Thia is my first crack on making sweets for the blog. I am not a desert kind of cook. And I am not a good baker even. This partly because I have some kind of mental illness preventing me from following recipes. I just can't help to change any recipe I am attempting I add stuff, change things around and I don't do measuring cups. This could be detrimental to some delicate dough recipes. But hey what can I do, it is an illness after all!!
So, if you come from such poor abilities like myself you would attempt something safe first. NO! Not me unfortunately. I decided to create something totally from my imagination. I wanted to make cheese cake but I wanted to make it as Syrian as I can which was a challenge.
To make it Syrian I looked for inspiration from our sweets. There is very few cheese based Syrian sweets: Kenafeh Nabulsiyeh (Cheese Kenafeh), Katyef Be Jebneh (Cheese stuffed pan cakes , fried and dipped in sugar syrup) and Halwet Jeben. The first two didn't offer me any ideas but the third gave me some hope.
Halawet Jeben is a specialty sweet of Hama, a small city in central Syria. It is a sweet dough made from sugar, cheese and semolina. This is stuffed with cream, rolled and cut into bite size pieces. The dough is stiffer than what you would expect is cheese cake but that can be adapted.
Biscuit base was my next challenge as I decided against using the traditional base. Instead I thought Filo pastry is the perfect replacement. It can't get more Syrian than that. Almost 90% of Syrian sweets are made of it.
Choosing cheese was not a problem. Akawi was the obvious and only option. This cheese is used for all the above mentioned sweets. Akawi is a white cheese with low salt content, melts very well and doesn't have a strong flavour which makes it ideal for sweets making. The nearest tasting cheese is the dry mozzarella that you use for pizza. Although Akawi has a low salt content it still need to be de-salted before use in sweets.
Finally for the dish to receive the Syrian seal of authenticity, I added a splash of orange blossom water (Ma' Zahher is Arabic).
Here is my recipe:
Double Cream 200ml
Orange Blossom Water 2tbs
Akawi Cheese 500g
Filo Pastry 6 large sheets
If you are using frozen pastry make sure it is defrosted in advance.
Slice the cheese into 5mm thick slices. Put in a big bowl and under running water for 30 minutes to wash the salt away. Change the water completely every few minutes. The cheese should lose most of its saltiness. Drain.
Heat the oven to 160c.
In a pot add the milk, cream and sugar stir while heating till all the sugar has melted. Add the semolina and orange blossom water. Before boiling point add all the cheese and whisk till all the melted cheese is mixed in. Take of the heat and keep whisking for few minutes till it is smooth and well mixed.
Melt the butter and brush the base and edges of a 24cm (9inch) springform cake tin. Arrange your Filo pastry sheets so half of it is inside the tin and the rest out side to be fold on top. Make sure the pastry covers the whole tin(photo above right). You need to brush every layer with butter to stick in place.
Tip the cheese mixture. Wrap the Filo sheets on top in a random wrinkled pattern (photo). Again brush with butter.
Bake in the oven for one hour till nice and golden. Let cool down for few hours then put in the fridge over night.
Dust with icing sugar and enjoy.