17 June 2009

Umm Ali (Egyptian Bread Pudding)

There are so many iterations of Middle Eastern desserts that involve pastry, cream, and sugar that after a while they start blurring together. Myriads of types of kunafe, aish el saraya, shaaibiat, baklava muhallabia, othmallia, halawet el jibn, and on and on it goes until I stop paying attention. I'd heard of an Egyptian bread pudding recipe called Umm Ali (literally, Ali's Mother), but I'd never investigated. But when someone raved about a version they had recently, I thought I'd try my hand at yet another Middle Eastern bread and cream iteration.

Umm Ali (the dish) dates back to Ottoman era Egypt, when legend has it the sultan stopped in a poor village looking for something to eat and the village's best cook, named Umm Ali, made something akin to this dish. There are other legends too, about a British nurse named O'Malley who may have invented the recipe.

History aside, do not be off-put by the "bread pudding" label, I almost never like bread pudding since many versions are eggy and rich and about the weight of small livestock. But this is just the opposite- light fluffy pastry bathed in sweet milk, sprinkled with tangy dried fruits and nuts. Many versions include toasted coconut but I prefer it without. It's good enough not to get lost in the shuffle of all those other Middle Eastern desserts.

Umm Ali (Egyptian Bread Pudding)
You can choose to stuff the pudding full of dried fruit, nuts, and coconut, or you can have a more simple version with just a slight scattering of fruit and nuts. I prefer the latter, but many people prefer the former. You could also use 3 cups half-and-half in place of the milk/cream.

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
1/3 cup mixed fruits and nuts (such as raisins, dried cherries, chopped dried apricots, pistachios or pine nuts)
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup sugar
slivered almonds for serving

1. Preheat oven to 425F. Spread pastry on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes until puffed and golden. Set aside.
2. Meanwhile, heat milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla in a saucepan until small bubbles form around the edge of the pan. Turn off heat and let sit while you proceed with the next step.
3. Raise oven heat to 475F. Grease a baking dish, crumble/tear apart the pastry and scatter in the baking dish. Scatter the dried fruit and nuts over the dish. Pour the milk/cream mixture over the dish. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden on top and set. Let cool somewhat before serving.
4. Lightly toast almonds and scatter over top before serving.


Poorni Pillai said...

I just love bread pudding, and this Egyptian version sounds so exotic. Looks great!

Kate @ Savour Fare said...

I have a recipe for this that uses phyllo, and it's totally on my list to make -- now even more so.

Darina Kopcok. said...

I love bread pudding. This one sounds so yummy, with a lot of possibilities. I like the idea of pistachios.

figtreeapps said...

Im teaching a cooking class with kids this summer, I was planning on making a bread pudding...this one sounds very tempting. Figtreeapps

Azita Mehran said...

That looks very delicious. I’ve never particularly cared for bread pudding but I’m going to give this one a try using puff pastry. Thanks.

Solange Berchemin of Pebble Soup said...

I am definitely going to try this one, it looks great thanks

so much cake so little time said...

hey mercedes -

I've had umm ali made with phyllo dough. it was actually pretty heavy but good too. have you tried it that way? do you know what the difference is between the phyllo and puff versions?

Christina Choi said...

looks great! I have made this with phyllo many times but not for many years- one of my favorite easy but so luscious desserts. Def more pudding than bread pudding, but its is a hard thing to describe with our dessert vocab.

Muneeba said...

Made this recently (HUGE hit with the crowds) and posted about it on my blog today. Check it out & let me know how I did! Thks so much for this recipe ... it reminded me of the flavors of my childhood in the Middle East.

Mary Hanna said...

You are wonderful for posting this. I hate bread pudding 90% of the time but this kind is so good! I might be bias b/c I'm Egyptian American.

Anonymous said...

Looks fabulous - I was searching for an Umm Ali recipe and this looks fantastic. Having lent my Middle Eastern cookbook to a friend who moved without giving it back I think I will be a regular reader for recipe suggestions!

Sasha @ Global Table Adventure said...

I'm thinking of making this dessert for my Egyptian meal (I'm cooking a meal for every country in the world)... sounds wonderful!

Prettytastyreviews,blogspot.com said...

Another interesting twist to your recipe would be to use Kataif dough.
It is usually found frozen and resembles "shredded wheat" but is made up of light and crispy strands!

Sacagawea said...


Would it be possible I could use your picture of Omm Ali for an article I am writing? You will receive full credit for it. I can also provide you with additional details.

Thanks - Farah

Christopher Jonasson said...

Tasted my first Umm ALi 3 weeks ago in Dubai. Loads of nice deserts but the Umm Ali was the best.