It’s always exciting learning about new foods and trying new recipes, especially so when the recipe hails from another part of the world. And if the recipe happens to be a scrumptious dessert, so much the better! How about a small, hand-held yeast pancake, folded over and filled with creamed cheese and nuts, then fried until crunchy on the outside, and then served with a sweet and delicately scented orange blossom syrup. How does that sound?
To us it sounds delicious, and we had never heard of it until our friend Pay Chen posted a photo the other day of Qatayef, the iconic desert from Syria and the Middle East. Pay is part of a group that has sponsored a Syrian family now residing in Toronto. One of the boys just turned ten, and to celebrate his birthday and to mark the ten- month anniversary of the family’s arrival in Canada his mom mad a big plate of these irresistible beauties.
Qatayef are a relatively common site in the street markets of The Levant and Middle East, and are especially popular during Ramadan. As you might expect, recipes vary from region to region, from cook to cook. Sometimes the qatayef are stuffed with cheese and nuts, or just cheese, or just nuts; pistachios, walnuts and almonds are most often used, and currants and even raisins are sometimes added too. Most commonly they are fried in oil, but sometimes baked and then served with the sweet syrup that may be flavoured with orange-blossom water, vanilla, or cinnamon, or a combination.
One thing to keep in mind is that you can basically stuff the pancake with any filling or variation you like, be it sweet or savoury. The common denominator is the pancake itself; in fact the name qatayef refers to the pancake batter. Hitting the griddle to produce a small, round pancake about 5 inches in diameter, the pancake is only cooked on one side then removed from the griddle.
The filling is then applied to the uncooked side, bubbly looking and still slightly tacky. The pancake is folded over on itself and the edges pinched together to seal it, like a dumpling. Next the dessert is fried until golden brown on the outside.
News Flash: the longer you fry it the crispier and darker it will become, so this may be a matter of preference. Served with a generous helping of cinnamon scented orange blossom syrup, it easy to see why this dessert is famous in Syria, and quickly becoming a favourite in our City!
Makes a dozen
Note: if you are using goat cheese, cream cheese or labneh, remove from refrigerator and bring to room temp.
1 teaspoon yeast
1 ¼ cup warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
¾ cup milk
2 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup chopped nuts: pistachios, walnuts, almonds etc
½ cup goat cheese, cream cheese or labneh
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon orange-blossom water
Orange-blossom cinnamon syrup:
½ cup sugar
¼ cup water
1/4 cup corn syrup
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons orange-blossom water
To prepare the batter: in the first bowl add sugar to the warm water and add the yeast. Leave for about five minutes or until yeast is obviously active and bubbly. Stir in milk. In a second bowl sift together flour, salt and baking powder. Whisk the ingredients of the second bowl into the first bowl. Batter should be smooth and not overly thick (if it is too thick the pancakes will too puffy making them hard to fill and fold over). Cover the bowl and let it rest for about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, prep the filling and make the syrup.
Filling; cream together cheese, walnuts, honey and orange-blossom water.
Syrup: Mix sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in corn syrup and cinnamon and continue to cook for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the orange-blossom water. Keep warm; it will thicken as it cools.
To make the pancakes heat a lightly greased griddle or frying pan to medium hot. With a ladle or ice-cream scoop, pour batter onto griddle; pancakes should be about 5 inches in diameter. Cook for about 3-4 minutes or until several bubbles appear on the top. The bottom should be golden brown. Remove pancake(s) from griddle and set aside, bottoms down. Don’t stack them or they will stick together. Let cool to room temperature.
Place about a tablespoon of filling on each pancake, leaving space around the perimeter. Wet your finger and run it along half the pancake’s edge; fold the pancake in half and crimp together/seal the edges with your fingers.
To fry, heat 1-2 inches of vegetable oil in a pot to 365F, 165 C. Choose an oil with a higher smoke point like canola, peanut oil or olive oil. I used coconut oil. Gently place the qatayef in the hot oil, do not overcrowd. Fry for about 2 minutes, then turn the qatayef over with tongs and fry for another 2 minutes. Remove from oil with tongs and set on a wire rack.
Drizzle syrup over the qatayef or serve with the syrup.