MERRY CHRISTMAS 2013!!
A wonderful lady in Beirut, Mrs Dora Hassan, gifted us this milk and bread pudding telling me “this was a little dessert she had concocted with her girlfriends”. She calls it ashtaliyeh; the classic ashtaliyeh is a creamy pudding flavored with rose and orange blossom water and a touch of mastic. Mrs. Hassan’s version adds American-style toast at the bottom (dampened with syrup), turning this dessert into a Middle-Eastern version of tiramisu. She only used powdered milk, but the creamy texture is delightful, yet it is light; it keeps in the fridge for several days.
The recipe below uses regular fresh milk; it works with both powdered milk and fresh. Generally desserts with dairy were made in Lebanon with powdered milk due to the fact that there are scant cows in the country and most of the “fresh” cow’s milk is vacuum-packed and imported.
This recipe can be doubled or tripled. A 9″ springform pan would be ideally suited for this.
INGREDIENTS: 8 servings (up to 10)
- 8 pieces of sandwich bread such as American wonder bread to line up the pan
- Syrup: 1 1/2 cup white granulated sugar, 1 cup water, 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, 1 Tablespoon rose water and 1 tablespoon orange blossom water.
- 4 cups whole milk
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 8 tablespoons cornstarch (or flour), dissolved in one cup of the milk (from the 4 cups listed)
- 3 pebbles of mastic, ground up in a mortar with a teaspoon of sugar till powdery (optional)
- 1 tablespoon rose water
- 1 tablespoon orange blossom water
- 1 cup ground pistachios, chopped nuts or orange petal jam to garnish
1. Line up the pan with wax paper if using a springform pan; if using a glass serving dish, there is no need to line it up with paper. Cover the bottom with all the pieces of toast.
2. Place the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Stir gently from time to time, add the lemon juice; simmer for 8 minutes or so, then add the rose and orange blossom water and turn off the heat. Cool; moisten the bread with a few tablespoons of syrup. Pour the remaining syrup in a small jug.
3. In a saucepan, pour 3 cups of milk and the sugar over medium heat; when steam appears, add the remaining milk and cornstarch mixture and stir continuously till thick; add the mastic powder and the rose and orange blossom, stirring to combine, in the last few seconds of cooking. Set aside to cool one minute, then gently pour over the bread in the pan. Cool the custard then refrigerate; garnish with ground pistachios and nuts if desired. Serve cold with additional syrup on the side.
NOTE: This custard is traditionally made without sugar; the syrup is passed around to sweeten it.
NOTE: A 3-oz package (or two) of cream cheese, at room temperature, can be added to the custard while heating the milk.