What is Knafeh?
Hello there, and Ramadan Mubarak! On the weekend nights during Ramadan, my husband and I go over to his family’s house to break our fast and eat dinner together. And last weekend, I brought a beloved Middle Eastern classic – knafeh! (Pronounced keh-nah-feh). If you’ve never tried this delicious dessert before, you’re in for a treat! It’s made from silky shredded phyllo dough that gets tossed with butter and baked with a layer of cream cheese or cheese in the middle. Then a sweet rose water syrup is drenched on top to balance out the buttery-cheesy-goodness. Knafeh is crunchy on the outside with both buttery and sweet flavors melded together. The inside is luxuriously creamy from the melted cream cheese or cheese. And since both my father-in-law and myself cannot digest dairy easily, I decided to make vegan knafeh!
How to Make Vegan Knafeh
This dessert is impressive yet quite simple to make. Of course, there are a number of nuisances that make it traditional knafeh. First, obtain some shredded phyllo dough. I found a one-pound package in my local halal/Middle Eastern market. And it looked like the package was specifically for making knafeh, so even better! Use your hands to gently spread the strands of phyllo dough apart. This is oddly satisfying and relaxing. Then mix the phyllo dough strands with a lot of melted butter.
In a baking dish, spread out and pat down half the buttered phyllo dough. Then spread either cream cheese or shredded mozzarella on top. Finally, spread out and pat down the other half of the buttered phyllo dough strands. The knafeh gets baked in the oven for about 45 minutes, until it’s a warm golden color. Often times saffron gets added to the buttery phyllo dough, to make it a deeper orange color. But this is optional, since saffron can be quite expensive. 💰
The most critical step comes next. After allowing the baked knafeh to cool for a few minutes, you have to flip it. That’s right, we are introducing acrobatics into our dessert game (just kidding). Place a large, flat serving plate upside down on the top of the knafeh. Firmly grasp both the sides of the baking dish and the bottom of the serving dish (I suggest using oven mitts). Say “Bismillah” and in one quick, confident motion, flip the knafeh upside down and onto the serving plate. Give it a few strong taps on the sides and the bottom of the baking dish, then gently pull the baking dish up and away. Voilà! You did it!
For the final touch to balance out all the flavors, a sweet simple syrup of water, sugar and a little rose water is doused all over the baked knafeh. This transports the knafeh from being a delicious buttery, crunchy, melted cheese dish to a cheesy-sweet dessert.
And to make this classic dessert vegan, just substitute the butter and cream cheese/cheese for vegan alternatives!
More Ramadan / Iftar Dessert Ideas!
- Honey Pistachio Bars
These are a crowd-pleaser every time I bring them to my in-laws home.
- Blackberry Banana Split Vegan Ice Cream
Trying to keep things as stress-free as possible? This dessert requires just two ingredients.
- Healthy Dessert Falafels
Looking for more vegan desserts? Here’s a sweet twist on a protein-packed classic!
If you have the time and patience to make it, you just can’t go wrong with baklava.
- Creamy Dairy Free Cheese Cake
Did you love the taste of dairy free cream cheese in this vegan knafeh? Then why stop there?!
- Coffee Fudge Brownies
This is a staple in our home, like water and rice. These brownies are the best.
- 1 pound shredded phyllo dough
- 1 cup vegan butter, melted
- 12 ounces vegan cream cheese, softened at room temperature
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 Tbsp rose water
- chopped pistachios
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 11-inch or 12-inch round baking dish, or a 9-inch x 13-inch rectangle baking dish.
- Use your hands to gently pull apart the strands of shredded phyllo dough, since they'll likely all be stuck together.
- Melt the butter in the microwave or on the stovetop. In a large mixing bowl, mix the shredded phyllo dough and melted butter until all the phyllo dough strands are well-coated.
- In the greased baking dish, spread out half the buttered phyllo dough strands. Pat it down in an even layer on the bottom and part way up the sides of the baking dish.
- Dollop the softened vegan cream cheese into the baking dish, then use a spatula or butter knife to spread it out in an even layer.
- Spread out the remaining half of the buttered phyllo dough strands and gently press it down with your hands.
- Bake for about 40 to 50 minutes, until it is a warm golden color. Let cool for 10 minutes in the baking dish.
- While the knafeh is baking, prepare the syrup. In a small sauce pan on medium-high heat, simmer the water and sugar until the sugar is fully dissolved, about 5 minutes.Remove from the heat and stir in the rose water. Set aside.
- Flip the knafeh upside down onto a large serving plate (see blog post above for tips). Then top with the syrup. It may seem like a lot of syrup, but the phyllo dough will absorb it. You may need to spoon syrup on top, then wait a minute for it to soak in before spooning more on.
- Top with chopped pistachios and enjoy!