Qatayef asafiri recipe: The dessert that tastes best one month out of every year The Denver Post

By Reem Kassis, The New York Times

Mohammad Ahmed Mattour has been running Halawiyat Al-Bustan, one of the most famous pastry shops in Ramallah, in the West Bank, since he took it over from his father in 1994. Giant platters of desserts, from baklava and knafeh to basbousa and kullaj, line the windows and shelves year-round. But come Ramadan, the balance of business shifts, and qatayef, stuffed semolina pancakes, take center stage.

“We sell about 200 a day,” said Mattour, 43. “Not pieces. Kilos.” Throughout the month, especially near the hour of iftar — the breaking of the daily fast — the line outside the shop spills into the street, with at least 30 people waiting at any given moment.

Mattour’s shop is not alone: The scene is the same at other pastry shops across Ramallah and cities throughout the Arab world. Today, there are two common varieties of these pancakes, which are cooked only on one side. One is stuffed with either cheese or walnuts, folded into a half-moon, then fried or baked and soaked in syrup. The other, smaller in size, is stuffed with cream and only half sealed. It’s then drizzled with a thick sugar syrup and eaten fresh. People usually purchase the pancakes to take home and stuff, but it’s also possible to buy them stuffed and ready to fry or bake, or even stuffed, fried, soaked in syrup and ready to eat.

What really sets qatayef apart from other desserts is the fact that they are a treat usually reserved for Ramadan, which begins later this week, and are a sign the holy month has arrived.

“They just taste different in Ramadan,” said Eman Al-Ahmed, a fashion designer who lives in Jordan. Al-Ahmed, 47, makes her qatayef at home and explained that she could prepare them throughout the year, given how easy they are to make. But like most in the Arab word, she and her family eat qatayef only during Ramadan, and they do so every single night of the month.

“Perhaps it’s the nostalgia and the generations-long tradition,” Al-Ahmed said. “But qatayef are this ritual that brings everyone in the community together.”

Qatayef likely date back to the Middle Ages. Although they are intimately connected with the Muslim fasting practice in Ramadan, they transcend religion. As the treats show up in shops, everyone eats them.

Jenny Haddad Mosher, 47, a Palestinian Christian whose family does not observe Ramadan, said that during her childhood in Kuwait, where she was born, everyone felt the shift in the air during the month of Ramadan. But it was the qatayef her father brought home regularly that she remembers most. “We would go nuts when Baba walked in the door carrying that package,” she said. “It came on a big paperboard tray, wrapped in paper and tied with string, all the qatayef laid out beautifully around the qatr container.” (Qatr is the sugar syrup that is used to sweeten the stuffed pancakes, either by soaking them in it or drizzling it on top.)

The tradition is just as strong for Arabs in the United States. Rawan Shatara, 34, a pastry chef in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who emigrated from Jordan as a toddler, used to make the two-hour drive to Dearborn with her parents several times during Ramadan to buy qatayef. “It’s such an ingrained part of the month,” she said.

Now, she makes qatayef herself, but she still likes to make the trip to Dearborn, where, she said, “you really feel the atmosphere of Ramadan, just like being back home.”

At Mattour’s pastry shop in Ramallah, sales usually fluctuate throughout the month, spiking during the first and last days of Ramadan. This year, he has had to raise prices on qatayef, as inflation has affected pantry staples after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Maybe people will cut back on quantities, maybe they will buy 1 kilogram instead of 1.5 kilograms, or maybe they will buy it less often and not every night,” he said, adding that there’s “no way, absolutely no way, Ramadan can pass by without people eating qatayef.”

Recipe: Qatayef Asafiri

By Reem Kassis

Qatayef are synonymous with Ramadan. It is during this month that bakeries start making the pastry for these stuffed pancakes, and the lines spill into the street as people wait their turn to buy them. Golden underneath and speckled with bubbles on top, qatayef are cooked only on one side. They can be large or small. The large ones are normally stuffed with nuts or cheese and folded over, then fried or baked, and drenched in sugar syrup. The small ones, called qatayef asafiri (or little bird qatayef), are stuffed with a creamy filling, only half closed, then dipped in pistachio and drizzled with thick, faintly floral sugar syrup. The batter is very simple; the key is to make sure it is the right consistency, like that of heavy cream.

Yield: About 30 pieces

Total time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

For the syrup:

  • 1/2 cup/100 grams granulated sugar
  • A squeeze of fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon orange blossom water or rose water, or a combination
  • For the batter:
  • 1 cup/125 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup/40 grams fine semolina flour
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant or quick-rise yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground mahlab (optional, see Tip below)
  • 1/4 teaspoon orange blossom water or rose water (optional)

For the filling:

  • 1 cup/8 ounces mascarpone
  • 1/2 cup/120 grams heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon orange blossom water or rose water, or a combination
  • 1/4 cup/about 1 ounce finely ground unroasted, unsalted pistachios, preferably Turkish, for finishing

Preparation

1. Prepare the syrup: In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, lemon juice and 1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower heat and simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool completely, then stir in 1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water and 1/2 teaspoon rose water.

2. Make the batter: Add 1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons water to a blender or food processor. Add all the batter ingredients and process until smooth. The batter should be quite loose, similar to heavy cream in consistency. Set aside to rest for 15 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, prepare the filling: Place the mascarpone, heavy cream, confectioners’ sugar, 1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water and 1/2 teaspoon rose water in a small bowl. Use a handheld electric mixer to whip into stiff peaks. Refrigerate until ready to use.

4. Cook the qatayef: Place a medium nonstick skillet or griddle over medium heat until hot. Mix the batter to ensure it is smooth, then pour separate 1-tablespoon portions of batter into the pan, fitting about 4 circles. Cook qatayef until the entire surface is covered in small bubbles and the center loses its sheen, about 30 to 45 seconds. (You might be able to cook off more at a time once you’ve determined the right temperature and consistency of the batter.) If the bubbles are large and sparse, then your batter is too thick; stir 1 tablespoon of water into the batter to thin. Qatayef cook only on one side; the base should be uniformly golden and the top covered in small bubbles. If the disks brown too quickly — or unevenly — underneath before the batter loses its sheen on top, lower the heat slightly.

5. Transfer each cooked qatayef to a large tray lined with a dish towel and cover with another dish towel while you cook the remaining batter.

6. Fill the qatayef: Fold each into a half-moon, bubble side on the inside, and pinch to seal the edges together halfway. Using a teaspoon or a piping bag, fill the opening with the cream, then dip the exposed cream filling into the ground pistachios.

7. Arrange the filled qatayef on a serving platter. These can be covered in plastic wrap and refrigerated for several hours until ready to serve. To serve, drizzle the cooled syrup over the qatayef and offer guests more syrup to add to their individual plates, if they choose.

Tip: Mahlab, the kernel found inside the pit of a cherry, adds a floral and nutty aroma to sweets and gives Arabic cheese its distinct flavor. It is available whole or ground from Middle Eastern grocery stores, but goes rancid quickly, so buy it whole and grind it as needed, storing the rest in the freezer until needed.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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