They are called the pancakes of the Middle East. The qatayef or قطايف (also called atayef, katayef or kataif) sit on all tables during the holiday season of Ramadan.
They are found in Iraq, the Middle East, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and of course Syria. These small pancakes with holes are filled with cream of milk or a mixture of nuts. Then, qatayef is generously imbibed with thick sugar syrup perfumed with rose water or orange blossom typical of oriental pastries.
What is qatayef?
Qatayef is a pastry that is widely popular in the Middle East. Etymologically, the word qatayef comes from the Arabic word qataf which means “pick up”.
These are filled pancakes that come in the form of a cone. These small pancakes are special because they come in the form of a thick crepe made from flour and fine semolina that is cooked only on one side, which turns golden.
The other side of the crepe has many holes on the surface and is very sticky. During cooking, small bubbles form on the surface of the pancakes and give them this lace texture.
Syrian qatayef come in the form of closed cones on one side that are filled with a thick milk-based cream. This semolina thickened milk cream is very light and is prepared by adding unsalted cheese. You can use ricotta or mascarpone instead of the traditional cheese called akawi, which is difficult to find outside the region of origin of qatayef. The horns once formed are dipped in crushed pistachios.
Then, qatayef are abundantly drizzled with a sugar syrup perfumed with rose water or orange blossom water. The cream contains little sugar. In fact, only 3 tablespoons of sugar syrup are used to perfume it. On the other hand, it is the sugar syrup which will subtly soften this pastry by infiltrating through the holes of the pancake and which will perfume the qatayef homogeneously.
Although qatayef is found with different fillings, there are two main types:
– The standard qatayef can be help in the palm of the hand and are quite filled. You will often find these qatayef closed over the entire length. Their shape represents a crescent, symbol of Islam since the twelfth century.
This sort of qatayef came from street vendors in the Middle East. The standard qatayef is traditionally garnished with a mixture of hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, raisins, powdered sugar, vanilla extract and cinnamon.
– Another version is topped with unsalted mozzarella cheese (often nabulsi or akkawi). The qatayef are then deep-fried before being dipped in hot sugar syrup.
We are featuring here the mini version of these delicious pancakes. They are called atayef asafiri in Lebanon and Syria. Unlike standard atayef, they are not deep-fried. They are therefore lighter and more digestible than standard atayef.
How to make qatayef
There are obviously several modes of preparation. Also, the pancakes and the cream can be made the day before. They can be garnished the next day, provided you keep the pancakes in an airtight bag.
For the preparation of those pancakes with holes, it is necessary to take some precautions. Remember to space the pancakes well in the pan. It is recommended to use a ladle and pour one third of the batter at a time at three places in the pancake pan. Be careful not to make them too wide.
Also, it is best not to overcook the pancakes and take them out of the heat when they are a bit sticky on the upper side. They will continue to cook while cooling. Thus, it will be easier to seal the cones filled with the cream.
Also, be careful not to stack hot pancakes on top of each other as they may stick and tear.
Tips for perfect qatayef
There are some tricks to make perfect qatayef. Indeed, it is possible top miss the preparation of the pancake batter. If the dough is too thick, the bubbles will not form and the ends of the pancake may not stick when trying to form the cones.
The pan should be hot when pouring the pancake batter. Small bubbles must form on the ends of the pancake and then, the bubbles must appear in the center. If bubbles do not form, it is because the preparation is too thick.
Gradually add up to ¼ cup of cold water to the preparation.
In order for the pancakes with holes to not stick on the plate, prepare two baking trays with a silicone baking sheet or parchment paper. Cover the pancakes with a cloth so that they retain their moisture. Thus, they will not crack when you form the qatayef cones.
However, if you put the pancakes directly on the baking sheet, it will be difficult to take them off as they will stick while cooling.
Another tip: you have to garnish the pancakes with cold cream. Otherwise, the cream may run on all sides and it will be difficult to garnish with the crushed pistachios. The aesthetic result will not be guaranteed.
The different variants of qatayef in the world
In the Maghreb, pancakes with holes are also well known. They are served with butter and sprinkled with a honey and orange blossom water syrup. They are called baghrir (ghrayef, hatita, khringo, korsa, talilayt, tighrifi or tibouajajin) or “pancake with 1000 holes” in Morocco.
The kenafeh is a dessert similar to the katayef, typical of the city of Nablus in the Middle East and widespread in Syria. Like the qatayef, it is prepared from an unsalted cheese. This dessert is abundantly moistened with rose water syrup.
In Sicily, cannoli are a popular filled with ricotta and sprinkled with icing sugar.
We highly encourage you to prepare this recipe. You will get 40 beautiful qatayef. Feel free to be creative with the filling.
- 1¼ cup flour
- ⅓ cup extra-fine semolina
- 1½ cup whole milk or more if necessary
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 tablespoons caster sugar
- 10 oz. ricotta or mascarpone
- ½ cup heavy cream
- ¾ cup whole milk
- 2 teaspoons extra-fine semolina
- 3 tablespoons orange blossom water or rose water
- 1½ oz. pistachios chopped (or finely crushed)
- 1 cup caster sugar
- 1½ cup water
- 3 tablespoons orange blossom water or rose water
- A few drops lemon juice
- Dilute the yeast in half of the milk, warmed at 95 F.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk all the ingredients together: flour, semolina, remainder of the milk, sugar and yeast diluted in the milk.
- Cover the bowl with a cloth and let stand for 1 hour at room temperature and away from drafts.
- Heat a pan over medium heat.
- Add some batter without spreading out. The goal is to obtain pancakes and cook on one side only until they turn golden.
- Do not place the pancakes on top of each other while they are still hot. And do not cover them right away either. Set aside.
- Heat the milk, heavy cream and semolina.
- Stir constantly until obtaining a thick cream.
- Cover with plastic wrap on the surface of the cream and set aside in the refrigerator.
- When the cream has completely cooled, whisk in ricotta or mascarpone. Set aside.
- In a saucepan, heat the sugar, water and orange blossom water. Bring to a boil and boil for several minutes until the syrup thickens. It must not be colored. Add the lemon.
- In the center of a small pancake, place a tablespoon of cream. Fold the crepe in half and pinch to seal the edges but only to two-thirds, in order to get a cone shape.
- Pass the top of the cone in the pistachios.
- Renew the operation until all the pancakes are used.
- Refrigerate for 4 hours.
- Sprinkle with syrup when serving.