How to Make Knafeh

The dessert so delectable it's amassed a cult following

It’s the Levantine dessert everyone’s talking about (including us – we got the story behind Knafeh Bakery in Issue 26).

But enough with the talk, we want to know how to actually make it! Luckily for us, Viola Doyle of Project Sweet Stuff let us in on her mum’s treasured family recipe…

TheSweetLife-4-1024x701Photo by Viola Doyle
I was raised by a woman who remembered recipes after making a dish just once. Upon moving to Australia in the ’60s, my mum’s kitchen fast became a lifeline to her home in the northern villages of Lebanon. Mum definitely has a few old cookbooks that have been her kitchen compass, but it’s safe to say that everything she made was a pinch of this, and a bit of that. So you could imagine how interesting my kitchen exploits were in my first year of living out of home, trying to master the dishes that came with no recipe.

Being a staple dessert on most Lebanese party menus, I didn’t really appreciate knafeh until my first winter as a married girl. Truth be told, I screwed the recipe up a few times and the texture was often horrible, because I knew what went in, but had no instructions. When I finally worked out the method, it was like a culinary epiphany.


Makes 6 servings

1 litre full cream milk
300ml thickened cream
1/2 cup loosely packed cornflour
1/2 cup fine semolina
1/3 cup caster sugar
1 tbs orange blossom water
1 tbs rose water
1/4 cup unsalted pistachios, finely chopped
2 cups cornflake crumbs

Sweet Rose Syrup
2 cups caster sugar
1 cup water
1 squeeze lemon
1 tsp rose water
1 tsp orange blossom water


Prior to placing over heat, place milk, cream, sugar, cornflour, semolina, rose water and orange blossom water in one pot and stir until very well combined, making sure there are no lumps. Once mixed well, place over medium to high heat and monitor closely, continuously stirring the mixture until the consistency resembles thick custard. The mixture will come together very quickly as the semolina expands. As it becomes very thick, it’s important to turn the heat off and continue to stir vigorously to avoid any lumps forming.

TIP: You will know the consistency is right by dipping a spoon into the mixture and placing in the refrigerator for about a minute – the custard should not fall away from the spoon when you turn the spoon upside down.

While the mixture is piping hot, use a soup ladle to fill 6 ramekins. Or you may pour into one large baking dish, just like my mum used to.

Sprinkle the tops of each dish generously with cornflake crumbs.

Bake the knafeh until the cornflake crumbs are golden and toasted.

While baking, make the syrup. Place all syrup ingredients on high heat in a saucepan and allow to come to the boil. Allow for the mixture to simmer for 5 minutes, and then remove from heat.

To serve, top each dish with a teaspoon of finely crushed pistachio, and serve with a generous pour of syrup. Enjoy!

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