Kenafeh cheesecake

I still get asked why I have a food blog. Or why I take pictures of the things I make. Because I want to remember. I want to look back and find joy in the things I was able to create with my own two hands. It’s that simple.

Kenafeh cheesecake
Kenafeh cheesecake

When I take a hiatus from baking, it’s usually because I’ve lost my mojo temporarily: I don’t feel like creating anything. And I did take an extended hiatus this year. It’s not unusual. Usually the rest of my life has emotionally exhausted me. I have too many things to think about and even the thought of bringing out my mixer or staring at a pile of dirty dishes is enough to stress me out.

But when I finally get going in the kitchen, mixing and pouring and stirring, it’s not because I’ve suddenly come into extra hours in my day. It’s because I feel like creating something, and I need an escape. When I’m in the zone, I’m not thinking about the pile of forms I need to fill out for my kids, the baskets of laundry waiting for me, that annoying comment I can’t get out of my head, or all the meetings I need to prepare for, the following day. I’m simply thinking about the task at hand. Some people meditate, I bake.

That was an extremely long-winded way of saying: I’ve got my mojo back and I’ve been going through my cookbooks, my pinned recipes, folded-over pages from long-forgotten magazines. This was a recipe I emailed myself long ago. I wasn’t able to get to it right away because, I had to find orange blossom water and didn’t get a chance to go the Middle Eastern grocer I always go to; cheesecake is so decadent and heavy you really need to serve it to many people to make it worth your while; and finally I knew this wouldn’t be something I could whip up quickly.

Finally, I found the time. And it was worth the wait. For those who aren’t used to it, kenafeh is a Middle Eastern dessert of either semolina dough or tell kadayif, with a layer of mild cheese in the middle that melts slightly when warmed up, and it’s covered by a delicious simple syrup.

Despite my efforts, including a water bath in the oven, leaving the cheesecake in the oven for an hour after turning it off, and then leaving it in the oven with the door cracked open, my cheesecake still cracked. I half suspect it’s because of some little boys’ legs stomping through my kitchen, but I’ll never know.

In any case, I was able to mask the crack with this easy fix: I cut out a narrow piece of parchment paper and laid it on top of the crack and I was able to proceed and decorate. Just don’t forget it’s there or it’ll end up on someone’s plate. The recipe decorated the top of the cake with the chopped pistachios but I brushed the attar all around the cake and covered it with the pistachios. That helped to mask any imperfections where there had been dents in the cheesecake from the springform pan or where the cake had browned unevenly.

You can find the recipe for this dessert here.

Slice of Kenafeh cheesecake

Substitutions:  I didn’t make any substitutions but I did have a bit of a freer hand with the rosewater and orange blossom water than the recipe calls for. But that’s because I’m used to working with both and I know how much I like. In the future, though, I’d probably use half, or all of the kadayif from the package and then decide how much I need for the springform fan. The amount used for the decoration on top was fine, but I felt the bottom crust could have been slightly thicker and I could have had it come up slightly around the bottom edges like in the photo from the original recipe.

Would I make this again?: Absolutely, it was the perfect mix of Middle Eastern kenafeh and New York cheesecake. Who would have thought those two desserts could come together in such sweet harmony. And I know it was a hit because both my father-in-law, an Armenian who grew up in Beirut, and my father, an Armenian who grew up in Jerusalem, both emptied their plates. It’s an exotic alternative to the desserts we end up relying on time and time again.

Grade: Five stars out of five. Delicious, attractive, and a unique take on two favourite desserts from different continents. This one’s a show-stopper and you should bring it out at special occasions only. My only advice? Serve fruit on the side because no other dessert will live up to this one. You’ll also have plenty of attar left over for those with the super sweet tooth who want more to put on top.





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