Künefe is a luxurious Turkish dessert of warm, shredded filo pastry layers filled with stringy cheese and soaked in a rich, sugary syrup with the tang of fresh lemons. Often served in a copper dish, it has the appearance of baked-golden shredded wheat, usually topped with ground pistachios and served with a dollop of kaymak (clotted cream).
To sit at a kilim- draped Turkish table, contemplating a hot slice of freshly-baked kunefe whilst savouring the thick, rich flavour and aroma of your Turkish kahve is truly one of life’s great joys.
The origins of this delicious dessert remains an open debate across much of the Middle East and Mediterranean region. Regional variations on this dish are known by similar names such as kunafa, k’nafe and knafeh and references to its preparation date back as far as the 9th century.
In Turkey, künefe is strongly associated with the Hatay Province region which borders Syria in the south. Local folklore suggests the authentic künefe from this region must be made with a unique local variety of unsalted cheese (from a town called Yayladağı) and tray-baked over a wood fire.
Like many Turkish dishes, my Turkish friends told me that the ability to produce an authentic künefe is far from easy, and a skill respected as yet another measure of true “Turkishness”. OK, here we go. Using an Australian-based recipe which looked straightforward enough, I’ve just produced my first batch of künefe.
Ingredients were sourced from a local Turkish supermarket. Am I happy with it? Honestly, no. The cheese I used (mozzarella) did not have the same texture or taste as the künefe I’d fallen in love with in Turkey. I didn’t achieve that lovely crusty, golden-brown shredded-wheat texture with my kadayif. Some recipes recommend oven-baking rather than pan-baking. And I probably didn’t use enough sugar syrup to saturate the baked künefe, so it wasn’t really sweet, rich and moist enough.
For now, künefe remains a work-in-progress. In the meantime, I’m happy to return to trusted Turkish hands to take care of my sweet tooth.