Kanafeh - Sweet Cheese Dessert

If you make it to the Jerusalem shuk before 10am every morning, you will find a man putting out a large weathered tray of freshly-made, warm kanafeh. The smell of the sweet cheese dessert pulls you in to purchase a slice, and if you haven’t eaten breakfast yet, you’ll probably want two. Kanafeh is a middle eastern dessert that toes between sweet and savory. At its base is a stretchy, gooey, cheese topped with buttered kadaif (shreds of phyllo) and baked until golden and irresistibly crispy. It gets drenched in a simple syrup, flavored with orange blossom or rose water, though I often skip both, to sweeten it just so. I’ve added a crumble of feta to the cheese mixture, the salinity gives it extra dimension and offsets the sugar for balance.

Making it at home is simple enough so I’ve started doing that, though being that I’m the only one enthralled by it, a tray just for me seems excessive. I think you should start making it and share a slice. You’ll be surprised how magical it is.

The shredded phyllo, also called kadaif or a hundred iterations of that word, can be a little difficult to track down. A market serving a large middle eastern or greek clientele is your best bet. You can try this brand as well. It’s worth hunting for it, I promise.

Kanafeh - Sweet Cheese Dessert


¼ cup crumbled feta

1½ cups ricotta cheese

1½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese

2 tablespoons sugar

300g kadaif (shredded phyllo)

½ cup (115g) butter, melted

Ground pistachios, for garnish


½ cup water

½ cup sugar

½ teaspoon orange blossom water (optional)


make the syrup,

Bring the water and sugar to a boil over medium high heat. Add the blossom water, if using. Cook for 5 minutes or until the sugar has completely dissolved. Set aside to cool completely.

for the knafeh,

Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Combine the cheeses and sugar in a medium bowl and mix vigorously to incorporate. In a large bowl, toss the kadaif with the melted butter until thoroughly coated. Press half the mixture into a 9 inch round pan. Spoon the cheese over it and spread gently. Place the rest of the shredded phyllo over the cheese and press the edges to seal. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and pour the cold syrup over the warm dessert. After all the liquid has absorbed, garnish with pistachios and cut yourself a slice without delay.