CAIRO: Believed to have originated in the Levant, kunafa is said to have been introduced to what is now known as Egypt during the era of the Fatimids.
However, if you spent any time at all in my grandmother’s household, you would think that she herself invented the deliciously crunchy dessert, she is such an expert.
She often tells me of how, when growing up in Cairo, she would purchase the dough from a street-side man swirling the batter round and round on a drum-like furnace made of clay.
My generation has revamped the age-old favorite and a range of outlandish fillings — from mangoes, to Nutella and avocados — are now available across Egypt and the wider Middle East.
Ramadan is the perfect time to try this popular dessert and while it is easy as pie to pop to your local bakery, there is nothing quite like making it at home.
The original gangster of the kunafa world will always reign supreme, in my humble, well-fed opinion. So read on and give it a go for iftar today.
• Katafi (shredded phyllo dough).
• One-and-a-half cups of granulated sugar.
• One cup of water.
• One juiced lemon.
• One teaspoon of rose water.
• 1/3 cup of finely chopped pistachios.
• Ghee as needed.
Grease an oven dish with melted ghee then place the shredded katafi pastry in a bowl and mix it with ghee. You can cut the already shredded pastry further if needed.
Take the mixture and layer it into the greased pan by pressing lightly with your hand.
Bake for 30 minutes at 350F.
On the side, prepare the sugary syrup by adding one cup of water, the granulated sugar and lemon juice to a pan. Stir and bring the mixture to a boil. Let the liquid simmer until it reaches a syrupy consistency. Remove from the heat, let it cool and add the rosewater (or even a few drops of vanilla essence).
Let the shredded pastry cool and drizzle over with the syrup, before you add a sprinkling of the finely chopped pistachios.
If you're looking for something a little different, bear in mind that Ramadan is kunafa season in Egypt and every year, the shredded wheat dessert gets tens of creative makeovers as bakers across the country — and indeed across the Middle East —buck tradition with their innovative fillings.
Why not try one of these delicious variants of the kunafa?
When Ramadan began coinciding with the summer season, mango kunafa emerged as a tradition-breaker. The sweet fruit became a popular filling, replacing longtime favorites, such as nuts, cheese and cream. It combines spun-shredded wheat with whipped cream in a dish that is topped with chopped mangoes.
This recipe proved irresistible to many when it first caused a storm on social media. The kunafa is filled with hazelnut chocolate filling and is served in various forms, such as chocolate kunafa cones or the molten volcano kunafa. Some bakers even add a layer of peanut butter on top to seal the deal.
This type of kunafa emerged during the recent red velvet craze that swept Egypt. The creation combines a layer of red velvet cake with shredded wheat and whipped cream.
This one’s sure to please avocado-loving millennials. Last year, a small bakery in Egypt became the talk of the town when it began using avocado as a kunafa filling. It may not be as popular as various other fillings, but it definitely got tongues wagging.
Oreo cookies are being used to update the humble kunafa this year. Delectably crunchy Lotus biscuits are also being used to create achingly sweet kunafa treats.
Yes, you read that right! Another seasonal fruit has just joined the club. It remains unclear if the trend will endure, however, as the idea of combining watermelon with shredded wheat is quite unusual. It is ideal for the soaring temperatures this summer, but will it win over dessert lovers? Only time, and empty plates, will tell.