Palestinian Kenafeh (Cheese Pastry)

Pistachio-topped kenafeh.

Kenafeh is a Palestinian cheese pastry dipped in a sweet syrup. Variants include fillings of chopped nuts, sesame seeds, or mozzarella. The city of Nablus in the West Bank is especially famous for its kenafeh. 

Palestinian Kenafeh

INGREDIENTS
1 lb. ricotta
1 lb. mozzarella
1 package frozen kenafeh pastry (thawed one hour on the counter)
1½ sticks butter to make slightly more than 1 cup clarified butter, melted and hot
4 tbsp. sugar
3 tbsp. orange blossom water
4-8 drops orange food coloring
3 cups rose-scented simple syrup
½ cup ground pistachios, for garnish

One 12-in round pan or 15-in deep-dish pizza pan

DIRECTIONS
1. The day before, slice the ricotta and mozzarella cheese into thick slabs. In a plastic container, cover with water to soak overnight in the refrigerator to desalt the cheese. Change the water several times the first day.
2. Also in advance, prepare the rose-scented simple syrup so it’s completely chilled before the kenafeh comes out of the oven.
3. About one hour before cooking, remove the kenafeh pastry from the freezer to thaw on the counter. Prepare the clarified butter.
4. Prepare the pan. Spread 4 tbsp. of the clarified butter onto the pan. Add the orange coloring a little at a time. Using a pastry brush, spread the butter and the coloring evenly all over the pan and up the sides.
5. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
6. Prepare the kenafeh pastry. Remove from package and cut into four sections. In a food processor, gently grind one quarter of the thawed pastry at a time with a few pulses, keeping it coarse.
7. Place pastry in a large bowl and gradually pour the remaining hot clarified butter over top. Use the full amount of butter or the pastry will be dry or stick to the pan. Using your fingers, mix in the butter to evenly coat the strands of pastry.
8. Drain the desalted cheese and pat dry with a dish towel. Grate or crumble cheeses into a large bowl.  Sprinkle sugar and orange blossom water over the cheeses and gently mix together.
9. Layer the pastry. For the bottom layer, sprinkle handfuls of the buttered pastry and press into the prepared pan going slightly up the sides. Use approximately half the pastry mixture or a bit more to completely cover the pan. (This will be the top when the pastry is flipped.)
10. Add the cheese filling, spreading the cheese evenly and pressing to cover completely.
11. Cover with remaining pastry, evening it out and pressing gently.
12. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes until pastry becomes crisp and slightly golden.
13. Remove pastry from oven and give it a gentle shake. The kenafeh will separate from the sides of the pan. If not, separate with a butter knife. Invert the hot kenafeh onto a serving platter. As you flip it over, say, “Bismillah,” (in the name of God).
14. The orange pastry should be slightly crisp. Pour the coldsimple syrup over the hot pastry until the kenafeh is saturated and glistening. Reserve the remaining syrup to serve in a small pitcher on the side.
15. Cut the kenafeh into squares or diamonds, 2 in x 2 in or larger. Garnish with pistachio nuts and serve while still hot. Leftovers can be stored for up to four days in the refrigerator and reheated in the oven or microwave.