Ramadan Desserts: ‘Atayif
Ramadan is almost over and we’re ending it this year with a sweet treat called ‘atayif (really spelled qatayif), which are special little pancakes filled with a variety of stuffings, then deep-fried and sweetened with sugar syrup. In Jordan, this dessert is only made during Ramadan. There, you can buy the pancakes ready-made, and all you have to do is stuff them and fry them yourself. I have not been able to find the pre-made cakes around where I live in Turkey, so I made them from scratch. They’re surprisingly easy to make, and very delicious. Although I received a lot of diverse recipes and recommendations from friends and family when I asked around about how to make the pancake batter, the particular recipe I’m sharing here is one that I’ve found to be generally standard in Palestinian households. It incorporates semolina and mahlab spice* into the batter, two things I really love (major credit goes to Khalto M. for recipe help)!
*Mahlab spice, made from the ground seed kernels of a particular variety of cherry, is used in lots of Middle Eastern cuisines to give baked goods and desserts a special flavor. For me, the signature smell of mahlab always conjures up memories of baking date cookies for Eid. If you can’t find it in the Middle Eastern section of your grocery store, you can omit it from the recipe below.
In a bowl, combine 1 cup each of flour, semolina, water, and warm milk, as well as one teaspoon of yeast, and one teaspoon of mahlab spice. Mix well.
Cover and let rise for a couple of hours. When ready to make the pancakes, uncover and give the batter a stir. You can add a bit of water if it’s too thick. It should have a slightly runny consistency.
Heat an ungreased, non-stick griddle or frying pan on medium-low heat. Ladle out some batter onto the griddle and spread it around in a circle to your desired size (mine were about 2.5 inches in diameter).
Let it cook on one side; bubbles will start to appear all over the side facing up. Once the entire surface is covered with bubbles and cooks through, remove the pancake from the griddle. Do not flip over and cook on the “bubbly” side!
Cover the cooked pancakes with plastic wrap as you continue to make the rest, so that they don’t dry out and become difficult to work with later on.
To stuff, place a little bit of filling in the middle and fold the pancake over, pinching the edges with your fingers to close tightly. The cakes should be moist and the edges will glue together easily. The traditional fillings are:
1) crushed walnuts mixed with cinnamon and a bit of sugar syrup, to sweeten
2) sweet dessert cheese – we used unsalted mozzarella because that is what was available here, but you can use ‘akkawi cheese if you have it, or even ricotta (mixed with a little bit of cornstarch to keep it held together)
My husband likes combining cheese and walnuts in one – not very traditional but tasty :) !
Once folded up, fry them in oil on medium-low heat until golden brown on each side.
Take them out, and quickly drizzle with sugar syrup to taste. Serve hot!
Some people prefer to bake them instead of frying them for a healthier alternative. I always fry :D
Sugar Syrup: in a saucepan, combine one part sugar with half part water. Stir then heat up until it starts to boil, then add a squeeze of lemon juice. Let boil for about a minute, then remove from heat and let cool. It will thicken to a proper syrup once it cools completely.
Variation: to make another type of ‘atayif that does not require deep-frying, make the pancakes following the recipe above, but make them smaller in size (about half the size). Once cooked, fold each pancake in half, and start pinching the edges together 3/4 of the way up, leaving an opening at the end. Spoon a bit of fresh cream (gaimar or clotted cream or kaymak) into the opening to fill the cake, then dip the open part into crushed pistachios and arrange on a plate. Drizzle with cooled sugar syrup when ready to serve. These are called ‘atayif ‘asafeeri.