Knafeh Nabulsieh or Middle Eastern Cheesecake

This Palestinian sweet, known as knafeh Nabulsieh, is a specialty of the city of Nablus in the West Bank, and is made using Nabulsi cheese – a semi-soft white brined cheese that becomes soft and stretchy when heated. You need to soak the Nabulsi overnight to reduce its saltiness. Originally, the recipe was first used in Morocco.

Knafeh Nabulsieh
Knafeh Nabulsieh

Alternatively, you can use mozzarella and mascarpone as a substitute. The cheesecake can be made with semolina (“fine knafeh”), shredded filo/phyllo (“coarse knafeh”) or a combination of both (“wavering knafeh”).

  • 125g/4½oz/scant ⅔ cup caster/superfine sugar
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp orange blossom water
  • 125g/4½oz/½ cup butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
  • a pinch of ground saffron or turmeric
  • 250g/9oz frozen shredded filo/phyllo pastry (kataifi), defrosted, or sheets of filo/phyllo pastry
  • 500g/1lb 2oz Nabulsi cheese or mozzarella
  • 500g/1lb 2oz mascarpone
  • ½ tsp ground mahlab (optional)
  • 30g/1oz/¼ cup shelled unsalted pistachios

Knafeh Nabulsieh
Knafeh Nabulsieh
  1. Dissolve the sugar in 125ml/4fl oz/½ cup water in a heavy-based saucepan.
  2. Add the lemon juice and heat over a medium-high heat until the sugar has dissolved.
  3. Bring it to the boil, stirring occasionally, then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for about 15 minutes until it reaches a syrupy consistency. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the orange blossom water.
  4. Set the syrup aside to cool.
  5. Put the melted butter and the saffron in a bowl and leave to steep for a few minutes, stirring just to incorporate.
  6. If not using kataifi, use kitchen scissors to shred the filo into the smallest-size strings possible.

    Knafeh Nabulsieh
    Knafeh Nabulsieh
  7. Put the shredded pastry into a mixing bowl. Pour in the saffron butter and use your fingers to rub the butter all over the pastry strings.
  8. Preheat the oven to 180˚C/350˚F/Gas 4. Shred the Nabulsi into another mixing bowl, add the mascarpone and mahlab, if using, and use your hands to mix it together.
  9. Generously grease a round 23cm/9in cake pan with butter and spread about half of the buttered filo/phyllo strings across the bottom.
  10. Spread the cheese mixture across the pastry layer evenly, then cover by spreading the remaining layer of filo/phyllo strings evenly over the top.
  11. Bake in the oven for 1–1¼ hours until the cheese is bubbling and the pastry is golden.
  12. A good way of testing readiness is to wiggle the pan gently – the  cheesecake should come away from the edges.
  13. Finally, place under a hot grill/broiler for 1–2 minutes to achieve an evenly golden top layer.
  14. Pour the cooled sugar syrup over the top before serving, or serve with the syrup on the side, if preferred.
  15. Grind the pistachios into a powder using a pestle and mortar, then sprinkle the powder over the cheesecake.
  16. Slice into squares and serve.
Knafeh Nabulsieh
Knafeh Nabulsieh

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