When I posted earlier today (faux couscous) I noticed the date for the first time – 6 October. Immediately I realised that all my Arabian dessert stars were aligned – this is because:
1. 6 October is a city in Egypt
2. I tasted an awesome Egyptian version of bread-and-butter pudding 2 days ago in Dubai
3. 6 October is a date. I like to tell people that “I had a date in Dubai” – it makes my social life sound very exotic and high-end, when really I was just stuffing myself with dates from the display in the hotel foyer every time the concierge turned his back.
When I realised all of this I rushed out to get the ingredients for Om Ali, which is this divine Egyptian dessert I encountered in Dubai. One of the many lovely people I had the opportunity to meet there had explained to me that Om Ali means “mother of Ali”, and that there are lots of stories behind the name. Some of them are as simple as saying that it was someone’s son’s favourite dessert. Then there are some elaborate and dramatic stories – this one is my favourite because it sounds like magic lamps and men in little red fez hats and ladies in Princess Jasmine outfits with concealed jeweled daggers are involved:
This dish, Om Ali (Mother of Ali) has some unsavoury history.
Om Ali was the wife of a ruler from the Ayyubid dynasty in Egypt called Ezz El-Din Aybek.
Her rival Shagaret El Dorr was the second wife of that ruler. After his death, Shagaret El Dorr arranged for
Om Ali to be murdered, and to celebrate, she requested from her cooks to come up with the most
delicious dessert they can think of to distribute to throughout Egypt. The successful recipe was a special
pastry with milk and honey, that was named Om Ali. A gold coin was added to each plate & distributed in
the streets of Egypt.
Shagaret El Dorr ruled Egypt for some time in the name of her husband, and later died in a conspiracy
too. This dish to date is still known as Om Ali.
Whatever the real origin, it’s super yummy – it’s like bread-and-butter pudding given an Arabian Nights makeover with nuts and raisins and spices. I found lots of recipes and used them to make my own approximation of what I had tasted. The quantities are very rough since I mostly grabbed handfuls of this and that, which I figured is okay because I bet you anything the mother of Ali did not have a set of measuring cups in ancient Egypt.
Also, I think that some chopped dates would be good too – but I didn’t want to open up the 1kg pack of Saudi dates I got for my mom because I know that the whole lot would be gone before the week is over.
For one large dish of Om Ali:
400g puff pastry, thawed (it should really be 500g but the shop only had 400g rolls)
about 2 cups of roughly chopped nuts – I used slivered almonds and raw cashews that I broke up in my hands
about a cup of dessicated unsweetened coconut
about a cup of golden sultanas
1/4 cup white sugar
3 cups of milk
1/2 cup of white sugar
about 200ml cream
1/4 cup white sugar
A pinch of cinnamon
Righty-o. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Unroll the puff pastry onto a greased baking sheet and bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until it’s puffed up and golden and beautiful. I would have had photo’s – if I had remembered to put the memory card into the camera beforehand. Sigh.
While the pastry is puffing up, heat the milk and 1/2 cup sugar in a saucepan; bring to the boil then remove from the heat.
Also, whip the cream and 1/4 cup sugar together until it forms stiff peaks. Use a sufficiently large bowl; I had a brain-fart and put it in a tiny bowl, and of course the more you whip the bigger it gets. It occurred to me only when the entire kitchen was covered in sticky cream polka-dots that perhaps it would be best to transfer it to a larger bowl. Sigh #2.
By now, the pastry is done and the milk has come to the boil. Rip the pastry up into bite-sized chunks with your hands, then mix it with the nuts, raisins, coconut and sugar; pour the lot into a greased baking dish. Pour the hot milk mixture over the pastry – it will absorb almost instantly. Spread the cream over the top and sprinkle with cinnamon, then pop it into the oven for 10 minutes. At the end, switch the grill on to brown the top a little.
When it’s got a nice tan, remove it from the oven. When I ate it there were no garnishes or toppings but I imagine it would benefit from a blob of vanilla ice-cream and a sprinkling of pomegranate rubies. Definitely serve accompanied by a gold chocolate coin, in a little tribute to the Om Ali in the story.
Now – go wild with the eyeliner, put on your harem-pants and walk like an Ee-gyptian while you dish this one up while it’s still warm.
In stealth-Nigella-mode, retrieve the leftovers from the fridge later on and warm ever so gently in the microwave, then immerse yourself in both the pudding and the one thousand and one stories by Scheherezade in Arabian Nights.
07 October 2012 – since I had the props (a bag from Egypt, a belly dancers outfit from Morocco and a sword from – well the plastic sword is from the Crazy Store locally) here’s one last photo for your viewing pleasure: