Um Ali

Umm Ali 5

I made this for last week’s Swerve column, wanting to break out of my usual baking habits – the scones, loaves and cookies I’ve been making for decades – things I can play with, mix and bake in semi-sleep without a recipe but with a predictable outcome. I’ve had middle eastern flavours on my mind lately – spiced desserts made with toasted nuts and sweetened with honey – and so I baked Um Ali, an Egyptian dessert (also known as Umm Ali and Om Ali – translation: mother of Ali) people often compare to bread pudding, but I find far more interesting and complex – for starters, it’s not as heavy and doughy; it’s soft and creamy in the middle, almost like rice pudding, with chewy edges and crunchy bits of pastry and nuts poking through.

Pastry for Um Ali

It begins with a piece of puff pastry, baked while the oven is on (just unroll a piece of thawed frozen puff, that’s it) and torn into a shallow dish with chopped almonds / pistachios / walnuts / pine nuts and raisins (if you like raisins in things) and some thickly shredded coconut. I imagine there’s plenty of room to play here.

Umm Ali 11

You then pour over steaming sweetened milk, which you could infuse with cinnamon sticks, strips of orange zest, sliced fresh ginger and cardamom along with vanilla. Return the pan to the oven until it’s bubbly and golden and spoon it up warm – some like it topped with ice cream, but I love it on its own, warm or cold, with no distractions.

Making Um Ali 1Umm Ali 7

The first time you make it, it may seem as if it needs eggs to thicken and set – it doesn’t – the cream thickens sufficiently in the oven, and further as it cools. If you want to skip the puff pastry part, or happen to have some day old croissants lounging around, Um Ali also makes great use of them – tear about three into the baking dish in place of the puff pastry. I love the thought of using this as a blank canvas, playing around with additions like I might with my usual batch of scones.

Um Ali with ice cream

Um Ali


February 26, 2017


1/2 pkg puff pastry, thawed

1 can sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup half & half

a few green cardamom pods (optional)

1 tsp. vanilla

1/3 cup raisins (optional)

1/2 cup whole almonds, toasted and roughly chopped

1/2 cup pistachios, shelled and chopped

1/4-1/2 cup coarsely shredded coconut or coconut chips

icing sugar, for sprinkling


1Preheat the oven to 400?F.

2Unroll the thawed puff pastry, or if it’s a brick, roll it out about 1/4-inch thick (it doesn’t matter what shape it is). Transfer to a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, or until it’s puffed and golden. Set aside to cool. While it bakes, put the sweetened condensed milk into a saucepan with a can full of water and the cream (you can just eyeball half the can), along with a few cardamom pods if you have them (and like cardamom). Bring to a simmer and cook for a few minutes, watching so that it doesn’t boil over. Remove from the heat, scoop out the cardamom and stir in the vanilla.

3Butter a shallow baking dish or pie plate, or spray it with nonstick spray. Tear the puff pastry into 1-2-inch pieces into the baking dish, and scatter with raisins (if you like), almonds, pistachios and coconut. Pour the milk mixture overtop, place on a baking sheet in case there are drips and return to the oven for about 20 minutes, or until bubbly and golden. Cool slightly and serve warm, at room temperature or cold.

4Serves 6-8.


About Julie

You May Also Like

9 comments on “Um Ali

  1. Bonnie
    February 27, 2017 at 7:59 am

    This looks so interesting and I’m anxious to make it the ending to a mezze dinner! I’m wondering, tho, with the sweetened condensed milk, does it come out really sweet? I like my desserts on the less-sweet side. Is there a way to make it less sweet?

    • Julie
      February 27, 2017 at 7:50 pm

      Bonnie – sweetness is a matter of taste – I’d say it’s not overly sweet, but you might think otherwise. It’s not super sweet, but probably on par with ice cream or rice pudding.

  2. Matt
    February 27, 2017 at 8:37 am

    This looks like an awesome recipe…I can’t wait to try it! I had one question though…in the directions it says that you can just “eyeball half the can.” Is this in reference to the water that we need to add to the condensed milk and the 1/2 cup of half and half? I just wasn’t sure since it said to use a whole can of water in the sentence as well.

    • Bonnie
      February 27, 2017 at 5:34 pm

      It looks like she’s saying the can of sweetened condensed milk is 8 oz. Add a full can of water (8 oz) and half a can of 1/2 and 1/2 (4oz, or 1/2 cup). Is that right, Julie?

      • Julie
        February 27, 2017 at 7:48 pm

        Sorry guys! yes that was a bit confusing. That’s what I meant – fill the can with water, then half with cream. Fewer dishes! 🙂

  3. Annie Ramsay
    February 27, 2017 at 9:22 pm

    Looks wonderful, but I am not a coconut fan. Suggested substitution please?

  4. Cathy Norrie
    March 6, 2017 at 6:51 am

    I made this last night for 3 very hungry men and they scraped the pan clean! It was absolutely delicious! They poured heavy cream over their bowls of deliciousness (and I mean bowls, as they each a had second helping!)!

    I too was a bit confused about the 1/2 can measurement so I did 1/2 can of water and 1/2 cup of cream . It turned out really well (not too dry) but next time I will use the proper measurements!

    I am never disappointed when I come to you for recipes, Julie. Thank you yet again!

    • Julie
      March 6, 2017 at 3:26 pm

      Aw, sorry about that! Glad it worked out though!

  5. SHERRI webber
    January 10, 2018 at 12:37 am

    I’m thinking it just might be worth the 500 calorie ‘invest’ in having a serving of this yummy looking thing!!
    Thanks Julie! Happy New Year to you:)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.