Qatayef asafiri: Enjoy the cream-filled pastry this Ramadan

By Evan Kleiman

Qatayef asafiri is the beloved Ramadan pastry made of tender semolina pancakes filled with cream. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Years ago as I was driving through East Hollywood, I stopped in at a humble pastry shop I had never patronized before. I browsed the case, asked a bunch of questions, and stopped when I saw small pancakes stuffed with some type of cream, the ends dipped in ground pistachios. I asked for a few of them, at which point the woman behind the counter neatly tucked them onto a cardboard plate and drizzled them with sugar syrup. I bit into the pastry to discover a tender pancake pocked with holes on the uncooked side and the creamiest thickened cream I’d ever experienced. 

They were atayef (qatayef) asafiri, a Middle Eastern pastry frequently eaten for Iftar, the evening break fast meal during Ramadan. I’ve since had them many times as well, as the more frequently eaten fried katayef that can be filled with either savory fillings like spiced ground meat or cheese or lightly sugared chopped walnuts. 

Qatayef are filled with walnuts and fried for Ramadan. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

The more recent qatayef asafiri I’ve had are from Armenian pastry shops with a filling of cooked clotted cream similar to blancmange, a sweetened milk pudding thickened with cornstarch. They’re delicious, but I was chasing that original experience with the extra smooth, rich clotted cream, so I decided to make some. After all, the clotted cream, made by Karoun, Abali and Damavand dairies, and called either “breakfast cream,” “sharshir,” or simply “cream,”  is readily available at Armenian, Iranian and Middle Eastern groceries in Los Angeles and Orange County. If you can’t find it, mascarpone is a suitable substitute. The pancakes themselves are similar to baghrir, the Moroccan yeasted semolina pancakes riddled with tiny holes like crumpets. Katayef are made with a mixture of semolina and all-purpose flour and like baghir are cooked just on one side. This makes them very light and pliable enough to be folded around a stuffing, and moist enough that the uncooked sides stick together holding the filling in. The pancakes made for filling with cream are small, about three inches across, while those made for stuffing and frying or baking are a bit bigger. 

You can find many recipes online for both the pancakes and the savory stuffings. For the pancakes, I used Palestinian writer Reem Kassisrecipe. She also tells you how to make the filling from mascarpone. But I urge you to find the locally available clotted cream. It’s lovely for breakfast with lavash and honey. If you’re looking for a katayef recipe that isn’t behind a paywall, here is one and another.

And if you’d prefer to buy these snacks, here are three local bakeries that carry them. Always call first to make sure.

Le Gout - East Hollywood
Sarkis Pastry - Glendale
Maral’s Pastry - Van Nuys