Kanafeh (Middle Eastern Cheese and Phyllo Dessert) Recipe

Filled with salty cheese and drenched in a floral syrup, kanafeh—a phyllo dessert found throughout the Middle East—is a study in contrasts.

Photographs: Vicky Wasik

Why This Recipe Works

  • Baking the pastry in a cast iron skillet promotes even browning.
  • Thoroughly mixing the shredded phyllo with ghee ensures the pastry crisps up all the way.
  • Cooking the syrup to the soft-ball stage ensures that enough moisture has been driven off, so the phyllo doesn't get soggy.

Crunchy shredded phyllo encases stretchy, gooey cheese in this traditional Middle Eastern dessert that's all about contrast. After baking up golden and crisp, the pastry is drenched in a floral rose and orange blossom syrup, which plays off the salty cheese and nutty pistachios, so it never gets too cloying. Don't worry if you can't find the traditional nabulsi or akkawi cheeses; stretchy mozzarella or cheese curds are a great substitute.

July 2018

This recipe was cross-tested in 2022 to guarantee best results.

Recipe Details

Kanafeh (Middle Eastern Cheese and Phyllo Dessert) Recipe

Prep 20 mins
Cook 40 mins
Active 20 mins
Total 2 hrs
Serves 12 to 16 servings

Filled with salty cheese and drenched in a floral syrup, kanafeh—a phyllo dessert found throughout the Middle East—is a study in contrasts.


For the Kanafeh:

  • 8 ounces (225g) nabulsi, akkawi, or mozzarella cheese, roughly chopped or shredded

  • 2/3 cup clotted cream, crème fraîche, or cream cheese (5 ounces; 140g)

  • 1 pound (454g) shredded phyllo, thawed

  • 1 1/2 cups ghee, melted (12 ounces; 340g)

For the Syrup:

  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar (11.5 ounces; 325g)

  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

  • 1 teaspoon rose water

  • 1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water

  • 3/4 cup chopped, toasted pistachios (3 ounces; 84g)


  1. Getting Started: Set the oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat to 400°F (204°C).

  2. For the Kanafeh: In a medium bowl, combine the cheese and clotted cream and set aside. With a serrated knife, slice the shredded phyllo crosswise into 1/4- to 1/2-inch lengths and transfer to a large bowl. Pour the melted ghee over the phyllo and, using your hands, toss and mix the phyllo with the ghee in a gentle rubbing motion to ensure that all the phyllo shreds are evenly coated, about 5 minutes.

  3. Transfer half the coated phyllo to a 10-inch cast iron skillet, evenly distributing it along the bottom of the pan. Use the bottom of a glass or measuring cup to firmly pack the phyllo, creating an even crust. Top this with the cheese mixture, spreading it evenly over the first phyllo layer and leaving a 1/2-inch border along the rim. Spread the remaining phyllo over the cheese and once again firmly pack it down. Bake in the preheated oven until deeply golden brown, about 40 minutes.

  4. For the Syrup: Prepare the syrup while the kanafeh bakes. In a medium sauce pot, add the sugar, lemon juice, and 1 cup of water. Simmer until the syrup reaches 234°F (112°C), or when a small amount dropped into ice water forms a soft ball. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly. When the kanafeh is ready, finish the syrup by adding the rose and orange blossom waters.

  5. To Serve: After removing the kanafeh from the oven, immediately drizzle on about 1/3 of the syrup. Invert the pie onto a serving platter and drizzle with the remaining syrup. Sprinkle with chopped nuts and serve right away.

Special Equipment

Bread knife, offset spatula, 10-inch cast iron skillet, rimmed baking sheet


The brined nabulsi and akkawi cheeses need to be soaked in water overnight to remove excess salt. Alternatively, you can gently simmer the cheese in water (and changing the water if it becomes too cloudy) for about 15 minutes.

This Recipe Appears In

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
469 Calories
34g Fat
36g Carbs
7g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 12 to 16
Amount per serving
Calories 469
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 34g 44%
Saturated Fat 19g 95%
Cholesterol 79mg 26%
Sodium 269mg 12%
Total Carbohydrate 36g 13%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Total Sugars 20g
Protein 7g
Vitamin C 0mg 2%
Calcium 116mg 9%
Iron 1mg 7%
Potassium 101mg 2%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)