I don’t know what is more delicious – the dish or the story behind the origin of the dish…read on and you can decide for yourself…
Umm Ali literally means the mother of Ali in Arabic. It is one of the most scrumptious bread puddings it has been my fortune to eat!
Let’s get to the story now. There are many variations of the story, but I have picked the most common one. Umm Ali was the first wife the sultan Ezz El Din Aybek, whose rule began in 1250. When the sultan died it was expected that the throne would pass onto the first wife’s first son – Ali. However, the second wife also wanted her son to be the sultan. So Umm Ali arranged to pave the way to the throne for her son, Ali in a rather unique way. She bribed wife number two’s handmaids and got them to beat her to death with slippers while she was having a bath!
It is said that Umm Ali then made this dessert to celebrate her victory and her son, Ali’s ascension to the throne.
There are many variations of the Umm Ali dessert. Some use different kinds of bread - pita, puff pastry, croissants or filo pastry or different nuts such as pistachio, almonds, and hazelnuts, among others.
As children we used to eat a much simpler version made with sabaayad, a Somali flatbread, sugar and milk. This recipe is my own take on the Egyptian Umm Ali, substituting pita bread or filo pastry (which is generally what is used in Egypt) with the Somali sabaayad and adding nuts, cream and spices.
If you want to use sabaayad, you can find the recipe here. It is equally delicious made with puff pastry.
4 sabaayad flatbread or three pieces of frozen puff pastry, thawed
4 cups milk
¾ cup cream
¼ cup dessicated coconut
¼ cup slivered almonds
¼ cup chopped pistachio nuts or any other kind of nut (keep some for garnishing)
¼ cup raisins
1 teaspoon cardamom powder
Step 1: If using puff pastry, bake the thawed pastry in a medium oven for about 5 minutes in a medium heat oven or until golden brown.
Step 2: Break the puff pastry or sabaayad into pieces and mix with all the other dry ingredients.
Step 3: Distribute into individual baking pots or one baking dish.
Step 4: Heat up the milk, cream, sugar and cardamom until hot but not boiling.
Step 5: Pour the mixture into the baking pots or dish.
Step 6: Bake for 15 minutes.
Serve warm with ice cream or just eat the pudding by itself.
Recipe and text: Abderazzaq Noor