Kadayif (Kataifi-Kadaif) – Thin strips transform into a sweet, crispy dessert

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WHAT'S SPECIAL

Kadayıf, or also known as kadaifi, is one of those desserts that can deceive you. Drenched in syrup, you may expect a soft dough, but once you take your first bite you’ll realize the texture is delightfully crispy, a texture enhanced by the nuts inside. If you order kadayıf in Turkey, you’ll be astonished by how many different ways it can be prepared. Though in Greece, the version is rolled up into small pockets. But where does this dessert come from in the first place?

What is Kadayif (Kataifi-Kadaif)?

Kadayıf is made from “tel kadayıf,” a thin dough that is baked just enough to hold its own shape. Those “tel kadayıf” are then shaped into various forms and filled with nuts. After being baked in the oven, the thin strips get their famous crunch, and once out of the oven the treat is doused in syrup, infusing it with sweetness.

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The origins

The predecessor of kadayıf we know today has been frequently mentioned in the “Thousand and One Nights” epic. That version is quite similar to the English crumpet and may even be its ancestor. This pudding-like version of the dessert stuffed with nuts can be still found in Turkey, though under different names such as “yassı kadayıf”, “taş kadayıf” or “taş ekmeği.” (1)
Throughout the history of the Turks, kadayıf has been repeatedly mentioned and various recipes have been created. This is fortunate, as many recipes have been lost through time. Many cooks have recorded the ingredients and ratios but not necessarily the method.
Muhammed bin Mahmud Şirvani, a 15th century Ottoman physician, translated the recipe of kadayıf from the Arabic cookbook “Kitab al-Tabikh,” though the book did not specify where it originated from. (1)(4) It’s not quite certain where the “tel kadayıf” version originated, but this dessert became one of the most beloved desserts of the Ottomans, only seconded to Baklava. (2)
There are many different versions that can be found throughout Turkey. One of which is “kadayıf dolması” from the eastern province of Erzurum, where “tel kadayıf” is stuffed with nuts but “telkadayıf” is wrapped up very tightly. This version is fried and then doused in syrup. Because it is fried, the outer shell is even crunchier than the other versions. Many pastry shops offer a flat version where “tel kadayıf” is pressed down on a pan, covered with nuts and enclosed with another layer of “tel kadayıf.” This is then baked and doused in syrup and is usually decorated with nuts and served upside down, making for a clean top. Nowadays, the dessert is attributed to Antakya, but can be found throughout Turkey. It is especially popular with the Palestinian communities in Jordan. (3)

Etymology

Kadayıf comes from the plural of the Arabic word “qatifah” the plural for velvet. The same ingredient is though called “kunafa” in Arabic, which in Turkish refers to another dessert similar to kadayıf but stuffed with cheese. The Greek kadaifi, kataifi or kadaif comes from the Ottoman Turkish kadayıf, and from there has found its way into English as well.

Kadayıf - thin strips transform into a sweet, crispy dessert

While many different versions have been mentioned here, they mostly vary only in their shape. In the instructions, the ball-like shape can be ignored and just half of the “tel kadayıf” can be pressed down into a pan, then adding the nuts and closing it off with the other half, before pressing it down again.
Servings 15 portions
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Total Time 55 mins

Ingredients

  • 750 gr tel kadayıf
  • 160 gr crushedwalnuts or hazelnuts
  • 200 gr butter
  • 100 ml oil
  • 1.2 lt water
  • 800 gr sugar
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

Instructions

  • Put the sugar and water into a pot and bring to a boil. Let simmer for five minutes then turn off the heat and add the lemon juice. Give it a good stir and let it cool off.
  • Cut the tel kadayıf to 15-20 cm strips and roll them with nuts. Place them on a pan, leaving some space in between them. Melt the butter and add the oil. Pour the oil mixture over the kadayıf pieces and bake them at 180 degrees Celsius, until they are golden brown, for about 15-25 minutes.
  • As soon as the kadayıf are out of the oven, pour the cooled down syrup over them and let them soak.

Notes

Bibliography

(1) Priscilla Mary Işın, “Sherbet and Spice: The Complete Story of Turkish Sweets and Desserts”, 2013
(2) Priscilla Mary Işın, “Bountiful Empire: A History of Ottoman Cuisine”, 2018
(3) Ghillie Basan, “Middle Eastern Kitchen”, 2005
(4) Deniz Gürsoy, “Tarihin süzgecinde mutfak kültürümüz”, 2013
Course: Dessert

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