This article has links to products and services we recommend, which we may make a commission from.
This easy Kunefe recipe takes you on a delectable journey to a cherished part of Turkey’s culinary tradition. Combining crispy shredded phyllo dough with gooey, stringy cheese layers and a drizzle of aromatic syrup will impress your guests and leave you craving more.
What is Kunefe – Turkish Cheese Pastry
Kunefe is a beloved Turkish dessert that marries crispy and creamy textures in the most delectable way.
Turkish künefe dessert is made with shredded kadayıf dough or filo pastry drenched in a sweet sugar syrup or sherbet with an oozy unsalted cheese filling.
It is cooked to golden brown perfection and sprinkled with pistachios or a generous dollop of kaymak or clotted cream.
In Türkiye, the Künefe dessert is a symbol of celebration. It is a popular choice for holidays, gatherings, and parties.
With this easy kunefe recipe, you’ll savor a taste of Türkiye in this mouthwatering and exquisite dessert.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: Get a taste of authentic Turkish snacks delivered to your home with free shipping from Turkey. Turkish Munchies offers snack boxes filled with a variety of popular snacks from across the country. Find a variety of unusual sweet and savory delights that showcase Turkey’s culinary heritage. In addition to a single box, you can also get a monthly subscription.
Kunefe traces its origins to the Levant region, with Turkey and its neighboring countries each offering their unique twists on this heavenly dessert.
The Turkish version of kunefe originates from the Hatay region, which borders Syria. This was one of the worst hit regions by the 2023 earthquake.
The best cheese for kunafa dessert, is a special cheese from Hatay. It is a soft unsalted cheese primarily made from raw goat milk, though Hatay cow milk cheese is also used.
Kunefe shops are common in Turkey and are popular meeting spots for friends and families.
In recent years, modern variations of kunefe have emerged, featuring chocolate, cream, and more.
In this künefe recipe, we focus on the traditional and authentic method of preparing this Turkish famous dessert.
Discovering Kunefe Dessert in Turkey
One of the Turkish desserts we fell in love with while exploring the local food specialities in the country was Kunefe.
The combination of the filo shredded dough or kadayif pastry and the special kunefe cheese was a delightful treat everytime we had the dessert.
While in Istanbul we were surprised to find several award-winning and highly-rated kunefe shops throughout the city.
Having enjoyed the kunefe dessert so much, we took a cooking class in Istanbul specifically to learn how to make this unforgettably delicious dessert.
We’re excited to share this easy and simple künefe recipe, so that you can also enjoy this beloved Turkish dessert too.
Kunefe Recipe – How To Make Turkish Sweet Cheese Pastry
- Kadayıf or shredded phyllo dough
- Kunefe cheese, string cheese or mozzarella cheese as substitutes
- Lemon juice
- Chopped pistachios or pistachio powder
- Turkish clotted cream, kaymak, optional
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: Check our other easy to make traditional desserts from around the world.
Kunefe Recipe Tips
To make the best Kunefe, use the best quality products you can find as each ingredient contributes to the overall symphony of tastes. It is also easiest to make this dessert using a flat plate like a kunefe pan for the best results.
What Cheese to Use in Künefe
If there is a Middle Eastern market in your area, look for for Turkish Kunefe cheese, or it might also be labeled Hatay cheese. A good alternative is high-quality stringy cheese like mozzarella or unsalted string cheese. This is necessary to achieve the desired balance of creaminess and stretchiness. Also, be sure the cheese you select is unsalted.
How to Make the Syrup
The syrup for this Turkish Künefe recipe, also called sherbet, is a mixture of water, sugar, and lemon juice. Make a sugar syrup by bringing sugar and water to a boil and then simmer until the mixture slightly thickens. Stir in a touch of lemon juice for a tangy kick. Let the syrup cool as you proceed with the recipe.
What is the Kunefe Plate To Use
Traditionally, to make this dessert, a “künefe pan” or “künefe plate” is used. The kunefe plate available on Amazon is typically made of aluminum or copper which helps ensure even cooking and is a delightful presentation of the kunefe dessert.
How to Cook Kunefe
To cook each kunefe dessert, you will need two kunefe plates. Place the pan, layered with cheese and shredded phyllo dough over low heat. Let it cook for about 10 – 12 minutes until the bottom becomes golden brown and crispy.
Grease the second kunefe plate and add a little sugar to the bottom. When one side is cooked, place the two kunefe plates on top of each other and flip both pans over. Allow the uncooked side cook for another 10-12 minutes until it’s also golden brown and crispy.
Turkish Kunefe Recipe Step by Step Instructions
Prepare Sugar Syrup and Kadaif Pastry
Combine sugar and water in a pan and bring to a boil. Let the simple syrup simmer until it thickens and then add lemon juice and set aside to cool. Separate the thin strands of shredded filo pastry and cut them into 1-inch pieces.
Grease and Layer Kunefe Plate
Use a spoon to spread softened butter around the Kunefe plate. Spread the very thin strands of shredded phyllo dough onto the greased kunefe plate until it is fully covered. Press gently to create an even layer.
Cook the Turkish Künefe Dessert
Cook the kunefe pan over low heat for about 10 to 12 minutes. Allow it to cook until the kadayıf becomes golden brown and crisp on the bottom.
While the kunefe is cooking, grease a second kunefe pan you will use to flip over the pan so that the other side can cook.
Frequently Asked Questions about Kunefe
Is Kunafa and Künefe The Same?
Yes, kunafa and künefe are variations of the same dessert, each with its unique regional influence. The English language borrows the word “knafeh” from Levantine and Egyptian Arabic. And you find different transliterations like kanafeh, kenafeh, knafeh, kunafah, kunafeh, konafa, knéfé, kunafa, and others. These different spellings reflect the diverse cultural connections that have shaped this sweet delight.
What Does Künefe Mean in Turkish?
The Turkish word “künefe” comes from the Arabic root “knf,” which is linked to the term “kunāfa(t)” كنافة, meaning “shredded phyllo dough.”
What is Kunafa Filling Made Of?
The filling for künefe typically consists of unsalted kunefe cheese, which is a stretchy cheese that can be compared to string cheese or mozzarella.
What is the Name of the Cheese in Künefe?
The cheese used in kunefe is known as “kunefe cheese” or “kunefe peyniri” in Turkish. This kunefe cheese is specially crafted to achieve the perfectly stringy melting qualities for this dessert. Outside of Turkey, finding this Turkish cheese can be difficult.
How to Pronounce Kunefe?
“Kunefe” is pronounced as “koo-neh-feh.”
- Kunefe Plate (5.5 inches / 14 cm in diameter, 4 kunefe plates)
For the sherbet sweet syrup
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 1 ½ cups water
- Juice of ¼ lemon
For the kadayıf shredded phyllo dough layer
- 7 oz kadayıf (kataifi) shredded phyllo dough
- ¼ cup butter melted
For assembling the kunefe
For the sherbet sweet syrup
- In a saucepan, combine the sugar and water for the sherbet sugar syrup.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes until the syrup slightly thickens.
- Stir in the lemon juice, remove from heat, and let it cool. Set aside.
For the kadayıf shredded phyllo dough layer
- Gently separate the strands of shredded filo dough and cut them into 1-inch pieces.
- Place the shredded phyllo dough in the melted butter in the kunefe plate until evenly coated. Use your hands to massage if needed gently. Set aside
For assembling the kunefe
- In a small bowl, whisk butter to soften and then grease a round kunefe pan using a spoon.
- Sprinkle a pinch of sugar on the greased pan and spread the shredded phyllo dough over the greased pan until the bottom is fully covered, pressing gently to create an even layer.
- Slice the kunefe cheese or stringy cheese into ¼-inch thickness. Place the slices over the kadayıf layer, leaving a margin of about ½ inch (1 cm) from the edge.
- Cover the cheese layer with the same amount of kadayıf, gently pressing down.
Cooking the kunefe
- Place the kunefe pan over low heat on the stovetop.
- Cook for about 10–12 minutes, occasionally lifting the bottom to check for doneness. The kadayıf should become golden brown and crisp on the bottom.
- While the kunefe is cooking, grease another kunefe pan of the same size and sprinkle a pinch of sugar.
- Once the bottom of the kunefe is golden brown and fully cooked, place the prepared kunefe pan over the cooked one.
- Carefully flip the pans upside down, using oven mitts if necessary. The uncooked side will now be facing down.
- Remove the top pan and let the uncooked side of the kunefe dessert cook for another 10-12 minutes until the second side becomes golden brown and crisp.
Assembling the kunefe
- Once both sides of the kunefe are cooked, immediately pour and drizzle the cooled syrup or sherbet sugar syrup evenly over the top.
- The kunefe hot metal plate will sizzle as it absorbs the sweet syrup.
- Allow the kunefe to rest for a few minutes to room temperature.
- Garnish with chopped pistachios and a dollop of kaymak or Turkish clotted cream.
- Serve immediately and enjoy while still warm, while the cheese is stretchy and the syrup has saturated the dessert.
- When preparing the sherbet simple syrup, ensure it reaches a consistency where it pours like a string, rather than drop by drop. This is the sweet spot for a balanced syrup.
- If you want to enhance the flavor, add a hint of rose or orange blossom water. This delicate touch adds a floral essence that takes the flavor to the next level.
- While pistachios are the traditional topping for Turkish künefe dessert, feel free to experiment with other nuts like almonds or walnuts for a unique twist.
- Complement your kunefe experience with a cup of Turkish tea or a rich Turkish coffee, for an authentic Turkish moment at home.
More Local Food Experiences and Recipes
Claire is co-founder of Authentic Food Quest and a lover of simple and exquisite cuisine. Since 2015, with her partner, Rosemary, she has been traveling the world as a digital nomad, creating content about local food experiences.
Her advice from visiting 45 countries and more than 240 food cities has been featured in Lonely Planet, Business Insider, Honest Cooking, Food Insider, and Huffington Post. She has also co-authored three books, including one in collaboration with Costa Brava Tourism.
An ex-mechanical engineer, Claire is responsible for SEO, keeping the website running, and the fun food & travel videos on YouTube.
When Claire is not eating, she can be found running or cycling. Find out more about Authentic Food Quest