The Best Shredded Dessert There Ever Was.
Years ago, while in architecture school, I had a roommate named Mimi. Well, actually her name was Omelmominin, but we called her Mimi. She was from Oman, and I have her to thank for introducing me to Middle Eastern desserts. Mimi didn’t cook much, but her mom did. And when her mom decided to spend a summer with us, I was ecstatic. I can still remember clearly the day I came home from work and started grinning ear to ear when I opened the door and smelled deliciousness being made in the kitchen. I almost lost it when I actually got into the kitchen in time to see Mimi’s mom pulling a pan of steaming hot baklava out of the oven. Having only ever seen it in restaurants and grocery stores, it never occurred to me that an actual person could make it for themselves (I was so young then…).
The real surprise though, came next. Because after she sat down the baklava, she pulled out a pan of what looked to me like cooked noodles. It was called konafa, and this my friends, is what I am here to talk about. That dessert stuck with me. It’s a rare one to find outside of the middle east, and even rarer to find one that tastes good. When done right, it is pure creamy bliss. Unfortunately there’s not much of a Middle Eastern population in Seattle, making it even harder to find than in San Francisco. It is meant to be eaten fresh from the oven, so really, I just had to make it for myself.
I started with the pastry, called konafa or kadaif. It can be hard to come by, you’ll probably have to get it from a Middle Eastern grocery store. Since it’s sold frozen, it will require some advance preparation so it can defrost in the fridge for 24 hours beforehand. The first step is to spread it out and unstick the strands that are all mashed together. I found this part to be particularly fun. Afterwards, I set the pastry back in the fridge.
Then I made the cream filling and the syrup that would be poured over the baked konafa. For the filling I cooked milk with rice flour and sugar, straining it afterwards to remove the lumps. The only change I made from the recipe from Claudia Roden was to use rose water in place of the orange blossom water. This was what Mimi’s mom used and I was going straight for nostalgia.
Then I spread half of the pastry (that I had tossed in melted butter) in the bottom of 2 pie pans.
On top of that I spread the chilled cream filling. I topped it with the other half of the pastry.
And then I baked the konafa until golden brown. I poured the cold syrup all over it and sprinkled on some pistachios.
And me and my friends dug in. It’s an odd flavor at first, but after a few bites something happens to the taste. I found that it got sweeter (though not too sweet) and the rosewater started to mellow. It was exactly how I remembered it. Mimi has been back in Oman for several years now, but I like to think that she and her mom would be proud.
KONAFA RECIPE (Claudia Roden):
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups water
2 TBSP lemon juice
2 TBSP rosewater or orange blossom water
- Bring the sugar, water and lemon juice to a boil for about 8 minutes, then remove from heat and stir in the rosewater. Leave to cool, then chill in the fridge.
2/3 cup rice flour
5 cups milk
1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup heavy cream
- Mix the rice flour with some of the milk to make a smooth paste. Bring the rest of the milk to a boil, then add the rice flour paste, whisking the milk as you do so to minimize clumping. Immediately turn the heat to very low and let the mixture thicken for about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir occasionally without scraping the bottom of the pan so as not to pick up any burnt bits.
- Add the sugar and stir well. If lumpy, strain. Leave to cool, then add the cream and mix well. Chill in the fridge.
1 lb konafa (also called kadaif) pastry
8oz butter, melted
2/3 cup pistachios, coarsely chopped
- Place the pastry in a large bowl and separate the strands as much as possible. Pour the melted butter over the pastry and, with your fingers, work it in very thoroughly, pulling out and separating the strands so that they don’t stick together and are coated with butter.
- Preheat the oven to 350.
- Spread half the pastry at the bottom of a two 8″ round pie pans. Spread the cream filling over and cover with the rest of the pastry.
- Bake for about 45 minutes, then raise the temperature to 425F and bake for another 15 minutes, until the pastry starts to brown. Remove from the oven. Immediately pour the cold syrup over the hot konafa and sprinkle with the chopped pistachios.
- Before serving, run a knife around the pie to loosen the sides. Slice it up and enjoy!