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Kunafa with Cream Arabian Dessert

Kunafa with Cream – A popular Middle Eastern dessert. This delight has a buttery flavor coming from Ghee and consists of two layers. A crunchy layer of shredded phyllo dough. Which later soaked with simple syrup perfumed with rose water. The second layer is a creamy and velvety pastry cream called Ishta and it’s egg-free. Kunafa, also pronounced Knafeh, is a classic dessert. But I have a surprise for you! To make this Kunafa recipe, you don’t have to buy Phyllo dough, yet the taste will remain authentic AND with much lower calories. I will show you how in this post!

Freshly baked kunafa with cream.

What is Kunafa?

Kunafa is a traditional Arabic dessert made from Phyllo dough filled with either pastry cream, or sweet Arabic cheese. Sometimes, the dough is shredded to make rough kunafeh (kunafa kheshneh). Other times the phyllo dough is processed in a food processer until it takes a breadcrumb-like texture, and the kunafeh made of it is called Soft kunafa or (Kunafeh naemeh).

It is served on special occasions, like Eid, the Holy month of Ramadan, and weddings. You can find Kunafeh in different variations, and it depends on which country you are having it. In Egypt, the kunafa is mainly filled with pastry cream (Ishtah). In Lebanon and Syria, the Arabic cheese or mozzarella cheese filling is popular. Nowadays, people are getting creative, and you can find it filled with nuts, chocolate, and even caramelized fruits like apples.

Low-calorie Kunafa with cream

The calories in the traditional kunafa are high; one serving of the original recipe is around 580 to 630 calories. See what I mean?

A lot, and I mean a lot of melted Ghee (samnah) is in Kunafa, and this is where half of the flavor comes from; the other source of flavor is the perfumed simple syrup.

When it comes to simple syrup, some perfume it with rose water others prefer orange blossom, a food coloring is also added to the recipe to get that dark orange color.

Your family and guests will ask for more, and why wouldn’t they? This version of Kunafa with cream is only 112 calories per one generous serving.

This low-calorie version is called (Kunafa Kaddabeh) in Arabic, and it means Lying Kunafa. However, it tastes EXACTLY if not better than what’s found in bakeries.

The best part is, you probably have everything in your kitchen to make it right now and worry no more, you’ll have this delight and won’t feel guilty!

close up image of kunafeh.

My low-calorie version gives you:

  1. The authentic flavor.
  2. Fewer calories.
  3. Less time spent in the kitchen.
  4. No running to stores to get the ingredients.

Ingredients to make a low-calorie version

To make the egg-free pastry cream:

Low-fat milk. Do not use almond or soy milk; the cream won’t taste the same.

Sugar. It’s best to use raw sugar, but white sugar will do. Do not use brown sugar or honey.

Cornstarch. It is a thickening agent. Do not substitute it with flour or potato starch.

Unsalted Butter. Yes. There is butter indeed, but we will use a reasonable amount, just enough to get the flavor.

Vanilla or rose water. I am not fond of rose water, so I have used vanilla.

Phyllo dough substitute:

Breadcrumbs. It is our secret ingredient, and it will replace the phyllo dough. Don’t be surprised; using breadcrumbs in making kunafa will not alter the taste nor the texture. Use white bread.

For The Syrup:

Sugar.

Water.

Rosewater or vanilla is optional.

A slice of arabian dessert Kunafa.

How to make Kunafa without Phyllo dough

Let’s start by making the syrup; it needs to cool down before pouring it over the kunafa.

  • First, add the water and sugar to a pan, stir one time, and then let it come to a boil. Let the ingredients boil for 5 minutes.
  • Remove it from heat. If you are adding rose water or any other flavor, this is the time.
  • Allow the syrup to cool to room temperature.

Making egg-free pastry cream

  • Add the sugar, milk, and butter to a saucepan. Mix and let it come to a simmer.
  • Mix the vanilla extract with the cornstarch mixture. Add it to the simmering milk and keep on stirring to avoid creating lumps.
  • The milk will get thicker if it covers the back of a spoon. Run your finger across the spoon, and the line stays clear. The pastry cream is ready.
  • The pastry cream will get thicker after it cools, remove it from heat and pour it into a plate. Cover the cool pastry cream with plastic wrap. Refrigerate.

Making the phyllo substitute and assembling the kunafa

  • Use a square or round 8×8 inch baking nonstick pan. Grease the bottom of the pan with few drops of melted butter.
  • Add one tablespoon of melted butter to the breadcrumbs and mix with your hand.
  • Spread the breadcrumbs evenly in the greased baking pan next. Press it down with your hand. The back of a spoon can do too.  
  • Evenly spread the cooled pastry cream over the crust.
  • Bake the kunafa in a preheated oven 350F/180C. Bake until the bottom is light brown, or for half an hour.
  • Take out the Kunafa from the oven. Keep it in the baking pan for 10 minutes, next flip the kunafa on a serving plate.
  • Pour the cool syrup over the hot Kunafa. Use only 1/4 cup of syrup; it will be enough.
  • Garnish this dessert with crushed pistachios.
Kunafa with simple syrup.

How to store kunafa?

Place the leftover kunafa in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

How to heat a refrigerated kunafa?

The best way to heat the kunafa is by heating it in the oven. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Place the kunafa in oven friendly dish and heat for seven to 10 minutes depending on how big the slice is.

To heat in the microwave. Place the kunafa in a microwave friendly plate and heat for 20 seconds.

More Arabic Dessert:

Luqaimat.

Arabian Cake.

Basbousa.

Small image of kunafa with cream

Kunafa Recipe with Cream

Apopular Middle Eastern dessert. This delight has a buttery flavor coming fromGhee and consists of two layers. A crunchy layer of shredded phyllodough. However, we will not use Phyllo dough!!
5 from 1 vote
Print Rate
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Arabian
Keyword: kunafa, kunafa with cream, kunafeh
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Calories: 112kcal
Author: Muna Kenny

Ingredients

EGG-FREE PASTRY CREAM INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups low fat milk
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup low-fat milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla you can use rose water

CRUST INGREDIENTS

  • 100 gm breadcrumbs Around one cup. Read notes.
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

THE SYRUP INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Few drops of rose water optional

Instructions

MAKING THE SYRUP

  • In a saucepan, add both water and sugar, mix for a few seconds and let it boil for 5 minutes. Keep aside to cool.
  • If you wish to add a flavoring to the syrup, do so after taking it off the heat.

MAKING THE EGG-FREE PASTRY CREAM

  • In a pan, add the milk, butter, and sugar. Stir for a few seconds and let it come to a simmer.
  • Add vanilla to the cornstarch mixture, add it to the milk and keep stirring to avoid forming lumps.
  • When the milk is thicker and covers the back of the spoon, and a straight line made by your finger stays clear, it is done.
  • Remove the pastry cream from heat, pour in a plate, wait for it to cool, cover the pastry cream with plastic wrap, and place it in the fridge.

MAKING THE CRUST

  • – Grease an 8×8 inch square or round baking pan with few drops of butter and keep aside. Use a nonstick pan.
  • – Add one tablespoon of butter to the breadcrumbs and mix by hand; rub the mixture between your hands until well combined.
  • – Evenly spread the breadcrumbs in the greased pan and press it down with your hands or the back of a spoon.
  • – Evenly spread the cool pastry cream over the breadcrumbs.
  • – Bake the kunafa in a preheated oven 350F/180C, for half an hour or until the bottom is light brown. Make sure that the oven plate is placed instead of the oven rack. Oven plates usually come with the oven. Placing the oven plate in the oven and then heating it, allows the kunafa crust to get that beautiful golden-brown color.
  • – Take out the Kunafa from the oven. Keep the kunafa in the baking pan and after 10 minutes, flip it on a serving plate.
  • – Pour cool syrup on the hot Kunafa. Use only 1/4 cup of syrup; it will be enough. You can use the whole half cup if you wish though.
  • – Garnish with crushed pistachios.

Notes

– Do not use skim milk; it will not tolerate the heat in the oven or on the stovetop and might burn quickly.
– Do not use almond or soy milk.
– Use white bread. Remove the brown edges before processing the bread in a food processor to make breadcrumbs.
– Make sure the oven is preheated, or the kunafa will take a longer time.
– Before preheating the oven, make sure to place the oven plate in the oven instead of the oven rack. Heating the oven plate before placing the kunafa makes sure that you will get a golden-brown color to your kunafa.
– Never pour hot syrup over hot kunafa. It will become soggy.
– The syrup can be prepared ahead. It keeps well for a month in the fridge.
– The pastry cream can stay up to 4 days in the fridge. Make sure to place the plastic wrap directly on the pastry cream to prevent the forming of hard skin over it.
– This post was originally published in 2014. Updated with more details.

Nutrition

Calories: 112kcal
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15 Comments

  1. What an interesting dessert! The golden crisp bread crust looks really tempting!

  2. Can I use maize meal flour instead of cornstarch?

  3. For the Knafe what kind of bread? Thanks

  4. Looks incredible! Very different to the usual Phyllo pastry and cheese.

    Would be nice if you cut into it (even a picture) so we can see the texture inside. Keep up the good work.

  5. OMG! finally i get to make the most awaited dessert from my list of dessert cravings.Thanks a lot for the simplified version Muna! i will be trying this for iftar.

    • munatycooking

      Hi Samiha, I’m so glad you made it to my blog. I hope you enjoy my humble version of Kunafa and I wish you a blessed Ramadan 🙂

  6. Caroline

    My mum used to make it thus way too (without cheese), but she used to use cream in with the milk too. Nobody has her recipe (it was never written down), so if I was to include cream with the milk, what ratio would you suggest?

    • munatycooking

      Thanks fr stopping by, our moms always made the best food without recipes :)… I guess you can go for half of milk and half cream.

  7. Hello! I don’t see if my comment was posted but here you go….
    Does the filling taste like cheese? If not, can I replace the filling with real cheese?
    Thanks!

    • munatycooking

      The filling tastes like thick sweet cream, or more like vanilla pudding. The only cheese you can use for this recipe is mozzarella cheese but it shouldn’t have any traces of salt.

  8. Hai..usually i watch turkish videos about kunafa, they put the kunafa dough below and above the cream right?For your ingredient, u doesnt put other layer of bread (crumb) on top of the cream right? Thanks 😁

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