Atayef (a.k.a. Qatayef or Katayef) are wonderful Middle Eastern pancakes that are leavened with yeast and baking soda (or baking powder). Their surface is full of little holes which makes them perfect for soaking up syrup. They are generally made without eggs and can easily be made without milk, as we will be doing in this recipe.
The pancakes are cooked on one side only, leaving the other side soft and sticky. This makes it easy to seal them. Atayef can be filled with nuts, ricotta cheese, ashta cream, hazelnut spread or whatever your heart desires!
Different Types Of Atayef
When filled with nuts, atayef are generally folded in half and pinched to seal completely. They can be fried or baked until crispy. Depending on how sweet you want your atayef to be, you can dip them in syrup, or simply drizzle some on top.
You might have also seen atayef that resemble little cones, also known as atayef asafiri. The pancakes are partially sealed to show off a cream filling (such as ashta), which is then dipped in chopped nuts. This type of atayef is generally served without any prior frying/baking.
We will learn today how to make the atayef and I’ll show you how to make a simple walnut filling. The recipe isn’t hard to follow, but there are a few things to watch out for. Be sure to read all the tips before starting.
Let’s quickly go through the process of making atayef so you have a general idea. And then we can talk about the ingredients you’ll need for this recipe.
- Whisk all the dry ingredients except for the baking soda.
- Add warm water and orange blossom water (if using).
- Cover the batter and let it rest for about an hour.
- Dissolve the baking soda in water and add it to the batter.
- Cook the atayef.
- Fill and seal the atayef.
- Bake, if desired.
To make atayef, you’ll need:
- Instant yeast: Atayef are leavened with yeast, in addition to a chemical leavener (baking soda/powder). Instant yeast doesn’t need to be dissolved first so you can simply mix it with the dry ingredients. Once you prepare the batter, you will need to cover it and let it rest for about 60-90 minutes. The rise time will depend on how cold your kitchen is. The cooler it is, the longer it will take for the batter to get bubbly. This also applies to the temperature of the yeast. If you took the yeast out of the refrigerator, it will take longer. You’ll only need half a teaspoon of yeast for this recipe so you can store the remaining yeast, tightly sealed in the refrigerator.
- Flour: All-purpose flour will give structure to the atayef.
- Semolina: Use fine semolina for this recipe. The semolina will provide a nice texture and flavor to the atayef. In case you missed it, we baked with semolina last time when making sfouf (Lebanese turmeric cake).
- Sugar: The sugar will add just a hint of sweetness to the atayef and a little bit of color. It will also be a source of energy for the yeast and make it rise a bit faster. But if you really don’t want to use any sugar, you can leave it out.
- Salt: To enhance the flavors.
- Baking soda: The baking soda will leaven the batter along with the yeast. Baking soda should be added after letting the batter rest, not from the beginning.
Why add baking soda just before cooking the atayef? Because baking soda will react as soon as the wet ingredients are added. If you add it from the beginning, it will lose most of its leavening power while you let the batter rest. Baking powder, on the other hand, can be added early on to the batter. It is generally double-acting. It will react twice: once when the ingredients are combined, and once when exposed to heat.
- Water: You’ll need lukewarm water for the atayef batter. It should ideally be between 38-43°C (100-110°F). You can use room temperature water if you prefer but it will take a bit longer for the yeast to do its job. The water shouldn’t be too hot however or it will kill the yeast. If you don’t have a thermometer to check the temperature, you can simply check with your hands. The water should feel slightly warm. You’ll also need a little bit of (room temperature) water to dissolve the baking soda, after the rest time.
- Orange blossom water: This is optional so don’t worry if you don’t have any. It will add a nice flavor and smell to the atayef. But you can replace it with water if you want.
If making the walnut filling, you will need:
- Walnuts: You can use other nuts if you prefer, such as almonds or pistachios.
- Sugar: You can use as much as you’d like. The amount given in the recipe will yield a filling that has a moderate sweetness level. I find that the atayef can easily be enjoyed without resorting to syrup. If you want to make the syrup, you can decrease the amount of sugar in the filling (or not!).
- Cinnamon: For a wonderful flavor and smell which goes really well with walnuts. This is optional.
- Rose water: For a subtle flavor and an incredible smell when baking the atayef in the oven. It will also help the filling come together a little. If you don’t have any, you can simply omit it.
And finally the ingredients for the syrup, which is completely optional. I personally skip it when using this walnut filling. You’ll find the instructions for making the syrup in the recipe card notes, just in case you’d like to make some.
For the syrup you will need sugar, water and lemon juice. I also like to add a little bit of orange blossom water and rose water to flavor the syrup.
Okay let’s get started! This atayef recipe was adapted from one that I found in my mother’s recipe notebook.
How To Make Atayef, Step-by-Step
Prepare the batter
- Place the yeast in a large bowl then cover with flour. Add the semolina, sugar and salt and whisk until combined. The yeast shouldn’t come into direct contact with the salt or sugar which is why we cover it with flour first.
- Pour the lukewarm water in 4-5 additions, whisking in-between. The water shouldn’t be hot or it will kill the yeast. The temperature of the water should ideally be between 38-43°C (100-110°F).
- Add the orange blossom water and whisk just until smooth. Don’t overmix or your atayef will be tough and rubbery.
Let the batter rest
- Cover and let it rest in a warm place for 60-90 minutes, or until the surface is bubbly. The time will vary depending on how cold your kitchen is, how warm the water added was etc.
- In the meantime, line a large baking sheet with a clean kitchen towel and set another towel aside to cover the atayef. You’ll also need a ladle (small one, if you have) and a spatula, to lift the atayef. I initially lined the baking sheet with parchment paper as pictured below but the atayef were soggy.
Why use a kitchen towel? 1) If you don’t cover the atayef, they will quickly dry out and you’ll have trouble sealing them. 2) The towel will absorb some of the moisture. Placing the atayef straight onto a plate or even a parchment paper will make them soggy if kept covered for too long.
Add the baking soda
- When the atayef batter is ready and full of bubbles, stir together the baking soda and 30 g (1.1 oz.) of water in a small cup. Add the soda mixture to the batter and briefly whisk to deflate the batter and incorporate the baking soda.
Why dissolve the baking soda in water? If you try to add the baking soda directly to the batter without dissolving it first, you might end up with clumps. You’ll also have to mix longer to combine everything which could lead to tough atayef.
Consistency of the atayef batter
The batter will be on the runny side and should spread easily. If the batter is thick, add a little bit more water and briefly whisk to combine. You should also notice lots of bubbles forming when you pour the batter onto the hot pan. If this doesn’t happen, it might be because your batter is too thick.
Cook the atayef
- Grease a nonstick frying pan or griddle with oil. You can wipe the pan with oil using a paper towel. Place on medium-low heat (heat 4-5 out of 9 for example).
Testing the temperature of the pan before pouring the batter: Sprinkle a few drops of water on the pan to determine if it’s hot enough. If nothing happens, keep heating the pan. When the drops sizzle gently, you can start pouring the batter. If they sizzle violently, reduce the heat.
- Pour about 1-2 tablespoons of batter in the middle of the pan, depending on the size you’re aiming for. I use a large ladle and fill about a third of it to make 10 cm (4 inch) pancakes. The batter is quite runny and will quickly spread so stop pouring the batter as soon as you are happy with the size. Making several atayef at once: I prefer making one pancake at a time. But you can make several if your pan is large enough and you are comfortable doing that. Just make sure that the pan is flat or the batter will start running and your pancakes won’t be round.
- Remove the atayef from the heat as soon as there are no more wet spots left and the surface isn’t shiny anymore. Don’t flip it. The pancake has to stay soft so that you can seal it later on. Check the bottom side of the atayef, which was cooking. If you find it too dark, reduce the heat before cooking the next one. If it’s too light, you can try increasing the heat a little.
- Place the atayef in a single layer (no stacking) on the prepared baking sheet and cover with the kitchen towel. Repeat this until you’ve used up all the batter. If the atayef starts to stick to the pan at any point, wipe it again with oil. Be careful it’s very hot!
Let’s make our filling while we wait for the atayef to cool down a little. You can use a food processor to grind the nuts if you want. But I always end up with large pieces of nuts and powder so I prefer to crush them using a rolling pin.
Prepare the walnut filling
- Place the walnuts in a resealable plastic bag. Use a good quality (food grade) bag so that it doesn’t rip. Get rid of the air then seal the bag well.
- Place the bag on a flat surface and crush the walnuts as much as desired using a rolling pin.
- Transfer the chopped nuts to a bowl. If you got a bit too carried away crushing the nuts and ended up with powder, you can use a mesh sieve to get rid of it!
- Add the sugar, cinnamon and rose water (if using) and mix with a spoon.
Fill and seal the atayef
- Place the atayef on a flat surface, cooked side down, and fill with a heaping teaspoon of walnut filling. You can use as much filling as you can fit into it! Just be careful that it doesn’t rip when you fold it!
- Fold the atayef in two and pinch the edges to seal. It’s best to go over the edges at least twice to make sure the pancakes are properly sealed. Tip: If the atayef is hard to seal, lightly dampen the edges with wet fingers and try sealing again. Read the troubleshooting tips in the post to prevent this from happening.
When to fill the atayef? Wait for the atayef to cool down a little before filling them. The warm pancakes are very fragile and will tear easily. But if you wait too long, the pancakes will start to dry out and it will be harder to seal them. I have found that the best time to fill them is within an hour of making them.
Bake the atayef
- Place the atayef on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Brush both sides of the atayef with melted butter (or oil).
- Bake for 10-15 minutes in the middle of a preheated oven (200°C/392°F, conventional setting). The longer you bake them, the crispier (and darker) they will be.
- Remove from the oven then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. The atayef will get soggy if you leave them too long on the parchment paper.
Now let’s talk about some possible issues you might encounter.
Atayef Troubleshooting Tips
The atayef are hard to seal
- The atayef weren’t covered properly: If you don’t cover the atayef, they will dry out quickly and will lose their stickiness. You should ideally cover the pancakes with a kitchen towel as soon as they are ready.
- You waited too long before sealing them: I have personally found that the optimal time for sealing the atayef is within an hour of making them. If you wait too long or if you refrigerate them, you might find it harder to seal them.
- You cooked them for too long: Remove the pancake from the heat as soon as the last wet spot disappears. It will start to dry out if you keep it longer.
- The heat was too low: If you cook the pancakes on a very low heat for a long time, they will dry out. If you are making medium-sized pancakes, about 10 cm (4 inches), it shouldn’t take more than 2 minutes to cook them. If you find that the color of the pancake is still too light after 2 minutes, you probably need to increase the heat a little.
The atayef are tearing
- The pancake dried out: If you cook the pancake for too long, or if it’s not properly covered, it will have a tendency to dry out and rip.
- You overfilled the atayef: If you are a bit too generous with the filling, the pancake might burst open during baking.
- The batter was too thick: A thick batter won’t spread properly in the pan and you’ll end up with thick, drier pancakes that are hard to fold. Check the consistency of the batter when cooking the pancakes and add more water if needed.
- The atayef were still warm: The warm pancakes are fragile and hard to handle. Wait for them to cool down a little before trying to seal them.
- The pancakes were soggy: If you place the cooked pancakes on parchment paper instead of a kitchen towel, they will get a bit soggy. In my experience, soggy pancakes will have a tendency to rip more once baked.
The atayef are soggy
- Use a kitchen towel: The atayef will have a tendency to get soggy since they are covered while warm. To prevent this from happening, it’s best to place them on a kitchen towel, so it absorbs some of the moisture. If you place them on a plate or parchment paper, you’ll quickly notice condensation on the bottom of the atayef.
- Cool them on a wire rack after baking: It’s best to transfer them to a wire rack when they are warm, instead of leaving them on the parchment paper.
There are no holes in the atayef
- The batter is too thick: If the batter is too thick, the bubbles won’t be able to escape to the surface and form the characteristic holes. Try thinning out the batter a little with water before cooking the next pancake.
- The heat is too low: You’ll probably notice that the first pancake has less holes than the next ones. Why? The heat should be high enough so that the water in the batter turns to steam. The steam will then expand and push out the bubbles formed, creating the holes.
- The water was too hot: If you make the batter using hot water, the yeast will die and will lose its leavening power. Make sure to check the temperature of the water before adding it to the dry ingredients. It should be lukewarm (38-43°C/100-110°F).
- The yeast or baking soda has expired: If you aren’t sure whether your yeast is still working, you could proof it first by mixing it with 2 tablespoons of lukewarm water (28 g/1 oz.) and a pinch of sugar. Cover and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. If the yeast is active, you should see some foam forming on the surface. You can then add the dry ingredients and the remaining water (372 g/13.1 oz.) and proceed as explained in the recipe. To test baking soda, you can try pouring a teaspoon of vinegar over a little bit of baking soda (about 1/8 teaspoon) in a cup. If it bubbles immediately, it’s good to use. If nothing happens, it has probably lost its effectiveness and should be replaced.
And that’s it! Hope you enjoy making, and eating these atayef! Let me know what you decided to fill them with!