Kataifi pastry, also known as kunafe pastry, is known to the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions. Typically, it is used in making different kinds of custard filled tarts or deserts (rolled or flat), and little baskets or fat cigars of baklava. All these recipes are delicious. When contemplating recently what to make for the upcoming Shavuot festival, which also coincides with Eid, I thought to make a crossover cultural dessert. One that crosses Jewish and Arab cultures and will be fitting both for Shavuot AND Eid. Since Shavuot is synonymous with cheesecake (and blintzes - I did an Emirati version of that last year), I thought a kataifi / kunafe cheesecake would be just right!
Kataifi pastry is simpler to work with than I thought. It is so fine, that you would expect it to be quite fragile. However, it is surprisingly robust and much easier to work with than I imagined.
Essentially, the process for making this cheesecake is not much different from any other cheesecake. Start with preparing the pastry, make the cheesecake filling, allow to set and then decorate.
I chose to decorate with berries and mint as Shavuot foods typically also include fruits (it is a harvest festival). However, the possibilities for decoration are limitless. You can use some of the left over kunafe strands, mixed with sugar and pistachios, sprinkle over the top and drizzle with a homemade cinnamon and honey syrup. Either way, this cheesecake is shall we say for the occasion 'heavenly'.
375g Kataifi Pastry
1 2/3 cup pistachios, chopped finely
1 1/2 tbsp caster sugar
100g unsalted butter, melted
500g Philadelphia cream cheese, softened
450ml thickened cream
2 tsp concentrated vanilla extract
120g icing sugar, sifted
Line an 18cm diameter x 9cm high OR 20cm diameter x 7cm high with cling wrap.
Preheat your oven to 170 deg Celsius.
Take the pastry and even if frozen, break off strands and cut them into 1 cm pieces. Loosen the strands and spread evenly over two large baking trays. .
Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden in colour. You will probably need to check the trays every couple of minutes to check that the pastry is not overcooking. Toss the kataifi when necessary to ensure that it cooks consistently and gains an even colour. Once cooked, allow the pastry to cool completely.
Then place 2 cups of the toasted kataifi into a bowl with 2/3 cup chopped pistachio nuts and caster sugar. Add the melted butter and mix with a fork until well combined. Set aside.
Pour the kataifi and nut mixture into the base of the tin and press firmly down. Place in the fridge while you prepare the cheesecake filling.
While the pastry is setting, prepare the cheesecake mixture.
Beat the cream cheese, icing sugar and vanilla extract using an electric mixer until smooth and creamy.
In a separate bowl, beat the cream until it is thick and firm to ensure the cheesecake sets. Fold the thickened cream into the cheese mixture until well combined. Pour the filling over the cheesecake base and smooth the top with a spatula so that it is flat.
Cover the top and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, or overnight. Alternatively, the cheesecake can be placed in the freezer until it sets.
Once it is set, you can prepare the decorating elements for the outside of the cheesecake.
Mix 1 ½ cups of the remaining toasted kataifi and 1 cup chopped pistachio nuts in a bowl.
Remove the cheesecake from the tin and its cling wrap base. Hold the cake with one hand underneath the base and using your other hand, grab a handful of the kataifi and pistachio mixture and press it against the sides of the cheesecake, slowly making your way around the cake until it is all covered.
Decorate with berries or any remaining extra crumble.