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Knafeh: The Queen of Arab Desserts

posted on: Feb 10, 2021

BY: Adriana Murray/Arab America Contributing Writer

Desserts have become the star dish during a meal, moving the main course to the sideline. They garner so much of our love and attention that they’ve received their own special day. October 14 is National Dessert Day, so indulge in your sweet tooth today because sugary sweets will be found everywhere.

The best possible way to celebrate this day is with knafeh, the queen of Arab desserts. Knafeh has had a long history of being served as a special treat. It was reportedly first mentioned during the tenth century, with origins tracing back to the Palestinian city of Nablus. Although this dessert started its humble beginnings Nablus, many other cities across the Arab world have developed variant forms, special to their locale.

Over the course of time knafeh, has gained widespread popularity, particularly in the Levantine countries of Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and Syria. Immigrants from these countries brought the sweet aroma of knafeh to America’s bakeries, making it popular with adventurous foodies exploring Arab American cuisine.

People love the savory, stretchy sweet cheese of knafeh that melts in your mouth. The dish is topped with pistachio shavings and sugar-based syrup, bringing rich texture to the sweet.  

Many Arab Americans use their own family recipes to make knafeh at home. For those in need, try this recipe at home to experience the queen of Arab desserts.

Image credit: my lovely berries


Yield: about 40 pieces


2 cups milk

2 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 teaspoons rose water or 2 teaspoons orange flower water

900 grams – 2 lb. ricotta cheese

450 grams – 1 lb. kadaif/kataif noodles

1- 1/2 cups unsalted butter

1 cup syrup (recipe below)

2/3 cup chopped pistachio nuts

Combine milk, cream, sugar, and cornstarch in a medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat until dissolved.

When it begins to boil, stir in rosewater or orange blossom water. Simmer over low heat for 5 minutes, or until the mixture is thick.

Remove from heat. When its cool, add ricotta cheese, stirring until it’s all blended.

Preheat oven to 175 C – 350 F.

Shred the noodles in a bowl by hand, or whiz them briefly in a food processor until the pieces are cut as small as rice grains.  The size of the strands is just a matter of personal preference.

Melt butter over low heat, cooking only until it’s melted. Skim off any foam with a spoon and don’t let it turn brown.

Pour butter over noodle strands, avoiding the milk solids that have settled at the bottom. Mix with hands, rubbing the butter into the strands to coat them well.

Spread half the strands onto the bottom of a 3-quart – 3-liter baking dish. Flatten this layer firmly with your knuckles and palm to cover the bottom up to the edges.

Spread ricotta mixture over noodles. Spread remaining noodles on top of the ricotta mixture and press down.

Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the top is golden. Remove the knafeh from the oven and pour the cold syrup over it immediately. Sprinkle pistachios over the top. Cut into pieces with a large, sharp knife. Serve right away.

Watch this video to see traditional knafeh Nablusi being made at home!