New York cheesecake just got a Middle Eastern makeover!  Sweet and crunchy kanafeh pastry, sandwiches rich and creamy keshta-topped cheesecake. A drizzle of a cinnamon and cardamom kissed sugar syrup ties the flavors together.

KANAFEH CHEESECAKE {Sweet and crunchy Middle Eastern kanafeh sandwiching a rich & creamy New York Cheesecake}

I admit it…I haven’t been living up to my Egyptian…ness? Egyptianality? Egyptianism? around here.

And although my language skills just proved it, my recipes have been far from it.

I’ve been blogging for 4 months now and the number of Egyptian/Middle Eastern recipes I’ve featured, boils down to…ZERO!

It’s high time I set things right and I’m starting with this, lo and behold…drumroll please…NEW YORK CHEESECAKE.  LOL!!!

For realz though…I got it all dressed up in a very Middle Eastern fashion…Kanafeh guys!

Have you ever met the gloriousness that is Kanafeh?

My oh my, if I could eat one Middle Eastern dessert for the rest of my life, kanafeh will sure be IT!

KANAFEH CHEESECAKE {Sweet and crunchy Middle Eastern kanafeh sandwiching a rich & creamy New York Cheesecake}

Kanafeh, kenafeh, kunāfah, künefe, knafeh, kunafeh, knafeh, konafa, with its 101 spelling and pronunciation options, is a long thin noodle-like pastry commonly made from shredded phyllo.  Unbaked and unadorned, it tastes like…well…nothing really.  But mixed with butter, or more typically ghee, then baked and drenched in sugar syrup, transforms into sweet, crunchy golden strands of heaven.

It’s a specialty dessert of the Middle East, Turkey, and Greece where it’s called kadaïfi or kataïfi.  Due to a big portion of the Middle East being under the Ottoman Empire rule in the past, we tend to share almost identical dishes with Turkey and Greece.  Hello Baklava and Moussaka!

There are as many different ways to make Kanafeh as there are of spelling it.  In Egypt, the most common way is to layer it with a creamy pudding-like filling in the middle and baked it off in a round cake pan.  The end result is scrumpiously sweet and crunchy on the outside, creamy and dreamy on the inside.  Nut fillings and cheese fillings are also typical, especially in neighboring countries.

Wait…Did someone say CHEESE?

KANAFEH CHEESECAKE {Sweet and crunchy Middle Eastern kanafeh sandwiching a rich & creamy New York Cheesecake}

I mean, if kanafeh can be made with ricotta, mozzarella, feta, goat and akkawi cheese, then why should cream cheese ever say no?!

I was determined to find the answer to that by stuffing it with the best way possible to eat cream cheese…Cheesecake baby!  A big, fat, full sized-cheesecake, encased inside a foreign object…the kanafeh.  I brainstormed and brainstormed till my brain hurt, and this is what I came up with:

A cinnamon and cardamom scented sugar syrup soaked kanafeh bottom crust, takes place of the otherwise traditional graham cracker crust, followed by a baked New York style cheesecake, that gets slathered with Arabic cream (keshta), then topped with piles of more sugar-syrup soaked konafa shreds and a sprinkling of pistachios and pink edible pearls.

Kanafeh? Goood.  Cheesecake? Goooooood?  Was I worried?  Yeeeeees.  Why you may ask?  Individually, each component is perfect in its own right. What I was worried about is if it was gonna work together and tie the knot.

The verdict?  It worked!  The contrast between the crunchiness of the kanafeh and the creaminess of the cheesecake is so good.  I found it mandatory though, to add extra drizzles of syrup on the cheesecake layer on my plate…it just ties everything together. Adventurous eaters, foodies and those with a more refined taste palate, if you will, were delighted with the creation and kept going for seconds.  Surpisingly, my very picky eater son loved it too and he never likes anything!  For God’s sake, the little guy doesn’t like cookies…of any kind!  But he loved this.  Traditionalists on the other hand were more like…how about next time you make us a kanafeh and a cheesecake on separate plates?! Heartbreak aside, moral of the story: if you’re planning to make this, put your audience into consideration.  It’s definitely not your run-off-the-mill cheesecake, so naturally its not for everyone.

Another thing I should tell you before we make this together, is that I wasn’t actually planning on sharing this on the blog just yet, because I wanted to test it out first before making the bloggable one.  But then halfway through, I decided that I’ll have nothing to lose if I take photos anyway.  Therefore, you’ll notice that the making of the cheesecake layer pictures are missing and that’s because I baked it the night before, with no previous intentions of sharing it here.  Don’t worry though, the recipe is explained in the fussiest details below. 

Plus…I just updated the recipe with a video!  So hopefully that will make up for the lack of photos 😉

So let’s pretend that we just made a crustless cheesecake batter, baked it, cooled it then froze it till its hard.  We need the cheesecake layer to be completely frozen, so we could easily transfer it on top of the bottom kanafeh crust.  So do that step a day ahead.

Also make the sugar syrup and let it cool completely.

Ok, now some pictures to save the day.

You’ll take half the amount of kanafeh dough that you’re gonna be using, and shred it into really small pieces.  Then cook it with butter (or ghee) and sugar…

A Middle Eastern spin on a ice cream favorite!  Vanilla ice cream layered with bananas, salted caramel sauce and caramelized cinnamon kunafa crumbs for crunch..Heavenly!

Till it has gorgeously toasted and wafting with buttery, caramelized aromas.  The reason why I add the sugar during the cooking process and not after (which is the norm), is that I love how the sugar melts and coats the kanafeh shreds with caramelization.  This gives the kunafa even more crunch, longer shelf life and extra special flavor.

A Middle Eastern spin on a ice cream favorite!  Vanilla ice cream layered with bananas, salted caramel sauce and caramelized cinnamon kunafa crumbs for crunch..Heavenly!

After that, you’ll move on to make your kanafeh bottom crust.  This time, don’t shred it, just simply loosen the strands from each other.  Then coat it well with some melted butter or ghee.

KANAFEH CHEESECAKE {Sweet and crunchy Middle Eastern kanafeh sandwiching a rich & creamy New York Cheesecake}

Now press it really firmly in the bottom of the springform pan.  Bake until deep golden brown and again soak with the sugar syrup right away.  Allow to cool, then get it out of the pan and slide it on to your serving platter or cake stand.

KANAFEH CHEESECAKE {Sweet and crunchy Middle Eastern kanafeh sandwiching a rich & creamy New York Cheesecake}
Get your frozen cheesecake from the freezer and simply place on top of the bottom kanafeh crust.  Because the cheesecake is frozen, this step should be a breeze.
KANAFEH CHEESECAKE {Sweet and crunchy Middle Eastern kanafeh sandwiching a rich & creamy New York Cheesecake}

Now spread some kesha, clotted cream or creme fraiche for that authentic Arabic touch.

KANAFEH CHEESECAKE {Sweet and crunchy Middle Eastern kanafeh sandwiching a rich & creamy New York Cheesecake}

Pile on that kanafeh till your heart’s content.
KANAFEH CHEESECAKE {Sweet and crunchy Middle Eastern kanafeh sandwiching a rich & creamy New York Cheesecake}

Then sprinkle it happy with some pistachios and edible pearls…or sprinkles!  Let the cheesecake layer defrost…

KANAFEH CHEESECAKE {Sweet and crunchy Middle Eastern kanafeh sandwiching a rich & creamy New York Cheesecake}

And voila…your Middle Eastern fusion dessert is now ready to be devoured.  And oh…I highly recommend adding an extra drizzle of the syrup on the cheesecake layer of your slice.   It just ties everything together.

KANAFEH CHEESECAKE {Sweet and crunchy Middle Eastern kanafeh sandwiching a rich & creamy New York Cheesecake}

All that’s left to say now is “Bel hana wel shefa”…or as they say in my country as you’re served food…”with bliss and healing.”  Ok that just sounded weird.

Just…Enjoy y’all!!!

Bon appétit!

Update 9/6/2018:  I updated the recipe from its original version to make the cheesecake layer creamier and the kanafeh components even crunchier.  It’s now better than ever! 

Yield: 1 (9inch or 10inch) Kanafe Cheesecake

Kanafeh Cheesecake

Kanafeh Cheesecake

The cheesecake layer needs about 3 hours to bake and cool, and at least 6 hours to freeze, so plan in advance; preferably make it a day ahead. The assembled kanafeh cheesecake, needs about 4 hours to defrost before serving, so plan to assemble it about 6 hours before you plan to serve it. If you prefer a thinner layer of cheesecake, for the kanafeh to take center stage, you could halve the cheesecake recipe. Baking time will need to be reduced to about 45 minutes. The syrup amount makes enough to soak the kanafeh, plus extra for drizzling on individual servings.

Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Additional Time 12 hours
Total Time 14 hours 10 minutes

Ingredients

For the Cheesecake Layer: (see note above)

  • 2 pounds (907 grams) cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 1¼ cups (250 grams) granulated sugar
  • ½ cup (130 grams) sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, optional
  • 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract or 1 tablespoon imitation vanilla flavoring
  • 4 large eggs
  • Boiling water, for the water bath

For the Sugar Syrup:

  • 2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • A squeeze of lemon
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 cardamom pods, cracked

For the Kanafeh Topping:

  • ⅓ cup plus 1 teaspoon (85g) unsalted butter (or ghee)
  • ½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
  • 170g kunafa, or kataifi/kadaifi pastry, fresh or frozen (If using fresh, freeze for an hour for easier cutting. If using frozen, thaw slightly)

For the kanafeh bottom crust:

  • ⅓ cup plus 1 teaspoon (85g) unsalted butter (or ghee)
  • 3 (37g) tablespoons cup (50g) granulated sugar
  • 170g kunafa, or kataifi/kadaifi pastry, fresh or frozen (If using fresh, freeze for an hour for easier cutting. If using frozen, thaw slightly)

For Topping and Garnish:

  • 1 cup (227g) keshta (Arabic cream), clotted cream or creme fraishe
  • 1/4 cup pistachios or other preferred nuts, chopped
  • pink or any other colored edible pearls or sprinkles or dried roses, optional

Instructions

For the Cheesecake Layer: (Could be prepared up to several days in advance)

  1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325F/160C. Keep a roasting pan or a baking dish big enough to hold the cheesecake pan nearby to use for water bath. Bring kettle or large saucepan of water to boil.
  2. Spray a 9 or 10-inch springform pan with a nonstick spray, then line the bottom with a round of parchment paper, then spray again. Wrap a triple layer of foil around the bottom and up the sides of the pan, to seal it well so the water from the water bath doesn't seep into the pan and ruin the cheesecake.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl and a handheld mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth and creamy.
  4. Add in the sugar and beat until well combined. Add in the sour cream, lemon juice (if using) and vanilla, and mix until incorporated.
  5. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, then beat the mixture for a few more seconds until the batter is smooth. Be careful not to overmix. If the batter has lots of cream cheese lumps, pour it through a fine mesh strainer to smooth it a out.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Transfer the pan into the roasting pan. Pour the boiling water into the roasting pan, taking care not to splash water into the cheesecake pan, until water reaches halfway through the height of the cheesecake batter.
  7. Bake the cheesecake for 55 to 70 minutes until the cheesecake's outer three inches look slightly puffed and set, but the inner circle still jiggles slightly when you gently shake the pan. Cheesecakes baked in a 10-inch pan will usually cook in 50 to 55 minutes, and those in a 9-inch pan will cook in 55 to 60 minutes. The internal temperature of the cheesecake's center should registers 165F/74C.
  8. Remove the roasting pan with the cheesecake pan from the oven. Take the cheesecake pan out of the roasting pan, and unwrap the foil. Return the cheesecake pan into the turned off oven and crack the oven door open to let it cool gradually. This prevents the cheesecake from collapsing and helps avoid cracks from happening. Let the cheesecake cool slowly for one hour.
  9. Take the cheesecake out of the oven and transfer to a wire rack. Run a thin-bladed knife around the edge of the cake to make sure it's not sticking to the sides. Let the cheesecake cool completely on the rack.
  10. When it has cooled, wrap the cheesecake pan in plastic wrap and transfer to the freezer until well frozen, at least 6 hours, or preferably overnight.
  11. Meanwhile prepare the rest of the cake components.

For the Sugar Syrup: (Could be prepared up to a week in advance)

  1. In a medium saucepan, over high heat, combine together the sugar, water, squeeze of lemon, cinnamon stick, and cardamom.
  2. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for 10 minutes not more. Set a timer! The syrup will thicken slightly, and have a consistency similar to pancake syrup.
  3. Transfer to a bowl or gravy boat and set aside to cool completely before using.

For the Kanafeh Topping:

  1. While the kanafeh is still semi-frozen, break it between your hands to crumble into small pieces. Kanefeh shreds easiest when semi-frozen.
  2. In a large pan (the larger the better) over medium heat, melt the butter (or ghee). Add in the sugar and stir until it starts to dissolve; about 30 seconds.
  3. Add in the shredded kanafeh and stir well until evenly coated with the butter and sugar. It will be difficult to stir at first, but will loosen up as the kanafeh starts to toast. Continue stirring constantly, being careful not to get any burn marks, until the kanafeh is evenly golden brown in color and is very crunchy; about 10 minutes. Transfer the kanafeh crumbs to a bowl and allow to cool completely before using. Cooled caramelized kunafa will keep well, covered tightly with plastic wrap for about a week.

For the Kanafeh Bottom Crust:

  1. Remove the cheesecake from the freezer, take off the sides of the pan, turn the cheesecake upside down on a plate, slide a knife under the bottom to remove. Peel parchment round to remove. Cover cheesecake with plastic wrap and keep in the freezer until needed. Wash and dry the cheesecake pan and use to make the kanafeh bottom crust.
  2. Over a medium bowl, shred the kanafeh into small pieces then pour in the butter (or ghee), and sugar and using your hands, mix everything well together, rubbing the butter into the kanafeh until evenly coated.
  3. Transfer the kanafeh mixture to the pan and firmly press the buttered kanafeh into the cheesecake pan bottom and a little over the sides, because it will shrink as it bakes. Using the flat bottom of measuring cup or ramekin, firmly press to pack the mixture into a compact layer.
  4. Bake until deep golden brown, about 20 minutes. While still hot, pour enough sugar syrup to coat the surface, about 1/4cup. Let it cool completely before layering the cheesecake on top of it.

Assembling the Cake:

  1. Take off the sides on the springform pan with the kanafeh bottom crust, then gently slide the kanafeh on to a serving platter or cake stand.
  2. Take the cheesecake layer out of the freezer and place on top of the kanafeh bottom. This should be easily done, since the frozen cheesecake is firm enough to be carried without breakage.
  3. Spread the keshta, clotted cream or creme fraiche on top of the cheesecake.
  4. Top the cheesecake with the konafa shreds, piling it in a mountain-like fashion.
  5. Garnish with the chopped pistachios and edible pearls or sprinkles, if using.
  6. Let the cheesecake defrost to a cool room temperature for several hours before serving. This could take up to 4 hours.
  7. Cut into wedges and serve drizzling extra sugar syrup on the cheesecake layer.
  8. Due to the kanafeh's crunch short life span, the assembled cheesecake is best enjoyed the day its made. Leftovers will keep well in the fridge for several days, but some of the kanafeh crunch will be lost.

Recipe Notes

  1. I like Philadelphia brand block cream cheese, as well as Kiri Creamy from the tub.
  2. Sour cream gives a pleasant tangy flavor to the cheesecake, but heavy whipping cream could be substituted for a more mellow flavor. Half the amount of both, will give you the best of both worlds.

Cheesecake base adapted from The Perfect Classic Cheesecake.

Measurements Note: All recipes of this site have been developed using weight measurements. Although US volume measurements have been included for your convenience, it is highly encouraged that you weigh your ingredients using a kitchen scale to get the best possible results. Due to the sensitive nature of baking, kitchen scales are proven to yield more accurate and consistent results than measuring cups. Enjoy!

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