Whatever you call it, everyone calls it goooooooood

I took this from Claudia Rodin's brilliant book, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.  It looks super duper complicated and impressive, but these pastries, called by various names (konafe, knafe, kadaif, kataifi), couldn't have been more simple to toss together.  The most difficult part will be finding the pastry in the first place.  Ms. Rodin calls for it to be made more like a pie, but also gives instructions for making them as individual pastries.  Oddly enough I didn't quite understand her explanation of how to put them together, so I just went from my experience making roulades and cinnamon rolls instead.  Whether my way of doing this is authentic, I have no idea.  Take it as my take on the traditional.  All I know is it worked and turned out like I had it in my head and it was daaaaaaaaaamn good.

Konafa - Knafe - Kadaif - Kataifi

First, find a pound of kataifi (HA!).  It's basically shredded phyllo dough.  You'd probably be able to find it at well-stocked higher-end grocery stores or at a middle eastern grocer/importer/market.  If you go through a food wholesaler, you'll have to buy a whole case (and if you have an extra freezer and likely to make these all the time, it might be the easiest way to go because that is where you keep the extra kataifi).

Get the filling ready by dumping about 4-6 oz each of walnuts and pistachios (or all walnuts, or all pistachios, or some other nut) for a total of 8-12 oz of nuts into a food processor.  Ms. Rodin's filling is just the nuts, but I added some honey (2 tbsp) and some cinnamon (1 tsp).  Pulse the nuts until ground, not too fine and and not too chunky.  I still like to have some meat to bite into rather than just nut dust.

Now make the syrup.  Take 2 cups of sugar and 1 cup of water and bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes.  Remove the pot from the heat and stir in 2 tbsp honey and 1-2 tbsp orange flower water or more to taste.  Set this aside to cool completely.

Now get a half pound of unsalted butter melting over low heat.  Almost there, folks...

You will be overwhelmed when you unwrap the kataifi.  Like me you will probably say, "WTF?"  Just start easing it apart with your fingers over a very large bowl.  Keep separating the strands with your fingers by pulling and tossing and breaking until you get a big mound that resembles an anemic muppet.  Now spoon some of the butter over the kataifi and toss it with your fingers to evenly coat the dough strands.  Use all the butter.

Lay out a full piece of parchment paper (24"x16.5").  Take portions of the butter-soaked kataifi and evenly cover the parchment to the edges.  Sprinkle all of the nut mixture in a line about an inch or two from the top of the sheet.  With the help of the parchment, start to roll the kataifi from the top to the bottom, keeping the roll very tight as you go and keeping the roll from spitting out the sides of itself.  Once you have it all rolled up, you can use a yard stick to apply even pressure along the base of the parchment roll to ensure it's rolled tightly.  Using the parchment, lift the roll and place it on a sheet pan and lay the parchment flat to bake.  Now, you probably don't have a full sheet pan or an oven to fit a full sheet pan, so you can do the same technique but with the kataifi and filling divided between two half sheets of parchment.

Bake the sucker at 350º-375º until done and at the end, raise the heat to 400º-425º for a bit to brown the pastry.  Be very sure not to under bake these or you'll have raw dough in the middle.  By gently pressing the roll with your fingers after about 45 minutes, you will be able to tell if the dough is crisp throughout or if there is still raw dough inside.

Remove the pastry from the oven and pour some, most or all of the cooled syrup over the roll.  The first time I thought I had poured enough, but as they sat, they dried out.  So these guys will take more syrup than you think they will.  Allow the pastry to cool and syrup to absorb and then, with a serrated knife, cut the roll into portions (I got eight large rolls as pictured out one roll).

These pastries, like really good croissants, make a huge mess when you eat them.  This is half the fun!!  This kataifi is really a joy to eat.  You can't help by smile while crunching into it.  One of my co-workers was beside herself when she walked in and saw these.  She said they are her absolute favorite, but where she grew up they wouldn't have nuts, they would be soaking in syrup and they would have them from breakfast with milk.  I can only imagine this was the origin for shredded wheat cereal.