Semolina knafeh with glazed figs

I really wanted to make knafeh when I saw it in My Kitchen Rules, where Sonya and Hadil, two Jordanian women who were kicked off the show because they got into a fight with another team, prepared it for their instant restaurant. Knafeh is a Middle Eastern cheesecake essentially, soaked with a beautiful rose flavored syrup. The filling, this creamy cheese mixture, is sweetened by the syrup, and it’s elastic but soft and creamy and just melts in your mouth. It contrasts the crispy, golden pastry, and in the case for my version, the sweet glazed figs and crunchy almonds; a lot of stores that do sell knafeh would probably garnish with pistachios or candied carrot shreds, according to my sister, so you can opt for those as well if you have them/can make them. I only knew about this after I had already baked the whole damn thing, so I already did all the baking that I wanted to do for the day.

In their rendition, Sonya and Hadil prepared it using kataifi or shredded phyllo dough. I checked 8 grocery stores and couldn’t find it, and keep in mind, this was after buying literally everything else to make it. And before you suggest like LITERALLY EVERYONE ELSE, I cannot make shredded phyllo by slicing up homemade phyllo dough. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work. Even though it’s named that way, shredded phyllo is actually made by pouring this batter onto a small heated wheel, which threads it. And the machine that automates this process costs like $140. So I’m not about that. I had to do a little more investigation, and found out that some knafeh are made using na’ama, which is fine semolina dough. So I decided to go that route, since not only can I make that dough from scratch, but I definitely have semolina flour in my kitchen. Surprisingly, I’m not being sarcastic here. I actually love using it.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset
Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

For the na’ama dough:
1/3 cup semolina flour
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 tablespoons unsalted butter; melted
1/3 cup water
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

Combine ingredients and form into a dough. Roll out and bake in a 450 degree F oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the dough is cooked. Allow to cool before blitzing in a food processor until reduced into a fine crumb.

For the filling:
2 egg yolks
8 oz mozzarella cheese; shredded
8 oz ricotta cheese, drained
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
a pinch of salt

Mix together.

For the syrup:
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon rose water
1 cup water
a pinch of salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

Bring ingredients to a simmer together. Cool down completely in a refrigerator before using on the knafeh. Be sure to reserve some of the syrup for the figs.

For assembly:
1/4 cup brown butter

Combine the brown butter into the dough. In a lined 8 inch ring mold, press half of the dough down, and then form a well around the mold using part of the rest of the dough. Pour in the filling in and then pour on the rest of the dough, pressing it down gently. Bake in a 375 degree F oven for 50 minutes. As soon as it is baked, remove from the oven and then pour on the syrup, allowing it to cool down to room temperature while soaking up the syrup.

For garnish:
Figs and almonds

Glaze the figs in the residual syrup (then pour the rest of it onto the knafeh).

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