Nothing equals the sheer ecstasy in savoring a full cream ashta. I had the absolute best ashta of my life in Baghdad in the early seventies , at the home of Dr El-Khalidi who ordered it and had it served for us with fresh eggs in the morning. In those days in Irak they had fresh water buffaloes and amazing ashta.. I don’t think there are any more buffaloes around and we have to make do. There is a method of preparing ashta which is time consuming and involves heating milk or cream and removing the top layer every so often. Lebanese cooking professionals devised a foolproof method that takes minutes and uses everyday ingredients. Powdered milk and some cornstarch and a couple slices of American-style white bread and the usual flavorings of rose water and orange blossom water and it is done!
So, this is the basic recipe that is used for all the sweets such as katayef, osmallyyah, layalee lubnan,etc.
This recipe is taken from Ma’edat Marlene by Marlene Mattar. The same recipe can also be found in Anissa Helou’s book Lebanese cuisine, with a slight variation: she uses half and half instead of powdered milk, which gives it a wonderful silky texture.
INGREDIENTS: To make about 1 cup or 4 servings
2 slices of American-style white bread
1 pint of half-and-half or 1/2 milk and 1/2 cream
2 heaping tablespoons of cornstarch, diluted in a bit of water
1 Tablespoon of sugar (optional)
1 teaspoon of orange blossom water
1 teaspoon of rose water (optional)
- Start by cutting the edges off the bread. Cut the soft white part in dices.
- Pour the half-and-half or milk and cream mixture (or whole milk) in a heavy-bottomed saucepan; add the diced bread and let it soak in the milk mixture for as long as possible, a day if you can.
- Heat the milk and bread mixture, add the sugar if using; dilute the cornstarch in water; stir the milk mixture continuously until it starts to steam; add the cornstarch and keep stirring until the mixture thickens, making sure it does not burn (adjust the heat).
- Add the flavoring if using, stir a few seconds more and remove from the heat. Pour into a bowl, let it cool and then cover with plastic and store in the fridge overnight to give the cream a chance to thicken. Serve with syrup.
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