If you were sitting in Rick’s Café in the movie Casablanca in the early hours of the morning and felt like ordering something sweet, fresh, light and soft you’d probably find Ekmet Kataifi on his menu. This most famous of Turkish desserts is thought to have originated in a mountainous inland town, known to the Hittites, occupied by the ancient Persians and conquered by Alexander the Great. Perhaps it was Alexanders’ Legion cook, the one who also invented our gnocchi recipe, who first introduced Ekmet to the Greeks, because they have certainly claimed it as their own since then.

There are three layers to Ekmet: a shredded filo pastry base called kataifi, that is first oven toasted then soaked in sugar syrup.

A light colored custard layer:

And a whipped cream layer, traditionally topped with a garnish such as nuts:

It sounds complex and time consuming but this luscious dessert is actually very easy to make and well worth your time. You’ll need about an hour. Our recipe makes 8-10 generous serves and can be halved it if you need less.

Ekmet Kataifi

Pastry Base
1 x 375g packet of kataifi pastry dough
(found in good supermarkets in the refrigerated section, usually next to the philo pastry, the store buyers can easily order it for you if they don’t stock it. 357g is usually the smallest quantity sold. You won’t use much more than half but it freezes easily for next time and can be used to wrap prawns, fish and chicken etc before deep frying. I experimented with some cone shaped moulds with mine.)
1/2 cup melted butter, unsalted if you have it

Sugar Syrup
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
cinnamon, one stick or a pinch of powdered
a splash of fresh lemon juice

7 egg yolks
6 cups milk
1 + 1/2 cup sugar
7 tbsp of fine semolina flour (this is usually pale)
2 tbsp of corn flour
zest of 1 lemon or orange
1 tsp of vanilla

Cream Topping
2 cups or 500ml sweetened whipping cream
1 tsp of vanilla

Garnish Suggestions
Chopped, slivered or flaked nuts like almonds, pistachio or walnuts, chopped pitted dates, maraschino cherries

Heat your oven to 190-200 degrees celsius. Brush a deep ovenproof dish with some of the melted butter. Take your time to pull the Kataifi pastry strands gently apart and layer them on the bottom of your pan, pushing them down as much as you can to be 1-2cm high. Drizzle or brush the top with the rest of the melted butter and toast in the oven for about 20-30 minutes or until it goes a light golden brown. Check it often and turn if necessary.

While it’s cooking make the syrup by boiling the sugar, water and cinnamon in a non-stick pan if you have one. No need to stir, just shape the pan in the beginning and boil for about 6-8minutes and keep it clear and uncoloured. It will thicken up a little as it cools on the shredded pastry. Off the heat, add the lemon juice and pour over the hot toasted pastry base. If you used a cinnamon stick remove it.

To make the custard beat the sugar and egg yolks in a large saucepan or stock pot, again non-stick will be easier to clean and resist the custard burning on the bottom. Then gradually whisk in the corn flour, semolina flour and milk. Bring up to a boil, this will take a while and you’ll need a balloon whisk to keep it moving, then reduce the heat and cook until it thickens, stirring continuously to avoid lumps. When it won’t thicken anymore, remove it from the heat and whisk in the vanilla and lemon rind. Pour the hot custard over the syrupy pastry base and cool in the fridge completely before topping with a good layer of stiffly whipped vanilla cream.

Garnish and refrigerate until ready to serve. You’ll need a sharp knife to cut through the pastry and into serves.

Serves 8.

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One Response to Ekmet Kataifi

  1. Sally Parnis says:

    Definitely on for my next dinner party – although I put on weight just reading it!
    Thanks once again.

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