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Posts Tagged ‘Kunafe Nablusia’

Visit to the Baklava Factory ~ Al Samadi Sweets

June 1st, 2013 23 comments

Al Samadi Sweets  Baklava_

Who can resist baklava?

Not me. Nor could I resist this “Baklava Factory Tour” put on by Arva Ahmed of Frying Pan Adventures and the American Women’s Association of Dubai.

We visited Al Samadi Sweets, a bakery from Lebanon which dates back to 1872. Their Dubai factory (located in Qusais) didn’t actually feel like a factory. All the individual pastries are made by hand (with a little industrial help as you shall see).

Al Samadi Sweets

These pastries supply Dubai’s hotels and restaurants. So, if you live in Dubai, you may have eaten pastries from Al Samadi.

The Baklava Room

The Baklava Room is the heart of Al Samadi factory.

In case you have yet to experience this Middle Eastern/Mediterranean pastry, baklava is a delicate pastry made from layers of filo dough, a filling of nuts, lots of clarified butter and a generous dousing of scented simple syrup. It’s a flaky, nutty, lick-your-fingers type of sweet.  

Al Samadi Sweets  Baklava

The pastry has a long, complicated history. Long story, short (and some will disagree): the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul is credited for creating the original baklava, handmade with its distinctive countless layers.

Al Samadi Sweets  Baklava_

The Baklava at Al Samadi is baked in enormous trays. This should give you an idea of the size of the trays and the size of the operation.

Al Samadi Sweets trays

In case you’re wondering, the baklava at Al Samadi is baked with 18 layers of filo dough. This machine flattens the filo pastry dough into very thin layers, and it rolls many layers at once.

Filo Dough

Al Samadi Sweets  Filo dough machine_

When the baklava comes out of the oven, it’s drenched with scented simple syrup from this enormous watering can.

Al Samadi Sweets  Simple Syrup can_

The Ma’amoul Room

Ma’amoul is a festive little pastry stuffed with either dates or nuts and served on Easter and Eid throughout the Middle East. In the Ma’amoul Room, men were busy stuffing and shaping little pastries with dates.

Al Samadi Sweets  Ma'amoul makers

These tiny ma’amoul were formed by hand. Here they are after after baking.

Al Samadi Sweets Mini Ma'amoul

Naturally, we got to sample these pastries along the way.

Al Samadi Sweets  Ma'amoul samples_

However, usually ma’amoul is made with various wooden molds. The type of filling—either walnuts, pistachios, or dates—will determine the shape of the mold. These ma’amoul are ready to go in the oven.

Al Samadi Sweets Tray of Ma'amoul_

The ma’amoul makers at Al Samadi use the same type of hand-carved wooden molds that I use at home.

Ma'amoul Molds_

The Kunafe Room

Truth be told, my favorite room was the kunafe room. This is because Kunafe Nabulsia is my favorite of Arab sweets. I can’t resist the gooey sweet cheese between the shredded soft-yet-crispy pastry, all saturated in scented simple syrup. Here’s a photo of my own homemade Kunafe Nabulsia.

A slice of kunafe nablusia

We got to see the kunafe pastry being made in very long very thin threads. First, the batter is poured down a funnel.

Al Samadi Sweets Konafe dough funnel_

Then the batter comes out in threads and cooked on a large hot surface.

Al Samadi Sweets Konafe dough machine_

Then it’s gathered and folded and ready for assembly into various kunafe pastries.

Al Samadi Sweets Konafe dough wheel_Al Samadi Sweets  Kunafe dough maker_

Al Samadi Sweets  Kunafe dough making_

There are little “bird nests” filled with pistachios and made with kunafe pastry.

Al Samadi Sweets Konafe birdnests_

We watched as one of the kunafe chefs assembled kunafe with the crumbled akkawi cheese, the sweet cheese used in many Arab sweets.

Al Samadi Sweets Konafe assembly_

Lebanese Breakfast

As a final touch, Salim, the factory manager, offered us a special Lebanese breakfast—something I’ve never had before. It was a slab of kunafe pastry shoved into an Arab bread and doused with simple syrup. What a way to start your day!

Al Samadi Sweets Lebanese breakfast_

Last Stop: Al Samadi Sweet Shop

Our final stop on our tour was the actual Al Samadi Sweet Shop, located on Muraqqabat Street, where all the pastries are beautifully arranged and presented.

Al Samadi Sweets shop_

Al Samadi Sweets Yum_

Bake it yourself!

Rest assured, it is possible to bake these sweets in your own home kitchen. Please check out my step-by-step recipes for some of the pastries presented here.

Recipe: Kunafe Nabulsia ~ The Queen of Arab Sweets

Recipe: Ma’amoul ~ Date-filled Eid Pastries

Recipe: Nut-filled Ma’amoul ~ Easier than you think

Take a Tour

If you live in Dubai or are visiting, consider taking your own food tour with Frying Pan Adventures. I can’t say enough good things about Arva’s “food walks” featuring foods from the Middle East, North Africa and India. She is planning evening iftar tours in Dubai during the month of Ramadan. Meanwhile, read about my last tour with Frying Pan Adventures: Dubai Food Tour ~ North African Food Safari!

Questions: What is your favorite Arab Pastry? Have you taken a Frying Pan Tour?

Kunafe Nabulsia ~ The Queen of Arabic Sweets

March 14th, 2012 59 comments

If there’s one dessert that rules as the Queen of Arabic sweets, I would nominate Kunafe Nabulsia, the sticky pastry made of gooey sweet cheese sandwiched between layers of shredded kunafe pastry. This specialty from the Palestinian city of Nablus is prepared in enormous round trays, saturated with rose-scented syrup, cut into slabs and garnished with chopped pistachios.

In the Middle East, people don’t typically prepare kunafe at home. Kunafe is an occasion to go out. That’s how I first got to know it—in pastry shops in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, such as Al Jaffar & Sons pastry shop in the Old City.

And yet there are those who do make kunafe in their kitchen—typically Arabs in the diaspora, longing for home. So, I ate kunafe in Jerusalem, but learned to fully appreciate it in Seattle, where it’s lovingly prepared by homesick immigrants.

Last year, inspired by the photo and tips in the cookbook When Suzanne Cooks by Suzanne Husseini, I attempted to make kunafe again. And so, I’ve made it many times over the past year (always a big production) for house guests and dinner parties. Kunafe offers a “wow” factor to any celebration or meal, and it never fails to impress. Recently I made kunafe as the dessert for a good-bye dinner for a nephew and his family immigrating to Canada. As Palestinian immigrants, I suspect they will be making kunafe for themselves in Toronto one day.

While kunafe is my favorite Arabic sweet to eat, I confess, it can be a challenge to make. However, I believe I have worked through all the kinks that deter home cooks.

Things to know about making kunafe

Tools: Most recipes for homemade kunafe require a 30 cm (12 inch) round pan. However, I use a 15 inch deep-dish pizza pan from Crate & Barrel. Since the pan is a few inches bigger, the pastry comes out thinner and more like what’s found in pastry shops. You can also use a rectangular cookie sheet with sides.

You will need a serving tray that is the same shape and size as the baking pan—or slightly larger—to invert the pastry into. Most Arab bakers I know use two identical baking pans and flip the pastry from one pan to the other. You’ll also need a food processor and pastry brush.

Specialty ingredients: The cheese filling is what trips up most people. The standard cheese for kunafe is akawwi, a mild, slightly salty cheese that holds its shape when baked. Find akawwi in the deli or cheese aisle of most Arabic supermarkets. If you live outside the region, look for it in Middle Eastern grocery stores or substitute ricotta, which is softer, but still a good stand-in.

Whichever cheese you use, you’ll mix it with mozzarella, which gives the pastry its gooey quality so distinctive of kunafe. Fresh mozzarella is best, but any mozzarella will do. Most recipes call for a total of 1 kg (2.2 lbs.) cheese. I like to use a little less, as this also makes a thinner and more delicate kunafe.

Because it’s a sweet dessert, the mozzarella and akawwi cheese require desalting—a simple task of soaking it in water for a day. (No need to do this with ricotta).

The kunafe pastry comes shredded and looks like vermicelli. It’s readily available in the Middle East and sold in 500 g packages in the freezer section. In the US, look for it in specialty supermarkets or Middle Eastern grocery stores.

To give kunafe its traditional orange color, you’ll need orange food coloring—either drops, paste or a special power made just for kunafe. I’ve tried it all and I prefer using cake decorating paste. The orange coloring is worth the extra effort, as it gives kunafe its festive appearance which looks exquisite with the green pistachios on top.

Finally, this recipe requires scented simple syrup and clarified butter, both easily prepared at home.

Below is my recipe for this Queenly dessert.

Kunafe Nabulsia

Serves 8-10

Ingredients

700 g akkawi cheese (or substitute 500 g ricotta)

200 g mozzarella (if using ricotta, use 400 g mozzarella)

1 package (500 g) frozen kunafe pastry (thawed one hour on the counter)

1½ cups butter to make slightly more than 1 cup clarified butter, melted and hot

4 Tablespoons sugar

3 Tablespoons orange blossom water

4-8 drops orange food coloring (powder, paste or drops)

3 cups rose-scented simple syrup

½ cup ground pistachio, to garnish

Method

1. The day before, slice the akkawi and mozzarella cheese into thick slabs. In a plastic container, cover with water to soak overnight in the refrigerator to desalt the cheese. Change the water several times the first day.

2. Also in advance, prepare the rose-scented simple syrup so it’s completely chilled before the kunafe comes out of the oven.

3. About one hour before cooking, remove the kunafe pastry from the freezer to thaw on the counter. Make the clarified butter.

4. Prepare the pan—a 30 cm (12 inch) round pan or a 15-inch deep-dish pizza pan. Spread 4 Tablespoons of the clarified butter in the pan. Add the orange coloring a little at a time. Using a pastry brush, spread the butter and the coloring evenly all over the pan and up the sides.

5. Preheat the oven to 350° F (190° C).

6. Prepare the kunafe pastry. Remove from package and cut into four sections. In a food processor, gently grind one quarter of the thawed pastry at a time with a few pulses keeping it coarse.

7. Place pastry in a large bowl and gradually pour the remaining hot clarified butter over top. Use the full amount of butter or the pastry will be dry or stick to the pan. Using your fingers, mix in the butter to evenly coat the strands of pastry.

8. Drain the desalted cheese and pat dry with a dish towel. Grate cheeses into a large bowl. (If using ricotta, no need to grate.) Sprinkle the sugar and orange blossom water over the cheeses and gently mix together.

9. Layer the pastry. For the bottom layer, sprinkle handfuls of the buttered pastry and press into the prepared pan going slightly up the sides. Use approximately half the pastry mixture or a bit more to completely cover the pan. (This will be the top when the pastry is flipped.)

10. Add the cheese filling, spreading the cheese evenly and pressing to cover completely.

11. Cover with the remaining layer of pastry, evening it out and pressing gently.

12. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes until pastry becomes crisp and slightly golden.

13. Remove pastry from oven and give it a gentle shake. The kunafe will separate from the sides of the pan. If not, separate with a butter knife. The moment of truth: invert the hot kunafe onto a serving platter. As you flip it over, say bismillah (In the name of God).

14. The orange pastry should be slightly crisp. Pour the cold simple syrup over the hot pastry until the kunafe is saturated and glistening. Reserve the remaining syrup to serve in a small pitcher on the side.

15. Cut the kunafe into squares or diamonds, 2 inch x 2 inch or larger. Garnish with pistachio nuts and serve while still hot. Leftovers can be stored for up to four days in the refrigerator and warmed up in the oven or microwave.

 Question: What are your experiences with making or eating kanafe?