Katayef (Arabic Sweet Dessert Pancakes)
Recently, one of my cousins decided to have a 'baking day' where he made a big and beautiful plate of katayef, which not only got me all sorts of salivating but also inspired me to introduce katayef to the rest of you!
I feel like many cultures have something similar to katayef, a dessert pancake filled with chopped nuts and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. In India, for example, certain varieties of gulab jamun are dumplings will with nuts. In the Ukraine, varenikis is a dessert similar to the apple dumpling, which swaps out apple with chopped nuts, sweet cheeses, and berries. And in South Korea, of course, there is the street food, hotteok, a pancake literally filled with warm sugar, spices, nuts, or sometimes seeds.
Katayef is a pancake made with smeed, also known as 'farina' or 'fine semolina'. It is then filled with chopped nuts, spices, and sugar before being folded over and pinched closed to create dumpling shape. Among the Middle East's Muslim population, katayef is most often enjoyed during Ramadan season as a delicious way to break the fast. However, it is also enjoyed throughout the year as a staple dessert on special occasions.
Here is the recipe for katayef in two variations - with walnuts or with sweet cheese (known as katayef assafiri). Not only is katayef fun to make, but it's also beautiful in every stage! Try it out the next time you want to surprise friends with a fun and delicious addition to the usual dessert spread.
Katayef (Stuffed Pancakes)
To make Thin Attar:
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups of water
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. orange blossom water (Mazaher), optional
Mix sugar and water and bring to boil. Add lemon juice and boil for 7 more minutes. When cool, add orange blossom water (optional). Makes 2 1/2 cups of Thin Attar.
To make Pancakes: (Note: To make the cheese-stuffed katayef, use half the amount of these listed ingredients.)
4 cups smeed (Farina)
8 cups water
1 cup flour
1 package yeast
Dash of salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 cup rendered (or clarified) butter
2 cups Thin Attar (see recipe above)
To make Walnut Stuffing (Option 1):
6 cups walnuts, chopped
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp. rendered (or clarified) butter
To make Cheese Stuffing (Option 2):**
1 1/2 lbs. sweet cheese (Syrian or Ricotta)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp. mazaher (orange blossom water)
1. Mix all stuffing ingredients and set aside.
2. Mix smeed, flour, and salt.
3. Place warm water in an electric mixing bowl. While mixing on high speed, add the smeed mixture gradually to form a thin pancake mix.
4. Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup of water and a dash of sugar. Add to the pancake mixture. Mix for 1 more minute. Set aside for 40 minutes, stirring every 7 minutes (so water won't separate from smeed to avoid a lumpy mixture). Add the baking soda and keep stirring. When the dough bubbles, it is ready to be baked.
5. Use an electric frying pan set at 450 degrees.
6. FOR NUT FILLING: Pour 1/4 cup dough and cook like a pancake, on one side only. Remove from fine when pores form on the surface of each cake. Place the pancakes on a smooth surfaced towel until they cool.
7. Fill each pancake with the stuffing mixture. Fold by pressing edges together to make a semicircle. Brush each on both sides with warm butter.
8. Place on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees in a preheated oven for 10 minutes, or until light gold.
9. Remove from oven and dip in cold syrup (thin Attar). Makes about 35 pieces.
6. FOR CHEESE FILLING: Pour 2 tbsp. dough and cook like a smaller pancake circle, on one side only. Remove from fine when pores form on the surface of each cake. Place the pancakes on a smooth surfaced towel until they cool.
7. Stuff the pancakes with the cheese stuffing, closing one edge half-way to look like stuffed shells.
8. Do not dip in syrup. Pour 1 tbsp. of thin Attar on each.
9. Decorate with ground pistachios or one red preserved cherry for each shell, optional.