Ricotta Cheese Kunafa
The easiest, quickest and most versatile kunafa there is! With a sweet and tangy, creamy ricotta cheese filling, signature crunchy crust and lightly scented sugar syrup, this kunafa will likely become your new go-to!
No Ramadan is complete without Kunafa in the Middle East.
Wait…let me rephrase that. No Middle Eastern home is complete without Kunafa.
Kunafa is a year-round staple dessert for Arabs, Turks as well as Greeks. But in Ramadan…it is by far the most celebrated food item of the holy month.
It is the highlight of every iftar table, the bestseller at every pastry shop and the subject of creativity for home and professional bakers alike.
And who am I to argue with tradition?! I couldn’t just let this Ramadan slip by without a kunafa recipe to welcome the month. Amirite?
What is Kunafa?
If you’ve been following along for any length of time, then you probably know of my self-professed love for Kunafa.
Those golden, crispy, shredded strands of pastry goodness, doused with sugar syrup and filled with what ever your hearts desires, is just hard to beat.
Kunafa, which is also known as knafeh, kunefe, kadaifi, kataifi, among others, has been a creative outlet for many of my blog’s recipes. But between the daring, challenging, unconventional, and crazy, there’s always a soft spot reserved for the classics.
Cue in Ricotta Cheese Kunafa.
What is Ricotta Cheese Kunafa?
A simplified spin-off on cheese kunafa, Ricotta Kunafa has become a modern-day classic beloved by many.
It seems that every household has a treasured recipe up their sleeves and until last year, these Ricotta Kunafa Rolls were ours.
This is the dump-and-bake version of our favorite rolls. It comes together in a fraction of the time it takes to intricately wrap the perfectly combed kunafa strands around the perfectly spooned ricotta dollop.
Ricotta Cheese Kunafa is the easiest, quickest, most versatile kunafa you’ll probably get to make. If you’ve never made kunafa before…I encourage you to start here.
It has all of the qualities of a great kunafa, non of fuss. Crunchy on the outside, creamy on the inside, sweet from the syrup with a pleasant tang from the cheese.
This one has a thin layer of lightly sweetened ricotta cheese, mixed with Arabic-style clotted cream for extra creaminess, and soaked in a subtly cinnamon and cardamom-perfumed sugar syrup. The spices are barely noticeable, but it’s enough to keep you wondering what it is that makes this kunafa so special.
It’s Mona’s Famous Kunafa!
I have very fond memories of this recipe in particular. My friend Mona, used to bring it to almost every gathering and potluck during our stay in Canada.
It was her famed specialty and most requested dish. It was called ‘Mona’s Kunafa’ and was there to witness the good times, warm us up when it was literally freezing outside and comfort us when we were feeling homesick. It was the ultimate taste of home and the starter of many conversations. It was there for every birthday, every Eid, every milestone and you know…every occasion-less weekday.
People would wait for it in anticipation after every meal as it baked before our eyes. Mona would douse it with syrup, as we tried our best to contain our drool, and serve it hot, straight from the oven. Every time we’d have it, we’d be just as impressed as the first we did, and we never tired of it.
I remember one day, sitting Mona down, with my phone in hand, fingers on keypad and Notes app ready to go, excited to jot down the recipe from her. But it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Mona is one of those gifted cooks who eyeball amounts and make everything by sense, aka opposite of me. So I think I might’ve brought her to the brink of pulling her hair out and risked our friendship, bombarding her with my meticilious questions, in hopes of rounding everything into measurable amounts. Thankfully, 6 years later, we’re still friends, and I think (hope) she still likes me.
So there it is! Mona’s famous kunafa, in all it’s measured out and detailed-written glory, for you to enjoy in the comfort and warmth (boy was Canada cold) of your own home.
What do we need to make it?
The ingredient list as short as the time it takes to make it. When very few ingredients are called for, it is always a good idea to invest on the good stuff, because the end product will only taste as good they are.
- Kunafa: Also known as kadaifi/kataifi/knefe dough, depending on where you are in the world. It’s a soft, shredded, ultra-thin, vermicelli-like pastry, that is easily accessible in the Middle East and parts of Eastern Europe. In non-Middle Eastern countries, it can usually be found in the frozen Greek section of most big supermarkets next to the phyllo, or in Arab/Turkish/Halal speciality stores. Both fresh and frozen kunafa can be used here.
- Ghee: It is my fat of choice here, because it is 100% fat and free of milk solids, thus yielding a crunchier kunafa crust. If you prefer, a softer, chewier kunafa, then use butter (which has about 18% milk solids) or a combination of both. If you would like a crunchy kunafa, but don’t have access to ghee, then use clarified butter (refer to recipe notes for details).
- Ricotta Cheese: The success of this kunafa, largely depends on the quality of the ricotta. Use low quality, gritty ricotta cheese and you’ll end up with a very disappointing kunafa. Trust me, I’ve had my fair share of them; not worth the calories. The quality of the ricotta cheese is what makes or breaks this kunafa. Be sure to use the creamy kind of ricotta with soft curds and avoid those with hard and/or mealy texture. Great ricotta is hard to find in Egypt, but my search has ended when I landed on this gem that sells THE best Italian ricotta. It took my kunafa from meh, to irresistibly delicious!
- Arabic-style Clotted Cream (eshta/ashta): A little bit is mixed in with the ricotta cheese to make it even creamier and loosen its consistency. I use fresh, refrigerated eshta/ashta (not balady), but it can be substituted with any eshta/ashta of your choice, including canned or balady. You can also substitute it with clotted cream, mascarpone cheese or half as much whipping cream.
- Sugar: A tiny bit of sugar cuts through the tanginess of the cheese. Feel free to omit it you prefer a tangier tasting filling.
- Vanilla: It works beautifully into complimenting the ricotta flavor, and marries swimmingly with the cinnamon and cardamom in the syrup. For a more robust vanilla flavor, you might want to splurge over a vanilla bean (It’s Mona’s tip!). Alternatively, you can also use any other flavoring of your choice instead, like rose or orange blossom water.
- Scented Sugar Syrup: Half of a cinnamon stick and a couple of cardamom pods add warm notes to the syrup, without tasting spiced. The overall kunafa won’t taste like cinnamon and cardamom, but will have that special somethin’ somethin’ that you can’t put your finger on. Again, change it to whatever flavor you prefer…its your kunafa; own it!
How to make Ricotta Cheese Kunafa?
Fastest kunafa ever!
Start with preparing the cheese mixture by simply stirring together the ricotta cheese, cream, sugar (if using) and vanilla. Notice how creamy the ricotta is to begin with? This is the kind of ricotta you want to use in your kunafa.
On to the crust!
Rub the melted ghee into the kunafa strands until evenly coated. Then take 2/3 the amount and compress it into a greased pan with the bottom of a flat cup. Be sure to create a wall around the edges, to contain the filling inside.
Add in the cheese filling. You might be alarmed at how thin the cheese layer is…but we happen to feel it’s the perfect crunch to creamy ratio amount. Cover lightly with the remaining half of kunafa. And you’re done!
All there’s left to do is bake it in the oven…
Until golden and gorgeous.
Then immediately drown with the cooled scented sugar syrup. Leave it a few minutes to soak it all in.
Then flip onto a nice platter.
Garnish with anything pretty (but edible ?)…
Now tell me that wasn’t easy!
Gather friends, bring out the plates, make good memories and most of all…enjoy.
For the Scented Sugar Syrup:*
- 2 cup (400g) granulated sugar
- 1 cup water
- Squeeze of fresh lemon juice (about 1 teaspoon)
- 1/2 cinnamon stick (optional)
- 2 cardamom pods, smashed open (optional)
For the Cheese Filling:
- 500 grams good quality, creamy ricotta cheese*
- 1/4 cup (60g) Arabic-style clotted cream (eshta/ashta)* (see recipe notes for substitutions)
- 1 tablespoons (13g) granulated sugar (optional)*
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or 1 teaspoon if using imitation vanilla flavoring)*
For the Kunafa Crust:
- 1lb/ 500g kunafa or kataifi/kadaifi pastry, fresh or frozen. If using fresh, freeze for an hour for easier cutting. If using frozen, thaw slightly
- 1 cup (8oz/ 227g) ghee or butter, melted*
- Pistachios and rose dried rose petals (optional)
To make the Scented Sugar Syrup:
- In a medium saucepan, combine together the sugar, water and squeeze of lemon juice. Set on a stovetop over high heat. Try to avoid stirring it as it heats to prevent crystallization from happening, but if the sugar is not dissolving, then help it out with a few stirs. Once it comes to a boil, STOP stirring.
- Bring to a rolling boil, then immediately reduce the heat to medium-low, add in the half cinnamon stick and cardamom pods (if using), and let it simmer gently for 10 minutes. Set a timer! The syrup will thicken slightly to a consistency similar to hot maple syrup. It will continue to thicken as it cools.
- Remove from heat. Transfer to a liquid measuring cup or gravy boat and allow to cool to room temperature before using. Remove the the cinnamon stick and cardamon pods for a subtle scent or keep in for a stronger one (I prefer a subtle one here).
To prepare the Cheese Filling:
- In a medium bowl, stir together the ricotta cheese, sugar (if using), cream and vanilla. Set aside.
To prepare the Kunafa:
- Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and preheat oven to 200C/ 390F.
- Generously grease a 12"/ 30cm round cake pan with ghee or butter.*(see recipe notes for alternate pan sizes)
- Over a large bowl, shred the kunafa dough into 1inch/ 2.5cm long pieces. Cutting the kunafa while semi frozen, makes for the easiest way to break it. So even if using fresh kunafa, stick it in the freezer for about an hour before cutting it. Just be sure to bring it back to room temperature before adding in the ghee/butter.
- Pour the melted ghee/butter evenly over the kunafa and mix evenly with you hands, into the kunafa shreds, making sure that each strand is well-coated.
- Transfer two-thirds the amount of kunafa into the prepared pan and evenly spread it onto the bottom and up the sides. Make a wall with the kunafa around the sides of the pan; this will help contain the filling during the baking process and prevent it from burning. Use the flat-bottom of a cup to compress the kunafa as tightly as you can.
- Spoon the cheese filling over the kunafa and gently spread into an even layer.
- Scatter the remaining third of the kunafa over the cheese filling, and lightly press on it to tidy it up and get it nice and level.
- Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the top and sides of the kunafa are deep golden brown in color. Use a knife to push the side of the konafa, to check the color. The longer it bakes, the crunchier it gets.
- Remove the kunafa from the oven and immediately pour on the scented syrup, starting from the edge and moving towards the center, in a circular motion, making sure to cover the entire surface.
- Let the konafa rest for 5 to 10 minutes to allow for the syrup to soak in, then flip on to a serving platter. Garnish the surface with pistachios and dried rose petals, if you like.
- Cut into wedges and serve hot or at warm room temperature. Kunafa is best enjoyed warm, and on the same day it's baked. Leftovers maybe stored in the refrigerator, then rewarmed in the oven or microwave.
- A larger pan size (like a 14"/ 35cm deep dish pizza pan may be used, but note that the kunafa will turn out thinner) Alternatively, the kunafa could also be split over 2 (9"/ 23cm) or 4 (6"/ 15cm) pans. You could bake one now and freeze the other(s) for later.
- Sugar syrup can be substituted with about 2 cups of the Big Batch Sugar Syrup.
- The quality of the ricotta cheese is what makes or breaks this kunafa. Be sure to use the creamy kind of ricotta with large, soft curds and avoid those with hard, mealy texture. This is what I use and after trying so many different brands in Egypt, it is by far the best and gives me the creamiest, tastiest results.
- I use fresh, refrigerated eshta/ashta (not balady) here, but it can be substituted with any eshta/ashta of your choice, including balady or canned. You can also substitute it with clotted cream, mascarpone cheese or 2 tablespoons whipping cream.
- Omit the sugar, if you prefer a tangier cheese filling.
- Free free to substitute the vanilla with any flavoring of your choice like rose or orange blossom water. Alternatively, use may use the beans of one vanilla pod for a stronger vanilla flavor.
- In non-Middle Eastern countries, Kadaifi/kataifi/konafa/knefe dough can be found in the frozen Greek section of most big supermarkets, or in Middle Eastern speciality stores.
- Ghee is my fat of choice here, because it is 100% fat and free of milk solids, thus yielding a crunchier kunafa crust. If you prefer, a soft, chewier kunafa, then use butter (which has about 18% milk solids) or a combination of both. If you would like to a crunchy kunafa but don't have access to ghee, then use clarified butter; recipe below.
- Melt the 1 1/4 cups (340g/ 10oz) butter slowly over medium low heat until the milk solids have separated from the butterfat. and collected on the bottom of the saucepan. Remove the pan from heat, let the butter settle for 10 minutes, then carefully skim the foam from the surface with a spoon. Slowly pour the clear butterfat into a bowl, leaving all the milk solids behind in the saucepan. You should end up with about 1 cup (227g/ 8oz) clarified butter.
- Kunafa freezes really well before baking. Assemble the kunafa in the pan, don't bake, and cover with a double layer of plastic wrap and 1 layer of foil. When ready to bake, let it thaw, then bake as normal.
Recipe gifted to me by my sweet and very generous friend, Mona Elsayed Ikram.
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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