Om Ali (Egypt)

I don’t do a lot of desserts on this podcast, mainly because, well, I don’t know why. I just don’t. Maybe it’s the hassle of baking, maybe it’s that I prefer savory dishes, maybe it’s that desserts aren’t THAT different from place to place? Maybe it’s something deep in my psyche.

 

Well, I’m bucking the trend today! Om Ali (sometimes spelled Umm Ali) is an Egyptian bread pudding. The name means “Ali’s Mom” and refers to the wife of an Egyptian sultan back in the middle ages. The story is that after the sultan died, Om Ali got into a fight with another of his wives, had her killed, and then gave this succulent dessert to the people of Egypt to celebrate. A weird story, if you ask me. She doesn’t have a name? Just “Ali’s Mom”? 

 

Anyway, the story is awkward, but the dessert is delicious. In its most basic form, it’s layered phyllo dough, crisped in an oven, and then soaked in sweetened milk to make a bread pudding, and then studded with nuts, raisins and such.

 

That can be delicious, but it’s also possible to make it particularly awesome by adding a couple of small steps.

I’m basing this recipe on the recipe here: http://cleobuttera.com/middle-eastern/best-ever-om-ali-egyptian-bread-pudding/ — When Tasbih claimed that this was “best ever”, I took her at her word.

 

I’ve changed hers up a little bit, mainly because a) I like the warmth that a little cinnamon, cardamom and vanilla provide and b) I don’t have access to country-style clotted cream, so I thickened up the milk sauce with some extra cream.

 

There are plenty of other recipes that say those two changes are OK, so I’m comfortable with not being yelled at.

Anyway, try this. It’s so freaking delicious. So so so good.

 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 package (17.5 oz / 500 g) of frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed

  • 1 cup / 240 ml sugar, divided in two

  • 1 tsp cinnamon, divided in two

  • 1/2 tsp cardamom, divided in two

  • 4 cups / 1 liter whole milk

  • 1/2 cup / 120 ml whipping cream

  • 1 tsp vanilla

  • 1/2 cup golden raisins (aka sultanas) (optional)

  • 1/2 cup shelled pistachios (optional)

 

STEPS

  1. Preheat an oven to 200 C / 400 F. Unfold the puff pastry sheets onto a floured surface. Take 1/4 cup of the sugar, and sprinkle it onto the pastry sheets. Do the same with 1/2 tsp of the cinnamon and 1/4 tsp of the cardamom. Use a rolling pin to push the sugar and spices into the dough.

  2. Fold the bottom sixth of the pastry up. Do the same with the top sixth. Then fold the top and bottom again so that they meet in the middle. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. Fold the top onto the bottom one last time. You should have six layers.

  3. Refrigerate the dough for 20 minutes to firm up.

  4. Cut the dough into 3/8 inch / 1 cm pieces. Put them onto a baking sheet with plenty of space between. Cook for 6-8 minutes per side - Don’t forget to flip! - then set aside. These lovely cookies are called Lunettes or Palmiers. You can actually enjoy them as is, if you like, but only a couple of more steps will take you to Om Ali brilliance. 

  5. Crumble up 3/4 of the lunettes and put them in a 9’x11’ glass baking dish. Layer on the raisins and the pistachios if you’re using them.

  6. In a medium saucepan, combine the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, and 1/4 cardamom. Add the milk and bring to a rolling simmer. Take it off the heat and add vanilla and cream.

  7. Pour the milk mixture over the cookies. Let it sit for 10 minutes. While that’s doing, preheat the broiler.

  8. Put the rest of the cookies, crumbled up, on top of the soaked mixture. Put it under the broiler for about 10 minutes to ensure a crispy golden brown top.

  9. Enjoy!

 

Thanks to Tasbih at cleobuttera.com for the brilliant idea of pre-cooking the puff pastry!  Recipe adapted from  http://cleobuttera.com/middle-eastern/best-ever-om-ali-egyptian-bread-pudding/

Photo by Drew Vahrenkamp

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