Good news for dessert enthusiasts everywhere: 4 September is Eat an Extra Dessert Day. The unofficial holiday is best celebrated in Egypt, a country known for its wide array of decadently sweet oriental desserts such as basbousa, kunafa, and loqmet el qadi.
One of the nation’s most popular desserts is Egyptian bread pudding Om Ali, which literally translates to ‘Ali’s mother.’ The dessert is usually made with puff pastry (or phyllo dough) and milk and nuts and is a common staple in the open buffet of any Egyptian hotel.
Any fan of this Egyptian dessert would describe it as a comfort food; the warmth of the milk coupled with the nutty flavor results in a crowd favorite that’s most popular during the winter months.
It is natural to assume that such a loved dessert would have a beautiful and heartwarming origin story, but the speculation is that the Om Ali so many Egyptians enjoy every day was actually motivated by bloody tales of revenge and victory.
The most famous account of how this dessert came to be is that during the Mamluk era and before the Ottoman rule in Egypt, there was a Sultana called Shajarat Al Durr who was forced to concede her power because many took issue with having a woman as a ruler.
To try and keep her influence over the throne, she married that man who took over her position, a warrior called Izz Al Deen Aybak. He was already married to another woman, who was referred to as Om Ali because her 15-year-old son was called Mansour Ali.
When Shajarat Al Durr found out Aybak was planning to marry a third wife, she had her servants murder him in the castle.
Aybak’s first wife was delighted at the news of his death and, to celebrate, asked her servants to cook a pudding with whatever ingredients they could find in the pantry. She then distributed the pudding among houses to announce that her son was set to take the throne.
With that, the celebratory dish named after a woman scorned was born.
Another (and slightly darker) account of how the dessert came to be is that Om Ali asked her cook to make it to celebrate her servants’ killing of Shajarat Al Durr after the fact that she had killed Aybak became public knowledge. This account also states that each bowl of dessert in the celebration had a gold Shajaret Al Durr coin (from her days of rule), and that people were so happy with the dessert and their coins that they chanted Om Ali’s name in celebration.
Whichever account is the more accurate one, it’s clear that this delicious dish was once motivated by revenge and greed. With that in mind, what better way to celebrate Eat an Extra Dessert Day than by cooking a bowl of dark history?
Om Ali Recipe by Amira’s Pantry:
· 1 puff pastry sheet
· 1 1/2 cups of milk
· 1/2-2/3 cups of nut mix (usually hazelnuts, walnuts, and raisins)
· 1 tablespoon sugar
· 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
· 1 cup whipped cream
1. Preheat oven to 400 F (204 degrees Celsius).
2. Cut the puff pastry sheet into squares and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
3. Poke holes in each square using a fork and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
4. In an oven-safe dish, break the baked squares into chunks and mix in the nuts.
5. Heat milk in the microwave for 1 minute.
6. Dissolve the sugar in the warm milk and add the vanilla extract.
7. Pour the milk over the puff pastry and nuts mixture and allow it to absorb for 5-10 minutes.
8. Spread the whipped cream over the top and broil in the oven for 5-10 minutes until top is golden.
9. Serve hot with more sweetened milk on the side.
Find the detailed recipe on Amira’s Pantry. Bon Appetit!
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