Knafeh is a traditional Middle Eastern dessert made with kataifi (shredded phyllo dough) that is filled with mozzarella cheese, fried or baked, and then soaked in sugar syrup. There are countless versions of this decadent dessert (depending on its country of origin), but they are almost all labor-intensive. This simple, kid-friendly version is my spin on the sweet cheese latkes my mother used to make for us on holidays and special occasions. It’s a breakfast worthy of Sunday brunch.
1½ cups sugar, divided
1 tablespoon rosewater
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3 extra-large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1½ cups ricotta or whipped cottage cheese
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces frozen kataifi pastry, thawed
Crushed toasted pistachios, for serving
Rose petals, for serving (optional)
1 First, make the rosewater syrup: In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine 1 cup of the sugar and ½ cup water. Bring to a gentle simmer and stir to dissolve the sugar. Simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the rosewater. Set aside.
2 In a large bowl, whisk the flour, remaining ½ cup sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and vanilla. Add the egg mixture to the flour and use a spoon to stir just until combined (do not overmix). Add the ricotta and stir just until incorporated.
3 In a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter until sizzling. Add about ⅓ cup of the kataifi pastry to the skillet so that it’s tightly packed into a 4-inch circle (cover the remaining kataifi with a kitchen towel so it doesn’t dry out). Pour ⅓ cup pancake batter over the pastry, spreading it out with a spoon, if needed, and cook 5 minutes, until the kataifi is deeply browned and crisp and bubbles start to appear on the surface of the pancake. Use a spatula to flip the pancake over and cook another 2 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer the pancake to a plate and repeat with the remaining kataifi and pancake batter, adding a tablespoon of butter to the pan for each pancake.
4 To serve, top the pancakes with crushed pistachios and rose petals (if using) and drizzle with the rosewater syrup.