Of all the sugary, buttery, nutty, syrupy, creamy, golden Egyptian Ramadan desserts in existence, Konafa is, always has been and always will be king. No doubt about it.
It has become a truly iconic dish, synonymous with the holy month, and is basically the first dessert that comes to mind when you say the word “Ramadan” to an Egyptian.
Go ahead. Try it the next time you meet one.
Konafa pastry is a special hair-like pastry that is beautiful and delicate, and a specialty of the month of Ramadan. It is made by skilled local pastry makers, by drizzling thin streams of batter in a circular motion onto an enormous hot plate and almost immediately removing the delicate strands of cooked pastry. I wish I had photos or a video to show you…it is quite mesmerizing to watch!
The pastry is mainly used in Egypt to make this Konafa cake dessert, where buttered, shredded Konafa pastry encases a filling of either cream or nuts, which gets baked till deeply golden and then drenched in sugar syrup. If you haven’t already noticed, golden buttery things drenched in sugar are kind of a theme in Ramadan (like this beauty).
Of course, I cannot get true, authentic Egyptian Konafa pastry here in Australia, but Greek ‘Kataifi’ pastry comes pretty darn close. It is a shredded Phyllo pastry that works in almost exactly the same way (hallelujah!). My favourite fillings have always been the creamy kinds. Egyptian ‘eshta’ cream and ricotta cheese both compete for first place in my heart, and since I cannot get ‘eshta’ here, I’ll show you the ricotta version.
It is pretty straightforward to make…all you need is guts to not go lightly on the ghee/clarified butter. You need to be obscenely generous with this one in order to achieve this magnificently golden and crispy crust. No fear.
The long threads of pastry need to be shredded slightly, to make it more manageable. You can either do this old school: by hand or using kitchen scissors, or you can take a shortcut and whizz it in a food processor a few times. Some people like to grind the Konafa pastry very finely, but I feel that sort of defies the whole point of Konafa’s signature texture. I suggest just giving it a few pulses till it isn’t all tangled up and becomes easy to handle, with the pieces of pastry being about 1-2cm long like so.
Now comes the ghee or clarified butter. Drizzle it onto the Konafa and rub it all in there. Use your fingers for maximum dispersion (and pleasure).
Spread two thirds of the pastry over a prepared pan. I like to grease the pan generously and arrange some blanched almonds for a pretty pattern once the cake is cooked and inverted. Get a small measuring cup (or a regular flat-based cup) and use the base to press the pastry down firmly all over the base and up the sides of the baking pan. Make sure you pack it in as tightly as possible and cover the whole surface of the pan.
The filling couldn’t be simpler: fresh ricotta sweetened ever so slightly with sugar or honey, and loosened with just a couple of tablespoons of milk (not too much!) till it is a nice pourable consistency. Spread that gorgeousness all over the base.
Sprinkle on the remaining Konafa pastry and this time, only press it gently to cover the filling.
Bake till deep, deep golden bronze, and while still in the pan and SUPER hot, drizzle on your sugar syrup and let it stand for a few minutes before inverting it and admiring it in all its tanned, shimmering glory.
The exterior crust becomes almost a shell of violent, caramelised crispiness, while the filling stays soft and slightly oozy. I wanted to slice it open to show you, but I was fasting lol (oh the torture). You need to take my word for it this time: the inside was delightfully creamy and luscious!
Make this for friends and family as a treat and watch as they fall under its buttery, sugary spell (hint: this is a good time to ask for favours).
- FOR THE SYRUP:
- • 1 cup sugar
- • ½ cup water
- • squeeze of lemon juice
- • 1 tsp. vanilla extract, optional
- FOR THE CRUST:
- • 250g Konafa pastry or Kataifi pastry (defrosted if frozen)
- • 120g ghee or clarified butter, melted, plus extra for greasing the pan
- • Handful of blanched almonds to decorate, optional
- FOR THE FILLING:
- • 250g fresh ricotta cheese
- • 2 tbsp. sugar/1 tbsp. honey
- • 2-3 tbsp. milk
- • 2 tbsp. mascarpone cream (optional!)
- Make the syrup: combine the sugar and water in a saucepan. Stir to mix, then put on medium heat and cook, until sugar dissolves (no stirring once the mixture is on the heat). Bring to the boil, then simmer the mixture on low for just 10 minutes until slightly syrupy. Add the squeeze of lemon, remove from heat and stir in vanilla (if using). Pour into a jar or jug and set aside to cool completely.
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (375F)
- Generously grease a 20cm (9 inch) round cake pan with some ghee/clarified butter. If using, arrange the blanched almonds over the base of the pan in desired pattern.
- Make the crust: shred the Konafa pastry into small pieces (about 1-2cm/ ½ inch long). You can do this with your fingers or using kitchen scissors, or simply by roughly tearing the pastry into a food processor and pulsing it a few times. If using a food processor, be careful not to over-process it too finely; stop and check every couple of pulses.
- Place the shredded pastry into a large bowl and pour over the melted ghee/clarified butter. Use your fingers to rub it into the pastry until evenly distributed.
- Place two thirds of the Konafa pastry into the prepared cake pan, spreading it to cover the base and sides completely. Using the base of a small measuring cup (or a regular flat-based cup), firmly press in the pastry to pack it in as tightly and smoothly as you can onto the base and up the sides of the pan (see photos).
- Make the filling: combine the ricotta and the sugar/honey in a bowl. Add the mascarpone, if using (this is optional, but it does make the filling a bit more creamy a luscious!). Add milk as needed, one tablespoon at a time just until the mixture loosens up slightly and becomes barely pourable and easy to spread (refer to photos). If your ricotta is already of the looser kind, you might not need to add milk at all! Do not add too much or the filling will become too liquid and seep out of the Konafa pastry.
- Pour the filling onto the base of the Konafa, spreading it out evenly till the edges.
- Top with the remaining one third of Konafa pastry, sprinkling it on evenly to cover the filling. Use your hands to very gently press the pastry this time, just to smooth it out slightly and make sure the filling is totally covered.
- Bake in the oven for 45-60 minutes, until the edges are deep golden brown (the top might be slightly less dark because it isn’t packed as tightly. If the top isn’t browning at all, turn on the oven’s top grill for the final 10-15 min).
- Remove from the oven, and while it is still in the pan and super hot, pour your cooled syrup all over the Konafa. Let it rest for 10 minutes, then invert it onto a serving plate. Serve warm.