Monday, December 3, 2012

Katayif, Oriental Pancakes, a Pre-Christmas Delicacy

December is upon us, one of my favorite months of the year. Despite the cold, it's a month that warms my heart and fills me with the Christmas spirit. I've always been one of those people who impatiently wait for the 25th of December.The excitement of the celebration, the stress of buying the perfect gift, the frenzy in the streets, shops and markets is just amazing. But Christmas season is a culinary feast where each region around the world has a specific set of traditional sweets and treats that are served before and after Christmas eve.

Back home, the preparation for Christmas starts on the 4th of December; on that day, in some Near Eastern  countries , we celebrate Saint Barbara, an early Christian martyr. Among the traditions, several cereals and grains such as wheat, chickpeas, lentils, are sprouted in small pots to be used in the decoration of the Nativity scene. As they sprout, the green they bring is seen as a symbol of hope in the birth of Jesus Christ.

The West has Halloween, the Eastern Christians celebrate Saint Barbara, during which little children wear creative disguises and roam the streets singing songs and knocking on doors to be rewarded with treats and money.

Sweets abound in that day too. Wheat is boiled and perfumed with cinnamon and anise then it is served with a sprinkle of sugar or honey and decorated with nuts. More elaborate sweets are prepared too such as a fermented dough that is fried in balls than dipped in syrup known as Ouwamet. Mchabak is even more elaborate and requires some skills to make, it is a fried dough shaped in a bicolor laced fashion then dipped in syrup. But what I loved most during Saint Barbara are the Katayif which are the Arabic version of pancakes minus the eggs and butter. 

The katayif  recipe is very old, it is said to go  back to the 7th-8th century, while others say it goes back to the Fatimid caliphate era (909-1071). The story says that a cook had created a a flat dough that he filled with nuts, arranged it on a plate so people could pick up the one they desired and this is why they are called katayif which in Arabic means 'picked up'.

These baked goodies are especially consumed during the holy month of Ramadan all over the Arab World and in some other religious celebration like Saint Barbara.

We always used to help my mom baking those panckaes, she used to prepare the dough and we used to take care of the rest. Baking, chopping the walnuts, filling them and of course eating them!
Since I moved to Spain I always made sure to make katayif on the 3rd of December. It makes me feel that I´m not that far away from home and this year is not going to be an exception!

For the dough you need:
  • 200 g flour
  • Teaspoon of granulated sugar
  • Tsp icing sugar
  • 1 tsp of instant yeast
  • 1/4 tsp bicarbonate
  • A dash of salt
  • Few drops of lemon
  • 300 ml water

Combine all the ingredients but the flour in a blender. Whisk all together well then add the flour, blend for few seconds until all combined. You will get a thick runny batter, leave it to rest for about 30 min.
The batter is bubbly and almost doubled.

Heat a non stick pan, pour a bit of the batter and cook until the top is dry. The dough will have small holes when it dries!
Put the cooked ¨pancakes¨  on a clean towel, and let cool. When cooled cover them so they won´t harden.

For the filling you need:
  • 150 g walnuts
  • 2 tbsp cinnamon (you can add the quantity you desire)
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp orange blossom water
  • 1 tbsp rose water

Chop the nuts, add cinnamon and sugar then the rose and orange blossom waters. You can also fill the katayif with kachta (or heavy clotted cream if you want) and decorate with pistachios and rose petal jam!

The walnuts katayif are usually fried, but mom never did, and I must admit I really prefer them like that, just delicious, soft from the outside crunchy in the inside, and served with a drizzle of syrup, just amazing! You can of course fry them in deep vegetable oil if you want to, but while fried food is good, when something is just as good without being fried, I prefer to eat the healthier option.

As for the sugar syrup, just combine a cup and a half of sugar and a cup of water, add a small stick of cinnamon, a cardamom pod, let it simmer for 15 min and when it is ready add few drops of lemons juice, teaspoon of orange blossom water and another of rose water and take off the heat.

To fill the walnuts katayif, put about a teaspoon and a half of the filling in the center, then close the katayif by joining the sides together, press to make sure you seal them well. As for the kachta ones, you join the sides of the pancake half way to create a small pocket which you fill with Arabic cream or other creams you want.

I´m sure once you try these pancakes you will do them over and over again. They are so easy to make, and you can even eat them without any filling. They are very healthy and have low fat and calories. You can just drizzle them with  honey and some nuts making them an ideal breakfast!

Enjoy and happy Saint Barbara!


  1. That's one fantastic recipe! I need to show it to my pancake mad son!
    Thank you so much for sharing a bit of culture and history, Rita. x

    1. Thank you so much my dear, your opinion matters a lot to me! And recipes that speak for their cultures are a favorite of mine!

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