Turkish 'Künefe' Is A Hot, Cheesy Dessert From The Southeast

'Künefe' Can Be Found In Restaurants Serving Kebab Fare

turkish künefe dessert
'Künefe' is made with two layers of crispy 'kadayıf' filled with cheese and steeped in sweet syrup. Photo © Kybele - Fotolia.com

Turkish cuisine is famous for its sweet, syrupy desserts like baklava and 'şekerpare' (sheh-KEYR' pah-RAY'). Did you know that it's equally famous for a luscious, cheesy dessert from the southeastern region of Turkey called 'künefe' (kyoon-eh-FAY')?

What Is 'Künefe'?

'Künefe' is a crispy, cheese-filled dessert made with 'kadayıf' (kah-dah-YUF'). It's served hot out of the oven so the cheese is soft and stringy.

The best 'künefe' can be found at restaurants serving grilled meats, better known as kebab.

'Künefe' is cooked and served in a very shallow, round metal pan that's specially designed for making this special dessert. It's so delicious that Turkish people and tourists alike keep coming back for more.

The History Of 'Künefe'

'Künefe' is native to the southeastern parts of Turkey that border the Mediterranean sea. 'Künefe' is a great example of regional Turkish cuisine.

The best Turkish kebabs also come from this area of the country. It's no coincidence that 'künefe' is found only in restaurants that sell kebab fare.

The recipe for 'künefe' is believed to originate from the city of Hatay although many cities in this region lay claim to inventing 'künefe.' Important southeastern cities like Mersin, Adana, Gaziantep, Kilis, Şanlıurfa, Diyarbakır and Mardin all have their own variations of the dessert.

How To Prepare 'Künefe'

'Künefe' is hard to prepare, so it's almost never made at home. Most people wait until they eat at a kebab house to enjoy authentic 'künefe.'

To make 'künefe,' you must have a shallow, metal 'künefe' pan or a small, shallow cast iron skillet. If you're traveling in Turkey you can buy a 'künefe' pan at restaurant supply shops, local bazaars or at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.

The first main ingredient in 'künefe' is called 'kadayıf' (​kah-dah-YUF'). 'Kadayıf' is actually finely shredded dough that has been partially baked to dry it.

First, a large clump of 'kadayıf' is pulled apart to separate the shreds. Then it's chopped into fine pieces. The pan is heavily buttered then the chopped 'kadayıf' is pressed into the bottom to make an even layer.

Next, a filling of low salt Turkish cheese like kashar, 'lor' or 'dil' is placed in the middle. Another layer of chopped 'kadayıf' is pressed on top of the cheese to make the top layer.

Finally, large amounts of clarified butter are drizzled over the top to saturate the 'kadayıf'. The tray is placed in the oven and baked until the top becomes brown and crispy.

Before serving, the top of the 'künefe' is sprinkled with bright green, ground pistachios and the 'künefe' is cut into wedges. 'Künefe' is always served piping hot so the cheese remains soft and stringy.