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Konafa is a highly beloved Egyptian dessert that traditionally comes out during Ramadan and it’s easy to see why there’s so much love. This very special cake is made using a generous crispy coating of buttery hair-thin pastry filled with creamy, rich whipped cream or ricotta cheese (see note below for cheese variation). Sitting at the bottom is a pool of tangy sweet sugar lemon sauce that will make your mouth water.
Because the super fine konafa pastry dough isn’t available everywhere, we are using shredded phyllo dough (sold in many frozen sections across America) in this recipe.
Cut a 2 inch piece of vanilla bean (or more if you really like vanilla). Use a sharp knife to slice open the bean lengthwise down the center. With your blade, scrape the caviar out of the bean and set it aside. Discard the pod or use it in other recipes.
In a small saucepan, combine water and sugar. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer uncovered until the liquid becomes the consistency of pourable syrup (about 5 – 10 minutes).
Stir in the lemon juice and then remove it from heat and set aside. Add the vanilla once the syrup cools, and stir to combine. (This is also when you would add the orange blossom or rose water, if using in place of vanilla.)
Whisk until well combined and all the lumps are gone. Pour your mixture into a saucepan and turn the heat to medium-high. Continue to whisk while bringing the mixture to a boil.
When the mixture begins to thicken and bubble, remove from heat. Set aside to cool.
To clarify the butter: melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, skimming off any foam that rises to the top. Once the butter is no longer producing foam, remove from heat. Pour the yellow liquid from the top into a heatproof bowl for use in dough, leaving the white solids in the bottom of the pan. (You can use the milk solids on veggies, rice or anything you want to enhance with a bit of buttery flavor.)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease a cake pan with your clarified butter.
Place the phyllo (or kataifi) dough in large bowl and gently loosen the noodles with your fingers. Add the clarified butter and mix well.
Using about two thirds of the phyllo dough, lay a ½ inch thick bed in the greased cake pan, creating walls with the dough along the edge of the pan. Press firmly with your fingers to compress and pack the bottom and up the sides.
Pour the cream filling over your dough and use a spatula or spoon to spread filling out evenly. Sprinkle the remainder of phyllo dough over the top and use your fingers to gently press dough down, distributing evenly and covering cream completely.
Place the konafa in a preheated oven and bake until phyllo is golden brown and crispy (about 30 – 45 minutes). Remove from the oven and pour syrup over top. Set the konafa aside to cool. When the konafa is cooled to room temperature, invert the cake onto a serving plate. Optionally, garnish with a few of your favorite nuts.
Cut and serve.
Notes: you can experiment with substituting vanilla with ½ teaspoon rose water or orange blossom water. To make your filling extra creamy and rich, you can substitute the heavy cream with 4 tablespoons mascarpone cream and 1 cup ricotta cheese. Konafa pastry (a super fine vermicelli like noodle) isn’t available everywhere, however, some stores carry a similar noodle as “phyllo” dough in the frozen section.
Note: tastes differ when it comes to vanilla. Use more or less, depending on your preferred level of pure vanilla flavor.