Greek Ekmek Kataifi is a traditional Greek dessert that has three layers. The bottom layer is made of kataifi pastry which is baked and then soaked in a sugar syrup infused with cinnamon. The middle layer is a creamy vanilla custard. The final layer is a whipped cream topping that is slightly sweet. Finely chopped pistachios are generously sprinkled on top of the whipped cream and the result is beautiful and delicious.
One bite of Ekmek Kataifi will transport you to Greece! This popular dessert is part of a group of desserts called siropiasta, or syrup-soaked. After baking, the kataifi becomes nice and crispy, and it retains some of the toasted flavour after it is soaked in the syrup. Every bite is a combination of sweet and sticky syrup, creamy custard, airy whipped cream and crunchy nuts. No wonder this is one of the most popular Greek desserts!
Why this recipes works
Making Ekmek Kataifi is really easy if you plan ahead and follow my simple instructions. I have divided the recipe up in sections so that you can easily follow the directions for making each of the three layers. I also explain how you can make certain elements in advance, and how to ensure that the layers come together perfectly. Everyone who tries this recipe remarks on how light and delicious it is!
This summer our family was blessed to have our our mom’s brother, his wife (Thea Voula) and their eldest son visit from Kalamata, Greece. It was the most amazing time and part of our joy was cooking with our Thea Voula. She shared her amazing pasta flora recipe, this ekmek kataifi recipe, and another dessert I will be sharing with all of you soon!
Thea Voula is a priest’s wife, and she is often baking and treating an entire congregation of people. She described how, when going on bus trips with the church, she sometimes walks onto the bus with a large pan of Ekmek Kataifi. No worries that this is a dessert that needs to be refrigerated – it does not last long enough for this to be an issue!
I think you will love this dessert as much as my entire family and my friends do. I have made it several times, testing it until perfect. I have also taken the time to make it with cornstarch in the custards instead of the Greek Jotis vanilla pudding that my aunt uses.
Kataifi pastry – sometimes spelled kadayifi pastry, this is a dough made with water and flour. The thin batter is poured through very small spouts onto a hot metal plate where it is cooked very quickly in order to form thin, vermicelli-like strands. You can usually find kataifi pastry frozen, although in some Greek or Mediterranean markets you can also find it fresh, in the refrigerated section. If frozen, allow it to thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
Butter – As with most of my desserts I use unsalted butter so that I can control the amount of salt that I add to the recipe. To make Greek Ekmek Kataifi you will use butter in the pastry bottom and in the custard.
Cinnamon – I use both ground cinnamon and a fresh cinnamon stick in this recipe. The cinnamon stick is what is added to the syrup; this gives a great cinnamon flavour without changing the colour of the syrup.
Eggs – I use large eggs. If it seems that the amount of eggs in this recipe is too much, remember that this dessert serves 15 people easily!
Sugar – What is dessert without sugar!? Granulated white sugar is added to the syrup, where it is dissolved in water, and in the custard filling.
Vanilla powder – I have learned from my parents and typically I use vanilla powder in my baking. Vanilla powder is a more concentrated version of vanilla extract. Part of the reason I prefer it is that it does not change the colour of my food the way vanilla extract (which is usually brown) can.
Corn starch or Jotis Vanilla pudding mix – When I learned to make this recipe from my aunt who lives in Greece, she told me that she uses Jotis Vanilla pudding mix. I am able to find this product where I live, so that is what I used. However, you can also substitute the vanilla mix for an equal amount of corn starch. This works really well.
Heavy whipping cream – Use 35% whipping cream to make the top layer of your Ekmek Kataifi
Icing sugar – Also referred to as powdered sugar, I like to add it to my whipping cream because it does not leave a granular texture the way that granulated sugar might.
Cognac – A touch of cognac or brandy adds a lovely flavour to the whipped topping. It is subtle but lovely.
Pistachios – It is traditional for Ekmek Kataifi to be topped with finely chopped or crushed pistachios. I like to chop my nuts in a mini food processor and to leave some pieces larger than others.
Omit the alcohol – If you prefer not to use alcohol in your recipe simply omit the cognac. You can either replace it with the same amount of orange juice, or add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.
Use vanilla extract – It is not always easy to find vanilla powder. If you cannot find it, use double the amount of vanilla extract.
How to make
Making Greek Ekmek Kataifi is actually really simple. The only thing you have to do is plan ahead because the many layers need time to cool and set. The trickiest part may be getting the custard consistency just right, but follow my instructions and you will be ready to go!
Plan ahead by following these steps.
- Prepare your syrup – This can even be done the day before. Combine all the ingredients for the syrup into a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and boil for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
- Prepare your kataifi dough – Kataifi is usually sold as a compact mass; you need to pull it apart in order to make it fluffy and for the individual thin strands to be separated out. Use your hands to pull it apart so that you don’t have any compact clumps of kataifi left. Do not worry about tearing it!
Prepare the kataifi layer
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
Butter the bottom and sides of a 10 x 14 inch baking pan. Place your pulled apart kataifi dough in the baking pan and spread evenly.
Drizzle the melted butter over the kataifi dough and use your hands to toss the dough a bit so that the butter is dispersed throughout the kataifi. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake in middle rack of oven for 20 – 30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven.
As soon as you remove the kataifi dough from the oven pour the room temperature syrup over it. Use the back of a spoon to press down on the kataifi dough to make it compact, and even. Set aside at room temperature for a few hours (or overnight) before making the custard filling.
Make the custard filling
In a large pot combine your milk, butter, sugar, vanilla and corn starch or Jotis vanilla pudding powder.
Whisk your eggs together in a bowl so that the whites and yolks are combined. Pour into the pot with the milk.
Bring the heat up to medium and cook your custard for approximately 10 minutes or until thickened. Stir constantly with a whisk during this time to prevent the custard from burning.
Once your custard is thickened, pour it over the syrup-soaked kataifi. Spread it evenly over the kataifi. Place in the refrigerator for at least 2 to 3 hours until the custard is set.
Make the whipped topping
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or using a hand held mixer) combine the whipping cream, icing sugar and cognac. Whip until you can create peaks with the cream. Spread evenly over the cooled and set custard filling and then top with the chopped pistachios. Return to refrigerator to set for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Follow this cooking tips and helpful hints to make sure that you end up with the most amazing Greek Ekmek Kataifi!
Use a glass baking pan – This is not essential, but I love using a glass baking pan because I can monitor how brown the kataifi pastry gets on the bottom. It is important that it is evenly cooked and crispy.
Temperature of the syrup – When you are pouring the syrup over the hot baked kataifi pastry, ensure that the syrup is at room temperature. If your syrup is cold (straight from the refrigerator for example), then it can crack the bottom of your hot baking pan, especially if you use a glass pan the way I do. Alternatively, you can add hot syrup to a room temperature kataifi (if you baked the kataifi the day before for example).
Whisk custard continuously – If you don’t keep an eye on your custard, it can burn quite quickly, or get brown on the bottom of the pot. Then, if you whisk it you can bring up those browned bits leaving your custard with little specks of browned custard. Not the end of the world, but not ideal. To prevent this from happening, keep your heat on medium and stir continuously with a whisk, scraping the bottom of your pan.
Cook custard until thickened – Your custard is ready when it coats the back of a spoon. It will still be somewhat loose – this is okay as it will set after it is in the refrigerator. Refer to the video to see exactly what I mean about the consistency.
Remove moisture from custard – After chilling your custard you may find that there is some water from condensation that has accumulated on its surface. This is most likely to happen if you covered your still warm custard before placing it in the refrigerator. Use paper towels to gently dab the surface of your custard to remove the moisture before adding the whipped topping.
Cold whipping cream – To get the best result with your whipping cream make sure that it is cold. Some people recommend keeping your mixing bowl and whisk attachment in the freezer as well. Honestly I never take that step, and my cream works out just fine.
What to serve with
As a traditional Greek dessert, Ekmek Kataifi is the perfect end to any Greek meal. When serving it, I like to offer a lovely Greek coffee or Greek mountain tea. In warmer weather, it goes beautifully with a cold frappé coffee.
Frequently asked question
What is kataifi?
Kataifi is a dough made with simple ingredients – usually just flour, water, cornstarch, oil and salt. It is a shredded dough that looks like thin vermicelli noodles. It is used in many Greek and Mediterranean or Arabic desserts and recipes. Often you can find kataifi frozen; in this case you want to defrost it overnight in the refrigerator. Otherwise, you will find it in the refrigerated section of a Mediterranean grocery store.
Is kataifi dough the same thing as filo dough?
No, although they are similar. Filo dough is prepared as paper thin sheets while kataifi is shredded into fine strips.
What is Ekmek kataifi made with?
The base of Ekmek kataifi is the kataifi dough which is soaked in a syrup. There is a layer of custard on top of the baked pastry and then a third whipped cream layer that is finished with a generous sprinkling of crushed pistachios.
You can make this easy dessert even easier by planning ahead.
Make the syrup or bake the kataifi pastry the day before. If you have made the kataifi the day before and it is at room temperature, pour hot syrup over it. You will need to allow for at least 2 hours for the kataifi dough to set before you pour the custard over it.
You can make the custard, place it in pan, chill it, and make the whipped topping the next day. This dessert keeps well for several days.
Keep your fully assembled Greek Ekmek Kataifi in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 5 days.
Related Greek dessert recipes
Ekmek Kataifi is a Greek dessert where the pastry is soaked in syrup. There are many Greek desserts which use syrup and they are called siropiasta, meaning syrup-soaked. These are some of my favourites:
Galaktoboureko (Γαλακτομπούρεκο) The classic Greek custard dessert.
Portokalopita (Πορτοκαλόπιτα) An amazing orange flavoured dessert make with dried out filo dough.
Saragli or Baklava cigars Perfect parcels filled with nuts and spices.
This recipe will easily give you 15 servings of dessert. If you offer smaller pieces, you can even get more servings. The opposite is also true of course!
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Greek Ekmek Kataifi
- 1 10 x 14 inch baking pan
- 1 medium pot to prepare syrup
- 1 large pot to prepare custard
- 1 Whisk
- 1 Stand mixer with whisk attachment (or hand held mixer with whisk attachment) and a bowl.
For the syrup
- 4½ cups water
- 4 cups sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
For the kataifi pastry base
- 1 pound kataifi pastry
- ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
- 1 tsp cinnamon
For the custard
- 1½ liters milk
- 7½ tbsp corn starch or Jotis vanilla pudding mix
- ½ tsp vanilla powder increase the amount to 1 tsp if you are using cornstarch instead of Jotis vanilla pudding mix.
- 3 tbsp butter
- ¾ cup sugar
- 7 large eggs
For the whipped topping
- 500 ml heavy whipping cream
- 2 tbsp icing sugar
- 2 tbsp cognac
- 1 cup chopped pistachios
Prepare the syrup
- Combine all the ingredients for the syrup into a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and boil for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.4½ cups water, 4 cups sugar, 1 cinnamon stick
Prepare the kataifi layer
- Preheat oven to 350 °F
- Butter the bottom and sides of a 10 x 14 inch baking pan.
- Using your hands pull apart the kataifi strands so that you do not have any compact clumps of kataifi dough. The dough should be loose and pulled apart. Place in baking pan and spread evenly. See Recipe Note.1 pound kataifi pastry
- Drizzle the melted butter over the kataifi dough and use your hands to toss the dough a bit so that the butter is dispersed throughout the kataifi. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake in middle rack of oven for 20 - 30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven.¼ cup unsalted butter, melted, 1 tsp cinnamon
- As soon as you remove the kataifi dough from the oven pour the room temperature syrup over it. Use the back of a spoon to press down on the kataifi dough to make it compact, and even. Set aside ideally for a few hours at room temperature before making the custard filling. You can even leave it overnight. See Recipe Note.
To make the custard filling
- In a large pot combine your milk, butter, sugar, vanilla and corn starch or Jotis vanilla pudding powder.1½ liters milk, 3 tbsp butter, ¾ cup sugar, ½ tsp vanilla powder, 7½ tbsp corn starch or Jotis vanilla pudding mix
- Whisk your eggs together in a bowl so that the whites and yolks are combined. Pour into the pot with the milk.7 large eggs
- Bring the heat up to medium and cook your custard for approximately 10 minutes or until thickened. Stir constantly with a whisk during this time to prevent the custard from burning. See video here.
- Once your custard is thickened, pour it over the syrup-soaked kataifi. Spread it evenly over the kataifi. Place in the refrigerator for at least 2 to 3 hours until the custard is set. See Recipe Note.
To make the whipped topping
- In the bowl of a stand mixer (or using a hand held mixer) combine the whipping cream, icing sugar and cognac. Whip until you can create peaks with the cream. Spread evenly over the cooled and set custard filling and then top with the chopped pistachios. Return to refrigerator to set for at least 30 minutes before serving.500 ml heavy whipping cream, 2 tbsp icing sugar, 2 tbsp cognac, 1 cup chopped pistachios