MIDDLE EASTERN CHEESECAKE
This Palestinian sweet, known as knefeh, is a speciality of the city of Nablus in the West Bank, and is made using Nabulsi cheese – a semi-soft white brined cheese that becomes soft and stretchy when heated. You need to soak the Nabulsi overnight to reduce its saltiness. Alternatively you can use mozzarella as a substitute. The cheesecake can be made with semolina (“fine knefe”), shredded filo (“coarse knefe”) or a combination of both (“wavering knefe”).
PREPARATION TIME: 15 Minutes
COOKING TIME: 1 ½ hours
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125g/ 4 ½oz caster sugar
1tsp lemon juice
1tsp orange blossom water
125g/ 4 ½oz melted butter, plus extra for greasing
A pinch of ground saffron or turmeric
250f/ 9oz defrosted shredded filo pastry (kataifi)
500g/ 1lb 2oz Nabulsi cheese or mozzarella
500g/ 1lb 2oz mascarpone
½tsp ground malab (optional)
30g/ 1oz pistachios
- Dissolve the sugar 125ml/4fl oz water in a heavy based saucepan. Add the lemon juice and heat over a medium-high heat until all the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil, stirring occasionally, then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for about 15 minutes until it reaches a syrupy consistency. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the orange blossom water. Set aside to cool.
- Put the melted butter and saffron in a bowl and leave to steep for a few minutes, stirring just to incorporate.
- Put the shredded pastry into a mixing bowl. Po in the saffron butter and use your fingers to rub the butter all over the pastry strings.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C. Shred the Nabulsi into another mixing bowl, add the mascarpone and mahlab, if using, and use your hands to mix it together.
- Generously grease a round 23cm/9in cake tin with butter and spread about half of the buttered filo strings across the bottom. Spread the cheese mixture across the pastry layer evenly, then cover by spreading the remaining layer of film strings evenly over the top.
- Bake in the oven for 1-1 ¼ hours until the cheese is bubbling and the pastry is golden. A good way to test readiness is to wiggle the pan gently – the cheesecake should come away from the edges.
- Finally, place under a hot grill for 1-2 minutes to achieve an evenly golden top layer. Pour the cooled sugar syrup over the top before serving, or serve with syrup on the side if preferred.
- Grind the pistachios into a powder using a pestle and mortar, then sprinkle the powder over the cheesecake. Slice into squares and serve.