Umm Ali (pronounced ooom-Ali) literally means ‘the Mother of Ali’ in Arabic. It is a traditional Egyptian dessert, served hot, and can best be described as the Arab version of bread pudding.
The history of this dessert is hilarious. Picture it, two wives married to the same man. One decides she wants to be Top-Wife and has the other wife murdered. To celebrate she serves Umm Ali to the people of Egypt. Sounds like The Young and the Restless meets Top Chef if you ask me.
A long, long time ago, Umm Ali (the first wife) was married to Ezz El-Din Aybek, ruler of the Ayyubid dynasty in Egypt. Along comes wifey #2, Shagaret El Dorr who decides the throne is only large enough for her (assumedly ample) derriere and has Umm Ali axed. To ‘celebrate’ her solo wife status Shagaret aka Cruella di Ville summons her chefs to create the utmost delectable dessert to serve to Egypt. And when I say Egypt, I mean the whole dang country, not some teeny, tiny, hicktown…nope, holy friggen EGYPT.
The chefs’s ultimately come up with a pastry dish flavored with milk and honey and name it after their obviously preferred boss, you know the non-murdering one, Umm Ali.
If dessert wasn’t bad enough to celebrate this poor woman’s demise, Cruella, ahh sorry, Shagaret also adds a gold coin to the plate. Dessert AND money? Man she must have known they hated her, who could say no to that?!
Typically this dessert is made with puffed pastry that has been pre-baked, however with this recipe I’m using croissants. There are many versions out there, but think of this dessert as a blank canvas. Use whatever spices, nuts, or toppings your family prefers. If you cannot find rose water in your area, swap it out for orange essence and orange zest, or vanilla extract with cinnamon. The possibilities are endless. I even considered using chocolate milk with a shooter of Bailey’s but then one could really get side tracked and I figured it’s best to share the original version with you first.
Ramadan Kareem if you are celebrating!
200 grams croissants (about six 4” croissants) day old and stale
50 grams white sugar
2 teaspoons rose water
1 liter low or full fat milk (skim is not recommended)
100 ml heavy cream
100 grams assorted nuts (any combo, I used almonds, cashews, and pecans) toasted and chopped
75 grams dried mixed berries (or raisins)
Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees F). Spray a medium sized (I used 9x13 inch) baking dish with non stick spray. Tear croissants into large pieces and cover the bottom of the dish. *Note: you will only need one baking dish although I've shown two below; I ended up tripling the recipe since I had so many extra croissants.
In a medium sized saucepan, bring the milk and cream to a boil. Remove from heat and slowly add sugar. Stir to dissolve. Add rose water.
Pour milk mixture directly over the torn croissants.
Sprinkle with the toasted/chopped nuts and dried berries.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Serve warm, preferably with ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream.
recipe adapted from IICA
Umm Ali history sourced from Eat Like an Egyptian