form the typical thin strands that look a bit like vermicelli. The dough is then pre-baked.
Kunefe is a speciality of the city of Antioch (Antakya), located on the Mediterranean Sea, and you will also find small kunefe shops on every street corner, where they make the dough itself, as well as the dessert. The fresher-than-fresh cheese used in Antiochian kunefe is soft, stretchy and typical of the region. Other cheeses are also used in kunefe; any soft, fresh, unsalted cheese can potentially be used.
Did you know?
Kunefe is the type of dish that is made by specialists who do nothing else all day long, rather than by locals at home. If a Turkish mother wants to put her own version on the table, chances are she will buy the kadayif in the shop.
How to make kunefe
The dessert is baked like a cake in a special kunefe baking dish, a shallow, round, metal dish. Pre-baked kadayif dough rolls are chopped into pieces and pressed into a richly buttered kunf shape. A layer of unsalted fresh Turkish cheese, such as taze kashar, dil peyniri (mozzarella) or lor is added to this dough base. Some chefs also add a layer of kaymak, for an extra creamy dessert. A second layer of kadayif is placed on top. The cake is baked in the oven until golden brown, then it is poured onto a plate, the mould is re-buttered and the cake is baked again – this time with the unbaked side down in the baking mould. The still piping hot cake is topped with a syrup made from sugar, water and lemon juice. Kunefe is served in points, garnished with powdered pistachio or walnuts.
How to eat
The dish is very sweet to Western tastes so a small portion is usually enough. If you serve the kunefe hot (so the dessert is at its crunchiest), use a knife to cut the threads of the cheese.
In true Antioch style, a point of kunefe is served with a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream.