When I lived in Canada,  knafeh was a treat to be offered — this iconic Palestinian dessert; not only is it incredibly divine, but one appreciated the effort that would go into making it. Nowadays, most people in the Middle East order knafeh from their local baker.

This rich delicacy dessert is known to have originated in the Palestinian town of Nablus and is often served during special occasions. Knafeh enjoys continued fame throughout the Middle East, partly due to its use of white-brine cheese called Nabulsieh, which also originated in Nablus. It’s considered one of the most renowned and most delectable of Arabic sweets. Go anywhere in the Levantine and if you are presented by this most delectable blend of shredded phyllo, farmer’s cheese, and sugar known to humankind then you will know that you are truly appreciated.

The Bearded Bakers…

Ameer El-Issa, a Sydney architect-turned-baker, takes on this traditional Middle Eastern dessert by celebrating his Palestinian roots in a totally creative way. The bearded party-makers do their baking and dancing in shipping containers that have been converted into a kind of food theatre. There is no menu, and only knafeh to offer, making it a deliciously unique and innovative concept.


Preparation time

  • 20 minutes

Cooking time

  • 30 minutes


  • 6 – 8 pax


  • 1 (16 ounce) box shredded phyllo dough
  • 1 (15 ounce) container ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 12 ounces unsalted butter

For the Syrup

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon rose water (optional)


  • Use a food processor to finely chop the frozen, shredded phyllo dough. The strands should be about the size of a grain of rice.
  • Transfer the dough into a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together the ricotta, mozzarella, and 1/3 cup sugar.
  • Place the butter in a large liquid measuring cup or bowl with a spout. Heat the butter in a microwave until completely melted, and let it sit for several minutes until a thick white foam has formed on top.
  • Clarify the butter by using a spoon to skim off the foam.
  • Pour the butter into the bowl of phyllo dough. Avoid pouring in the white milk solids at the bottom of the clarified butter. Use your hands to mix the butter and dough together. Make sure to take handfuls of the dough and rubbing it between your palms absorb the butter.
  • Evenly spread the buttered phyllo dough into a 9×13-inch pan and firmly press it into the bottom and edges. Spread the cheese mixture onto the dough, avoiding the edges of the pan.
  • Bake in the preheated oven until the cheese is slightly golden and the edges of dough are brown and bubbly, 30 to 35 minutes.
  • While the knafeh is baking, prepare the syrup. Combine the water and 1/2 cup sugar in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the lemon juice. Simmer, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is thickened, 5 to 7 minutes. (Do not let the mixture turn golden and caramelize.)
  • Turn off the heat and add the rose water; set aside.
  • Remove the knafeh from the oven. Place a large platter or baking sheet over the baking dish.
  • Using oven mitts, carefully invert the baking dish onto the platter so the phyllo is on top.
  • Pour the syrup over the knafeh.
  • Cut into pieces and serve while hot.



Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Tanya knew that Palestine was her symbolic homeland. Always curious about her identity and connecting with her roots, she was eager to strengthen her ties to the Levant and traveled the region, desperate to learn more. It wasn’t until her first trip to Palestine that she became spiritually and emotionally connected.

She studied Political Science and Sociology at the University of Toronto. She then moved to the UAE, supporting numerous NGOs related to children’s welfare in the region. When she had her own family, she created the My Olive Roots platform in the hopes that her children and the Arabs diaspora would have a place to connect, learn and preserve their roots. Tanya enjoys discovering humanist stories and exploring the connection of food and art with culture.

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