Turkish Kunefe (Künefe)

Künefe is considered to be one of the most delicious Turkish desserts, especially in the city of Antakya (Antioch) located on Mediterrenean Sea, in Southern Turkey. Although künefe shops are very common throughout Hatay, Kilis, Adana, Mersin and Gaziantep provinces, the city of Antakya in Hatay is known for the best künefe in Turkey. What distinguishes Antakya’s künefe from others is the daily made fresh, elastic cheese that is only made in Hatay region. The kadayıf (shredded phyllo dough) is also made from scratch at small künefe shops in almost every corner in Antakya which I find very entertaining to watch.

The künefe shops in Antakya serve the künefe topped with cream or ice cream. Every time I visit home, I go to Antakya which is about two hours from my hometown and have künefe with ice cream. One of my favorite places to eat künefe is in Harbiye (known as Daphne from Roman times) which is in the outskirts of the city in a valley surrounded by plenty of trees and streams of water. Many restaurants and cafes in Harbiye serve künefe, however I opt for eating künefe at Hidro restaurant that overlooks a man-made pond.

Very few people choose to make künefe at home in Antakya since this delightful dessert is abundant, however people who do choose to make künefe at home buy the daily made fresh kadayıf from the künefe shops. Even homemade künefe in Antakya is very tasty which probably is due to the fresh kadayıf.

As you may guess, künefe is not widely available in the States except the packaged, prepared kind found in Middle Eastern stores; therefore I wanted to make my own künefe. I spoke to both my mom and my mother-in-law on how each one makes her own künefe to get a general idea. As a result, I created my own with trial and error. This dessert was made 4-5 times in my kitchen until I acquired the right taste, texture and appearance. I did not publish it until it turned out perfect to me. Of course it is still not like the künefe in Antakya, but it turned out a very good homemade one.

This elegant looking and delicious dessert should be consumed hot, right after the kadayıf absorbs the syrup for the best taste. The cheese will be very stringy, so a knife will be needed when eating this luscious dessert. In Hatay, Adana, Mersin, Kilis, Gaziantep and in adjacent regions, this dessert is very often served for guests after the dinner or at women’s tea gatherings.

Note: If you would like your künefe to be thinner, use a larger pan or Pyrex dish for baking the künefe. Also, I like this dessert a little on the darker side so I let it bake a little longer. Once it turns golden brown it should be ready.

For Syrup:

2 cups sugar
2 cups water

For Künefe:

1 lb shredded phyllo dough
½ lb unsalted, shredded mozzeralla cheese or any other white, stringy, unsalted cheese
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
½ cup milk (optional)

For Decoration:

2-3 tbsp finely ground pistachios

In a medium pot, combine sugar and water and put on the stove. Let it boil and remove from heat. Let it cool.

Remove shredded dough from package.

Shred it in a food processor or chop it up with a sharp knife until the shredded phyllo dough pieces are very small.

Melt butter in a non-stick pan. Add the shredded phyllo and mix continuously.

Add the milk and continue mixing until the butter and milk are completely incorporated into the shredded pyhllo. Remove from heat.

In a round pan or a Pyrex dish, place half of the buttered phyllo dough and press with a spatula or your hands.

Distribute the shredded, unsalted cheese evenly on top of the buttered phyllo dough and press with a spatula or hands.

Add the rest of the buttered phyllo dough on top of the cheese and distribute and press evenly.

Heat the oven to 375º F. Place the künefe pan and bake for 45-50 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and pour the cold syrup on the hot künefe. Let the künefe absorb the syrup for about 5 minutes.

Serve hot immediately.

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