Ashta, our Lebanese cream is the foundation for all pastries; yet it does not contain cream.
Sure, there was a time when ashta was pure cream. Nowadays, it is made with milk (frequently powdered milk in Lebanon), fresh American-style toast and flavorings!
The result: a clotted cream that tastes fresh and light, without any cream
Such is the genius of Lebanese pastry chefs.
You can make it with powdered milk, milk (whole or lowfat), half-and-half, or a combo of milk and whipping cream (which is usually my choice).
- 2 cups of milk (I prefer to use half-and-half) (1/2 milk and half whipping cream)
- 3 pieces of American-style white bread (like Wonder bread)
- 1 Tablespoon of cornstarch (15 g.)
- 1 teaspoon of orange blossom water, 1 teaspoon of rose water
- 1 Tablespoon of sugar (optional: if you are serving the dessert with a syrup, don’t add sugar to ashta)
- Remove the crust from the bread and cut the bread in dice. Place the bread in a saucepan with the milk.
(at this point, you can let the bread soak in the milk all day in the fridge or a few hours)
- Dissolve the cornstarch in 1/4 cup of water.
- Heat the milk and bread stirring from time to time, add the sugar (if using) and when the mixture starts steaming, add the cornstarch mixture. Stir continuously for two minutes, until the mixture thickens; add the rose and orange blossom water and remove from the heat.
- Let it cool and store in the fridge a few hours before using to let it thicken completely. The “cream” (ashta) will keep a few days.
NOTE: All Lebanese creams and puddings are thickened with cornstarch (or wheat starch); sometimes, you will find that the cornstarch was not sufficient and the cream or pudding is not getting thick; it is OK to add more cornstarch, starting with one tablespoon, diluted in a bit of liquid to get it thicker, and it should then thicken within one minute.