This recipe is inspired by my grandma’s signature recipe of “Kunafe”.
According to several generations of my family, my grandma was the ultimate gracious hostess. She always went out of her way to please her guests either the remote acquaintances or her close relatives. Neither the advanced age, nor her weakening eyesight affected the frequency at which she was entertaining. In record time, she always managed to cover her dining table with decadent dishes. Her signature nuts-filled kunafe was her favorite summer dish to serve. It was crunchy, rustic and overly sweet.
Last summer I was planning a get-together for some Lebanese-American friends whom I wanted to treat with a nostalgic dessert with a modern twist. I could not find a better motivation to take my grandma’s recipe to the next level. I opted for a lighter version of kunafe with a French style. The creative post of Chef in Disguise blog, inspired me to develop a summer fruit tart with a Kunafe crust.
Instead of ghee (clarified butter), this recipe uses an equal amounts of tropical coconut oil and butter to bind the strayed kataifi strands into a polished tart shell. For the filling, I whipped up a moderately sweet and silky smooth Ashtalia (Lebanese milk pudding), that is infused with sweet spices. The creamy filling perfectly complements the playful crunchy crust. To garnish the tart, I picked a combination of textures: chewy dry apricots, sweetened coconut flakes, crunchy toasted pistachios, ripe fresh fruits and also canned ones. Just to guild the lily, a spiced and zesty simple syrup is drizzled on top as a glaze to add shine, and to delicately set off the richness of the creamy filling.
When nostalgic flavors marry with stunning presentation, know that you will probably land on a feast to the eye and a to-die-for dessert that your guests will swear by it!
“Kunafe” Fruit Tart Recipe
Serves: 8 to 10 people
For the crust:
250 gr thawed frozen or fresh Kunafe (shredded filo dough, also known as Kataifi)
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup melted coconut oil
1/2 cup powdered sugar
For the filling:
4 cups milk
1 cup whipping cream
6 tablespoons cornstarch (dissolved in 1/4 cup of cold milk or water)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 stick cinnamon
3 whole cloves
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
6 to 8 mastic resin crystals , crushed
For the garnish:
Fresh banana (not too ripe)
Mango slices (fresh or canned)
5 to 6 strawberries
2 or 3 canned apricots
Sweetened shredded coconut
For the syrup:
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
1/2 cup of water
1 tablespoon rose water
The rind of one lemon or orange
3 pods cardamom
1 tablespoon of strained lemon juice
For the crust:
- Shred the kunafe strands with your hands. You can entrust your kids with this task with no second thoughts! A gratifying silence will prevail in the kitchen for at least 30 mins.
- Add the melted butter, melted coconut oil, powdered sugar and pinch of cloves to the kunafe. Mix them well with hands making sure all strands are well covered with fat and sugar.
- Arrange the kunafe in a 9″ non stick baking pan or a rectangular pan (14.4″L x 5.9″W x 1.5″H) with a detachable base. Press the kunafe using the palm of your hands or a measuring cup. Even out the edges by snipping away any strayed strands.
- Place it in the fridge for at least one hour, so the kunafe crust holds its shape before going to the oven. Meantime, preheat the oven to 350 degree.
- Place the Kunafe pan in the oven (convection mode) for 20 to 25 minutes or until it is golden brown. Get it out of the oven and let it cool completely.
- Put in the fridge again until you are ready to assemble the tart.
For the filling:
- Scald the milk. In a heavy bottom pan, bring the milk and cream to a boil and then turn off the heat. Add a cinnamon stick and cloves and let them infuse the milk for 5 to 15 minutes or over night.
- Reheat the milk on a low heat and add the sugar. stir until all sugar is dissolved.
- Add the 6 tablespoons of cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup of water or cold milk.
- On a low-medium heat, gently stir with a wooden spoon the milk-cream mixture until it starts to thicken and cover the back of the spoon.
- Add the crushed mastic crystals and continue stirring until they disappear. At this point the milk-cream mixture should get fragrant with a consistency of a hot pudding.
- Add the vanilla and orange blossom water and turn off the heat.
- Strain the pudding while it is still hot throughout a fine sieve into a deep bowl. cover it with plastic film (to prevent a skin from forming). Put it in the fridge when it is no longer hot.
For the syrup:
- In a heavy bottom pan, pour water and sugar together.
- On a low medium-heat, stir until sugar is completely dissolved.
- Add flavourings (cardamom pods, a strip of lemon or orange skin).
- Let it simmer 3 to 4 minutes.
- Lower the heat and add the lemon juice and let it simmer for another 1 minute.
- Turn off the heat, add the rose water and let it cool completely on your kitchen countertop.
- Assemble the tart. Fill the chilled crust with the cold Ashtalia (milk pudding) using an off-set spatula. Even it out and decorate the tart in any pattern you like with a nice palette of fruits and nuts.
- Drizzle the simple syrup on top of your pie, right before serving. The rest of simple syrup could be served on the side for optional individual serving.
- Serve the tart cold, with a cup of mint tea, cafe blanc or champagne.
- I like to prepare all the three parts of this pie (crust, filling and simple syrup) a day in advance. First to break down the task, and second for all the flavors to meld.
- Garnish the tart right before serving, so the fruits juices don’t make the tart soggy.
- If neither frozen or fresh Kunafe are available were you live. I recommend watching this link by “Korena in the Kitchen” blog. It has the simplest and full proof recipe for kunafe strands.