For this month’s Secret Recipe Club I was determined to find a no-bake recipe. After all, in the midst of a heat wave, turning on the oven is crazy. But then I saw this Arabic Walnut-Filled Knafeh Dessert. So much for my sensible intentions.
In the Secret Recipe Club, the club assigns each member a partner. We visit our partner’s blog to learn about that blogger. Then, we choose a recipe to make and write about.
No matter who my partner is in any given month, the journey is fun.
Often my partner’s recipes provide inspiration using familiar foods and techniques. I’ve made Chocolate Cranberry Streusel Muffins and Shirred Eggs, Single Serving Red Wine Sangria, and Chocolate Amaretti Trifle.
Other times they introduce me to a new technique. I’ve learned to make New York Style Soft Pretzels and Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce Without a Thermometer.
And occasionally, my partner takes me out of my comfort zone. The post that comes to mind is Aloo Paratha, Potato-Stuffed Flatbread from Mumbai-based My Hobbie Lobbie.
Now I’m moving even farther afield in the capable hands of my August Secret Recipe Club Partner, Saswan of Chef in Disguise. She is Palestinian, raised in Jordan and now living in the United Arab Emirates. Before talking about her recipes, I have to rave about Saswan’s photography and mention how much I enjoy reading about her family and travels.
Most of Saswan’s recipes are from the Middle East. I recognize some of the dishes – falafel for example. But others, such as Yafawi Sfeeha (spiral meat pies) and Halawet El Jebn (a sweet dough and cheese dessert), are new to me. Some, like Semolina Ma’amoul (stuffed cookies with dates and nuts) looked familiar, but require equipment that I do not have.
I seriously considered making Ottomali Knafeh, a spectacular dessert made with a vermicelli-thin version of phyllo dough. However, I couldn’t bear the thought of traveling to multiple stores, looking for a prepared version of the dough, nor could I imagine making it from scratch.
Then I came upon a variation of knafeh which uses crumbled dough instead of phyllo. The sweet filling of walnuts and sugar reminded me of baklava. Plus, I liked the idea of using a semolina-based dough. Saswan had me hooked.
The ingredients are simple. The only one you may not be familiar with is semolina flour. Americans do not typically have it at the ready, but it is available in our stores, as it is an essential ingredient in good homemade pasta.
I won’t kid you. Walnut-Filled Knafeh does take some work. Basically, it has three parts:
- A dough made of semolina and white flour, butter or ghee (clarified butter), sugar and water. After baking, you crush the dough back into tiny pieces.
- A filling made of butter or ghee, chopped walnuts, sugar, and cinnamon that you sandwich between two layers of the previously baked and crushed dough; and
- Simple syrup (equal parts of sugar and water, boiled together) that is poured over the walnut-filled knafeh while it is still hot, so it seeps into the dough and filling.
The result? In a word, amazing!
Tips for Making Walnut-Filled Knafeh
- Use a food processor. After baking the dough, you grind/crush it into granules (as Saswan calls them.) Then you press that baked-and-crushed dough into a pan. I thought I’d be able to break the dough by hand and crush it with a fork. However, the dough, once baked, is too hard for that. In fact, I couldn’t even process it all into tiny granules. Some got left as rather hard pebbles. In the end, it was alright because the syrup moistens it. Still, my plan to use a fork was a definite “no go.”
- Clarified butter. Saswan suggests that you use ghee instead of butter to get a more authentic taste. Ghee is basically clarified butter. It has a more concentrated buttery taste. To make it, slowly melt your butter and skim off the foam. You will need about 25% more butter than the recipe calls for if you clarify it, because the foam that you discard is about 25% of the total volume of the butter you melt.
- Use a metal pan for baking the walnut-filled knafeh. The last step in making the knafeh is to broil the top. Even a Pyrex or other oven-safe glass is not safe for broiling. I found that a low-sided cast iron pan worked great.
Arabic Walnut-Filled Knafeh Dessert
- 3 cups semolina flour
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons butter or ghee melted
- 1 1/4 cups water
Knafeh - Post-Baking and Filling
- 1 cup butter or ghee melted
- 2 cups chopped walnuts
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons cinnamon
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 cups water
- 1/4 - 1/3 cup finely chopped pistachios (about 1 - 1 1/2 ounces)
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F (260 degrees C).
Mix together the semolina and white flours and the sugar.
Add the melted butter or ghee and whisk those ingredients to combine them.
Add the water. Knead the mixture until it forms a smooth ball of dough.
Stretch the dough onto a greased sheet pan until it is roughly 1/2-inch thick. Then press dimples into it with your fingertips. Put it into the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the heat off and let the dough sit in the oven for another 35-40 minutes.
Break the dough into pieces and grind it into granules in the food processor.
Preheat the oven again, this time to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
Mix the granules of knafeh with the melted post-baking butter or ghee until they are well combined. Press half of that mixture into a greased 11-inch round metal pan or pie dish.
Mix the chopped walnuts, cinnamon and sugar and spread it evenly on top of the first dough layer.
Then add the remaining buttered dough granules and gently press them into the filling, making a dough sandwich.
Bake the walnut-filled knafeh for 15 - 20 minutes, then place it under the broiler for about 1-2 minutes to brown the top, just until it is golden.
As the knafeh is baking, make the simple syrup by bringing the water and sugar to a boil. Lower the heat until they simmer and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally until the sugar is completely dissolved. Set aside until the knafeh is done.
Take the knafeh out of the oven and immediately spoon the simple syrup evenly over it. The syrup will bubble initially so be careful. There is quite a lot of syrup. Over time it will sink into the knafeh, but at first, some will remain on top.
Add the pistachios on the top. Let the knafeh cool before serving.
I thought the Walnut-Filled Knafeh was even better the second (and third) day. You can leave it, tightly covered, on the counter. (It has no eggs in the batter or filling, so it does not have to be refrigerated.)
It is quite sweet, so cut small pieces. I found that it crumbled easily and couldn't get slices to come out of the pan as a pie would. (Some may prefer to eat with a spoon, rather than a fork.) No matter. It was incredibly scrumptious.