Vegan Ekmek Kataifi | Εκμέκ καταΐφι | pastry, syrup, custard and cream Greek dessert

ekmek kataifi
Difficulty: Medium Prep Time: 20 Mins Cook Time: 35 Mins Total Time: 55 Mins

Impress your friends and family with this indulgent vegan dessert. Ekmek Kataifi is like a custard slice crossed with baklava: shredded phyllo pastry soaked in sweetly spiced syrup underneath a layer of smooth custard topped with whipped cream, pistachios and cinnamon.

In Greek culture, Ekmek Kataifi is often served around Easter to gatherings of friends and family or at weddings and parties. It is the perfect dessert to serve at parties because you can make it the day before in a large batch. As it is sweet and rich, you only need to serve a small square for each person. This recipe can get 12-16 servings out of a medium-sized tray.

Origins of Ekmek Kataifi

This dessert is a perfect example of how food is not limited by borders. Many traditional dishes have been labelled as part of a national cuisine but the recipes have been influenced by neighbouring cultures. The word ‘ekmek’ means bread in Turkish and the related Turkish dessert ‘Ekmek Kadayifi’ is made with bread/cake soaked in syrup and topped with cream. (I will be posting a recipe for the Turkish version too…) Over time, the version named ‘Ekmek Kataifi’ has developed in Greek culture which replaces the bread with kataifi (shredded pastry) and adds custard and spices. So here we can see two similar desserts that share origins but have developed slight differences as they branched off in different cultures.

As a Linguist, I also find it interesting that the Greek version is still called ‘Ekmek’ (Turkish word for bread) even though the Greek recipe doesn’t include bread anymore.

I will be researching food and national identities in more depth. So sign up to my newsletter if you are interested in exploring the links between food, culture and politics with me.

Cooking tips

This dessert does take time to make because it needs to cool in the fridge between layers. However, you can spend this time doing other things and come back to it when you are ready. It is a great food to prepare the night before an event. Or just something sweet to have ready in your fridge all week. The beautiful flavours and textures of this sweet traybake are definitely worth the effort.

Kataifi / kadayif is shredded phyllo pastry. You can buy it frozen from international food shops. When cooking with kataifi allow it time to defrost either at room temperature or in the fridge first. If the packet is already open, stop the pastry from drying out by wrapping the pack in a damp tea towel. If the pastry is too dry, it will break up when you separate the strands.

The most delicate part of this recipe is the extra-firm custard, which should sit solidly on top of the pastry, just like in a custard slice. To achieve this, take time to squash down lumps of cornflour into the plant milk to form a smooth paste. When is it cooking, keep whisking the custard to ensure lumps don’t form. Check the base of the pan isn’t getting sticky. The custard will thicken quickly at the end – stir for a minute longer so that all of the custard is thick with no runny bits. Then take it off the heat and stir before emptying it onto the pastry. If yours does go lumpy, whisk it hard and you should be able to smooth it out.

Cooking tips summary:

  • defrost pastry
  • keep the pastry in a damp tea towel before use
  • spend time removing lumps of cornflour in custard while cold
  • keep whisking custard to stop lumps forming

Ingredient swaps

If you can’t buy vegan double cream (I used Elmlea), then you can use whipped cream that comes in a spray can. These are usually vegan. If you can’t find that either then you can use aqua faba. Aqua faba is the liquid from cooked beans such as chickpeas. It has a protein structure similar to egg and can be whipped up with sugar to make a light cream. Just search ‘aqua faba double cream’ to find a recipe.

This recipe uses pistachios but you can replace with walnuts or almonds or not use nuts at all.

If you have access to mastic (a spice made from tree resin), you can add a little into the custard. As this is not widely available, I have not included it in the recipe but it is a typical Greek ingredient for this dessert.

ekmek kataifi

Like this recipe? You might like to try:

Fasolia – Green Bean Stew

Keşkül – Vegan Almond Milk Pudding

Tahini & Grape Molasses Cake – Tahinli Pekmezli Kek


    Pastry base
  • Syrup
  • Custard
  • Cream and garnish
  • Equipment


0/5 Instructions
    Pastry base
  • Once your pastry is defrosted to room temperature (see above for detail), preheat the oven to 160c. Separate the pastry strands being careful not to break them. Melt the vegan margarine. Brush some onto a deep baking tray or casserole dish, covering the base and sides. Lay the pastry in the tray making sure all the corners are filled. Tuck in any loose strands. Drizzle the remaining melted margarine across the pastry. Then bake for 1 hour until crisp and golden.
  • Syrup
  • While the pastry bakes, put all the syrup ingredients in a pan. Bring to the boil stirring slowly until the sugar dissolves. Leave on medium heat to simmer for 3 mins. Let cool. The syrup must be cold when the pastry comes out of the oven. (Put in the fridge if needed.) Once the pastry is baked, remove from the oven and immediately pour the syrup all over. Remove cinnamon and cloves. Leave aside.
  • Custard
  • In a saucepan, mix together a little plant milk with the cornflour until there are no lumps left. Sieve in the icing sugar and combine. Gradually pour in the rest of the milk as you stir. Cook on low heat and whisk continuously. Check the cornflour isn't sticking to the base of the pan. Just before it begins to boil, the custard should thicken quickly. Stir for a minute longer to make sure it is a thick consistency throughout. Turn off the heat before it boils.
  • Setting the custard
  • The custard should be too thick to pour and you can place it straight onto the pastry. If it is a little too thin to sit without dripping down, then wait for it to cool slightly first. Spread the custard across the pastry, still in the deep tray. Smooth a sheet of cling film across the top of the custard (to prevent it from forming a skin) and tuck around the tray. Leave in the fridge for 2-3 hours. The custard must not be warmer than room temperature when you add the cream - otherwise, it will melt.
  • Cream and garnish
  • Pour the cream into a mixing bowl and sieve in the icing sugar. Whip up with a handheld or electric whisk until stiff peaks form. (Don't overwhisk - it can lose it's form.) Chop or crush the nuts into small pieces. Mix in the cinnamon. Remove the dessert from the fridge and, if cold, take off the cling film. Spread the cream across the custard. Sprinkle the nuts and cinnamon across the cream then leave in the fridge until serving (preferably a few hours). Serve in individual squares.


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#cake  #cream  #custard  #nuts  #party  #sweet  #vegan  

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