Cream pudding (Ashtalieh)

March 10, 2010  •  Category:


Commercial kitchens from Milan to Sydney to Singapour to Dallas are serving Panna Cotta these days. I get the impression that most chefs the world over think that Italy is where the mediterranean starts and ends!

I wish they would serve what we call ashtaliyeh.Ashta is the word for cream in Arabic and ashtaliyeh is the pudding derived from it; a bit deceiving, because it does not contain cream!

This is a very creamy pudding, without any cream! It is thickened with cornstarch which avoids the rubberiness that comes from gelatin; it is nearly unsweetened and served with a syrup on the side. Flavorings are traditionally orange blossom and rose water and mastic.

This is a recipe from a Lebanese chef  and restaurant owner in the UK, Hussien Dekmak. It is an extra rich recipe that adds some cream cheese spread such as Kiri to the pudding; optional, since the pudding can just as easily be made with milk alone.

Time to make?  figure on less than 10 minutes; however, it needs to cool and firm up  in the fridge, preferably overnight.

INGREDIENTS : 4 servings


  • 1  pint of milk (500ml)
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1/4  cup of cornstarch (add one tablespoon more if you like it stiffer)
  • 75 g of Kiri or 3 ounces of cream cheese spread (optional)
  • 3 pebbles of mastic-optional-
  • 1 teaspoon of orange blossom water and 1 teaspoon of rose water

For the syrup: (You will most likely have some leftover, which is fine, it will keep for several weeks in the fridge)

  • 1 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • a squirt of lemon (about a teaspoon)
  • a teaspoon of orange blossom water, a teaspoon of rose water

To garnish the ashtaliyeh:

  • A couple of tablespoons of pistachios, ground in a mortar with a pinch of sugar


  1. Heat 1 1/2 cups of milk, sugar and cheese  over medium heat, stirring to dissolve both the sugar and cheese. Take the cornstarch and dissolve in the remaining  milk. As soon as the milk mixture starts steaming, add the cornstarch and keep stirring nonstop for a couple of minutes until the mixture thickens.
  2. Add the mastic, the orange blossom and rose water, stir for 10 seconds and remove from the stove.
  3. Pour the pudding mixture through a strainer into a bowl or measuring cup, pushing it through with a spoon to get it as smooth as possible.
  4. Pour into several ramequins. Cool on the counter and then chill in the fridge overnight uncovered.

How to use the mastic:

The mastic or miskeh (in Arabic) is sold in Middle-Eastern groceries; it is imported from Greece. The store where I shop keeps it under lock and in small jars. It comes in tiny pebbles. It needs to be ground up in order to be mixed into the pudding in the last minutes of cooking. My method was to grind it in a tiny marble mortar with a pinch of sugar until powdery and throw the lot into the milk mixture; the problem is that this method leaves a residue of mastic in the mortar.

Another method which was recommended by Peter from is to freeze the mastic for a minimum of two hours (I would keep the jar in the freezer); then place the pebbles between two sheets of plastic wrap and pulverize them with a rolling pin. He claims this method uses up every last speck of mastic.

To make the syrup:

  1. Place the sugar and water in a saucepan; bring to a boil and boil for 3 minutes; add the lemon juice and keep boiling the syrup for a total of 12 minutes. Add the flavorings at the end, cool the syrup and serve alongside the ashtaliyeh for those who like it sweeter.
  2. When ready to serve the ashtaliyeh, sprinkle the top with a little ground pistachios.
  3. If unable to secure the cream cheese spread (called Puck or Kiri in Middle-Eastern groceries) substitute some cream for the milk (about 1/2 cup) and proceed as above.


78 Comments  •  Comments Feed

  1. peter says:

    So, did you get every last bit of mastic? I prefer your approach to panna cotta with the corn starch over getatin. I’ve had some bad panna cottas (grainy or too stiff). Your mound of pistachios is the cherry on the cake, so to speak.

  2. Sushma Mallya says:

    wow what a fancy name and what a gorgeous dish…lools extremely beautiful & must have tasted heavenly….loved this one too…thanks for sharing…

  3. Ann says:

    Ahhh, another quick and easy milk pudding! This looks like a refined cousin of mouhalabieh? I have never heard of mastic, I wonder if it has the same effect as the agar-agar/chinagrass used as a thickening agent in Far Eastern cooking.
    Speaking of panna cotta, I just recently bought an Irish cookbook – and they have a version of panna cotta too! Made with buttermilk….=)

  4. rebecca says:

    oh wow looks amazing your blog is simple beautiful love it

  5. Bria says:

    I had no idea this recipe was so easy. Can’t wait to try it.

  6. sophia says:

    Is Singapour a British spelling? I recall that the British used to call Singapore a different way.
    This pudding sounds absolutely heavenly. So ethereal!

  7. Sook @ My Fabulous Recipes says:

    Oh wow, what gorgeous pictures! The pudding looks so yummy.

  8. Laura says:

    That looks scrumptious!

  9. Delishhh says:

    Thanks for visiting my blog. I am so glad i found you. One of my favorite food is Lenanese and i don’t have any good recipes. So i will definitly find something on your blog, try it out and report back. Very excited. Thanks again.

  10. Sophie says:

    Waw,…my friend!! This is one georgous & fab pudding!!

    I also love the presentation!!

  11. Rosa says:

    Oh, I love that refined tasting dessert!



  12. Cherine says:

    I love ashtaliye!! yours looks mouth-watering!!

  13. Dajana says:

    The problem with Panna Cotta is that what most restaurants serve is a vague resemblance of the real Panna Cotta, which must be all creamy, not a bit rubbery, in spite of gelatin in it.
    I definitely agree that the classification “Medditerranean” is erroneously applied to Italy only, especially because Italy itself is such a variety and combination of cuisines.
    I like this pudding, the pistacchios are such a nice touch.

  14. Maninas says:

    Gorgeous. Looks so delicate

  15. MaryMoh says:

    Looks simple and utterly delicious. I would love to try this as I always have corn startch at home. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Priya says:

    Am ready to devour it…yummm!!

  17. Mamounette85 says:

    Une belle variation de panna cotta ! Le kiri est un fromage au goût prononcé de lait et je l’aime bien il doit être un liant pour cette variété. Les pistaches donnent très envies avec un aspect appétissant pour cette panna.
    Bonne journée
    Bon Ap chez Mamounette

  18. The Little Teochew says:

    Finally, a pudding that doesn’t use gelatin. I have given up looking because practically recipe includes gelatin which is not suitable in my household (my husband is vegetarian). This looks divine. Milky and pure and just heaven. I have to think about the mastic part … which is new to me. Lovely dessert!!

  19. HistoryOf GreekFood says:

    I do like the cornstarch -milk cream puddings so much! It’s a pity that though they are widely consumed in Greece and mastic is widely used in sweet and savory recipes, mastic flavored cream puddings are not popular.

  20. Marisa says:

    This looks so amazingly good. I love that you don’t use gelatin – I’ve had very bad luck using that in the past.

  21. Rachana Kothari says:

    Cream pudding without the cream… I love it:) It looks so gorgeous and tempting!!!!

  22. Malar Gandhi says:

    Oh boy, that looks absolutely breath taking, drool worthy dessert,

  23. yasmeen says:

    Simply delicious dessert,love the hint of blossom water 😀

  24. Mimi says:

    Such a simple and elegant pudding.

  25. Joie de vivre says:

    Gorgeous presentation!

  26. Muneeba says:

    Ok, I have to find out more about mastic … fascinating new stuff for me!

  27. Julie says:

    C’est une très belle alternative à la panna cotta, que j’adore mais qui peut être un peu lourde avec la crème. Tes photos sont toujours aussi appétissantes!
    Gros bisous!

  28. Joanne says:

    I’ve never heard of this before but it sounds like something I would love! (I’m a pudding addict of a serious kind.) Mmmm pistachios…sounds way better than panna cotta.

  29. Srivalli says:

    Enjoying my first visit to your lovely blog..pudding looks excellent!

  30. Natashya says:

    Looks really tasty! I do love puddings and I think I would love this. I just have to find some mastic.. 🙂

  31. nazarina says:

    I love panna cotta! A beautiful picture and rendition, so does that mean that I have a spot at your table for this beauty?

  32. sweetlife says:

    how so lovely..I love this-great pic!!

  33. Marie says:

    Love your blog and I have to try this it sounds healthier than panna cotta, no cream. Your photo is beautiful! Could I flavor this with just vanilla?

  34. Faith says:

    Your presentation of this delicious dessert is really beautiful! I love the different textures — the creaminess of this dish and the crunchy pistachios on top!

  35. Arlette says:

    This is a great posting… Love the photos.. I want mind a plate of this dessert now..
    Kill shi bi siyam Tayeb….
    I love Ashtalieh.. I don’t add cream cheese to make richer, I play with the amount
    of milk , heavy cream and talbe cream, its the same recipe which i use for the Kashta I cook it longer. Of course add Mistekhe and special home made orange blossom and rose water… and serve it with thickened syrup,and toasted nuts.

  36. 5 Star Foodie says:

    What a decadent and fantastic cream pudding! lovely flavors, I can’t wait to try it!

  37. Catering Equipment says:

    Thank you for this receipe. It sounds quite easy to make and I am sure even Panna Cotta lovers will give it a try after viewing the photos.

  38. El says:

    I just found your blog and I am so incredibly glad to have discovered it. This dessert looks delicious and I can’t wait to try the recipe!

  39. Ivy says:

    I must admit I am not a huge fan of pana cotta and I would definitely love this cream. I was not aware of the name but it seems that after Lebanese coming to Cyprus they have learned making it and call it Lebanese cream.

  40. Michelle says:

    LOVE…LOVE Orange water and Rose water but I’ve never thought to try them both in a recipe! Sounds so good!

  41. deana says:

    I actually have both mastic and pistachios! What a fabulous recipe… I just found your blog and love the theme. Can’t wait to see what’s next!

  42. Nadjibella says:

    Cette ashtaliyeh est pour moi.
    A bientôt.

  43. Bo says:

    I love panna cottas…I will have to try this technique without gelatin.

  44. Erica says:

    This looks so creamy and delicious!!!! I love all your pictures and your blog, too!

  45. Mathai says:

    Thanks for this recipe. Its almost like the Mahalabiya dessert that we get here. 🙂

  46. dana says:

    Beautiful dessert. How would Ashtalayieh though differ from Mouhalabiye? Is it the addition of the mastic?


  47. heni says:

    Wow very refined dessert here Joumana!I have tasted a very many arab desserts but i am sure if any actually had mastic on it !!! So i am curious how it tastes! i really like your recipe here ..; well i will admit i like many of your recipes! =)

  48. Susan says:

    An exquisite pudding. Mastic is not easy to come by for me (but not impossible) – I do have some sources. I’ve never made a recipe using both orange blossom *and* rose water. Swooning to imagine it. Would love a panna cotta-type dessert that does not rely on gelatin for its setting power.

  49. kouky says:

    superbe !! merci pour les conseil pour la mestika que je n’ai jamais utilisé! l’association eau de rose et eau de fleur d’oranger est aussi nouvelle pour moi!! merci ! je teste!!

  50. Dea says:

    There’s a little Lebanese/Palestinian eatery, and sandwich place in Georgetown DC where they serve this pudding, I always thought it was a rice pudding, never knew it’s made with cornstarch and milk. Gosh I’m so homesick, I live in Italy, in Sicily and the cuisine here is quite influenced by arab traditions, however I miss the multicultural aspect and international food options of my hometown (Washington DC).
    I didn’t realize this pudding was so easy to make, if I can source orange water or rose water I will suprise my family with this for dessert one evening, they are not very open to trying new things but who knows… we have lovely pistachios here 🙂 Thanks for reviving lovely memories for me, shukran 🙂

  51. torviewtoronto says:

    delicious pudding we make similar looking with yogurt and milk but different flavours

  52. Heavenly Housewife says:

    I saw this beautiful desert on Tastespotting and had to come by and have a look. Amazing!
    *kisses* HH

  53. YD says:

    This looks absolutely delicious, and I can’t wait to try it!

  54. gula welat says:

    OOooh super dessert
    alors ca! tout ce qui est a base de fromage et pistache me tente Enormément!

  55. kathy says:

    Just made it! FAB!!! My husband is Lebanese – sure he’ll love it! Great blog – I’m sure I’ll spend here every second day :):):):)

  56. 7alim says:

    Can sahlab be used as a thickening agent instead of the cornstarch?

    • Joumana says:

      @Halim: I have never tried it with sahlab; it is on my list though since I am in Beirut now and I can get the real sahlab from some stores. Are you referring to the sahlab mix that comes in a box? It is my understanding that this one is made up of cornstarch and flavoring.

  57. Jihane says:

    Hi Joumana,

    Did you flip over the ramequin in order to have this beautiful presentation in the picture above? Do you think it would be feasible to put it in a big bundt pan and then flip it over when it’s time to eat, instead of putting it in individual ramequins?
    Thank you for your help! and thank you for this beautiful and well done website!

    • Joumana says:

      @Jihane: Yes, I did flip it over, in fact I remember making first with less starch and then again with more starch so that I could flip it over and keep it in one piece! I don’t see why it would not be possible in one big bundt pan, I would just make sure it is a good nonstick and I would grease it the pan first just to be sure. Good luck!

  58. Jihane says:

    Thank you Joumana for answering so fast, I made it today in a fluted pan, I will flip it tomorrow! I tasted some of it while doing it, it was yummy! called my mom in lebanon and gave her the recipe! Thanks again!

  59. Sous says:

    Thank you for the post. I made it yesterday and it turned out so delicious. Sine I didn’t have Kiri, I used 3 ounces of cream cheese spread,but it turned out very thick to the point that I couldn’t strain it through a sieve. Also, when I added the cornstarch it thickened immediately. I wonder if 1/3 cup of starch is too much.. It was delicious though. Thanks for the post. I check your blog daily

    • Joumana says:

      @Sous: I’d recommend going easy on the cornstarch, maybe using 1/4 cup first. I used 1/3 cup because I wanted it to be stiff for the image. I will footnote the recipe on the amount. Sorry about that. The easy fix in this case (since you already used too much) would have been to add more liquid, or milk, say 1/2 cup to loosen it up; conversely, if the mixture is not getting thick, adding one tablespoon of starch dissolved in 3 tablespoons of water and mixing it in fixes the problem in a jiffy 🙂

  60. Pamela says:

    How many people would this recipe serve? We are dessert lovers.

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  66. halal gelatine says:

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