A recipe for Künefe (Turkish Sweet Cheese Pastry)! Cheese is arranged between two layers of Kadayıf (shredded phyllo), cooked until golden, and soaked in a sweet syrup.
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Variations of Künefe can be found throughout the Middle East with different names and preparations based on region. In this Turkish version with a recipe inspired from the cookbook, Anatolia, a layer of cheese is arranged between Kadayıf in a metal pan and cooked on the stove until golden on each side. After removing from heat, the pastry immediately covered in a cooled lemony sweet syrup.
The results create an amazing combination of buttery, crispy Kadayıf paired with a melted, stretchy cheese and sweet thickened syrup for quite the delicious and decadent dessert.
Serve the Künefe hot while the cheese is still melted for the best texture. If desired, pair with Kaymak or ice cream for even more indulgence.
A Few Tips
Prepare the syrup first and give it enough time to cool to room temperature. You want the syrup cooled and pastry hot when pouring it over to achieve the right texture.
I arranged the Künefe in individual metal, stove-safe pans that were made specifically for cooking the pastry. You can find them in some markets with Turkish ingredients/kitchen items or on Amazon: Kunefe Plate.
While I cooked the Künefe on the stove in individual pans, it can also be prepared in one large pan or baked in the oven. Check out Ozlem’s Turkish Table for instructions on how to arrange the Künefe in the pan and bake until golden on each side.
After spreading a layer of the Kadayıf into the pan, press down with the clean bottom of another pan or with the bottom of a cup to make sure the section is even and compressed.
Kadayıf (Kataifi, shredded phyllo) is a type of dough made up of fine strands created by drizzling batter through small holes onto a hot pan. It is available fresh or frozen in markets with Turkish/Middle Eastern ingredients. To use frozen Kadayıf, place in the refrigerator the night before to thaw. I haven’t personally tried it yet, but Hilda’s Kitchen Blog has a recipe to make homemade Kataifi.
Grape Molasses (üzüm pekmezi) is created by simmering grape juice until it has reduced to a thickened syrup. It can be found in markets with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean ingredients or on Amazon: Grape Molasses.
The best cheese for Künefe should be unsalted with a stringy, stretchy texture when melted. If you have access to a Turkish market nearby, look for cheese labeled Künefelik Peynir (cheese for Künefe), Hatay cheese, or Dil Peyniri. If unavailable, it can also be made with mozzarella.
Kaymak is a thick, creamy dairy product similar to clotted cream. For those in the Los Angeles area, I was able to find it (along with the cheese and other ingredients) at Hamle Market in Fountain Valley, California. Turkish Style Cooking has a recipe for homemade Kaymak, but I haven’t tried it yet.
Looking for more Turkish recipes?
- Peynirli Poğaça (Turkish Cheese Buns)
- Kıymalı Tepsi Böreği (Turkish Phyllo Pastry with Beef)
- Çılbır (Turkish Poached Eggs with Yogurt)
This recipe was originally posted in October 2013 and updated August 2021.
Künefe (Turkish Sweet Cheese Pastry) Recipe
Adapted from Anatolia
Künefe (Turkish Sweet Cheese Pastry)
- 2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 cups water
- 1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) freshly squeezed lemon juice
For greasing the pan:
- 4 tablespoons (60 grams) unsalted butter softened at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) grape molasses
- 1 pound (454 grams) Kadayıf (kadaifi/kataifi), shredded phyllo
- 1 cup (227 grams) unsalted butter melted
- 10 ounces (283 grams) unsalted and stringy Turkish cheese or Mozzarella
- Finely ground pistachios for topping
To make the syrup:
- In a medium pot, bring the sugar and water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid is starting to thicken slightly, about 10 minutes.
- Stir in the lemon juice and simmer for another 1-2 minutes to blend the flavors.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
To grease the pans:
- In a small bowl, mix together the softened butter and grape molasses.
- Generously grease 4-6 individual or one large stove-safe pans with half the butter (they will be greased again before flipping the pastries).
To arrange the pastry:
- Roughly chop the Kadayıf into 1 inch (2.5 centimeter) pieces and place in a large bowl.
- Pour the melted butter over the chopped Kadayıf and toss to thoroughly coat.
- Press a layer of the coated Kadayıf across the bottom and sides of the prepared pans.
- Cover each layer of pastry with a layer of the cheese, leaving about a 1/2 inch (1.25 centimeter) border around the edges.
- Cover the cheese with another layer of the Kadayif. Press down to completely enclose the layer of cheese, especially around the sides.
- Place the pan over medium low heat. Cook until the bottom is golden, adjusting the heat between medium and low as needed, for about 6 minutes.
- Carefully flip the pastry onto a plate.
- Grease the pan again with the grape molasses butter mixture and place the pastry back into the pan, golden side up.
- Place the pan back over medium low heat and cook until golden on the bottom, another 4-5 minutes.
- Remove the pan from heat and immediately pour the desired amount of cooled syrup over the pastry to soak.
- Serve the Künefe hot while the cheese is still melted and stretchy.