Desserts

Desserts

By
Suzanne Zeidy
Contains
13 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742708027
Photographer
Jonathan Gregson

Kunafa

Kunafa is one of the most famous of all Ramadan treats, a syrup-soaked spun pastry, rich and sweet enough to satisfy a sweet tooth after a day’s fasting or to indulge in during Eid, the three-day-long festivities that celebrate the end of the month. There are variations of kunafa throughout the Middle East, but like many of the region’s dishes, its roots can be traced to Egypt.

During Ramadan, and in the crazy preparations that fill the days leading up to it, the kunafa dough maker can be seen toiling every day in the streets of Old Cairo and in the city’s and country’s other ancient quarters, creating the pastries that are sold in the animated streets to the Ramadan crowds. The kunafa is one of the special foods that people stock up with to mark the month, part of many families’ cherished traditions and one of the dishes filled with cream, cheese or nuts that are prized as people fast from sunrise to sunset.

A traditional sight, the kunafa maker creates a simple liquid dough from flour and water, which is poured down in threads onto a large, round hot plate. Traditionally the kunafa maker would use a funnel-like handheld cup, but now it is more often a simple machine that releases the vermicelli-like strands onto a rotating griddle. The thin threads of kunafa beautifully curl around the hot plate in circles, the dough puffing slightly as it hits the hot surface and quickly setting, to be deftly swept off the hot plate into a waiting wooden tray.

These soft white ‘noodles’ are bought by weight and stuffed into clear bags, then used to make the dessert of the same name. The shredded-wheat-like kunafa dough is pushed into a round pan to form a pastry layer, which is then filled with soft cheese or cream, and often nuts, before another layer is added and a sweet syrup poured over the top, seeping down through the surface.

Every evening, as the sun sets over Egypt, a calm silence falls, to be broken by the sharp call to prayer, in Cairo, the four ancient cannons of the Citadel, which boom to shake up the whole city and announce iftar, the breaking of the fast. Special Ramadan lanterns cast light into the dark streets and the city is filled with enjoyment. Kunafa is one of many sweetmeats consumed long into these Ramadan nights, many festivities stretching to catch suhur, the early morning meal that must be finished before dawn when the fast must begin again.

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