The Land of Middle Eastern Sweets is an area about as well known to me as the Gangnam Style dance, which is to say I recognize it when I see it but have no hope of personally reproducing it. But on a recent trip I discovered a fantastic sweet called knafeh (pronounced ka-NAH-fuh). Hannah Saaydeh, co-owner of Jaafer Sweets in Albany Park, explained that knafeh is a sweet with Palestinian origins that is made from only a handful of ingredients: unsalted butter, shredded phyllo dough, fresh cheese, syrup, and pistachios.
When exploring unfamiliar territory, it's best to have a friendly, knowledgeable guide, and I couldn't have asked for anyone better than Hannah. She and her husband, neither of whom have a background in baking, bought Jaafer about five years ago. Shortly afterward, Hannah set out to make sure they were the best Middle Eastern bakery in the area. Not only has she tasted all of her competition, but she also makes it a point to buy the highest quality ingredients (she says it's the high quality clarified butter that makes Jaafer's knafeh beat all others) and maintains a commitment to making everything fresh daily. Jaafer is also a preservative-free bakery, and their sweets are even sold at Whole Foods.
Click through the slideshow to learn more about what makes Jaafer's knafeh stand out as well as a peek at some fascinating old-school equipment.
Jaafer's baklava is also not-to-be-missed. With so many fantastic variations (chocolate walnut, cashew fingers, sugar-free, even vegan), it makes sense that Hannah confessed her current goal is to make baklava the next cupcake.