Umm Ali is one of my family’s favorite Middle Eastern desserts. The famous Egyptian bread pudding has been enjoyed across the Middle East for centuries. Umm Ali is a unique dessert consisting of pastry (usually croissants or puff pastry), a delicious cream, nuts and raisins and complemented by a few warm spices. Originally from Egypt, Umm Ali has become one of the most popular desserts in the entire Middle East.
I’m going to explain to you the story of this century-old bread pudding, why Umm Ali is called Umm Ali, and how to make it at home.
What is Umm Ali?
Umm Ali (also spelled Om Ali) is a traditional Egyptian bread pudding made with croissants or puff pastry, milk, cream, raisins, nuts and topped with shredded coconut.
The origin of this dish dates back to the Mamluk dynasty in Medieval Egypt (Late Middle Ages). Back then, the Mamluks ruled Egypt, the Levant and parts of western Arabia (Hejaz). According to folklore, the wife of the Egyptian Sultan Izz al-Din Aybak called out for a competition among Egyptian cooks and women to create the most delicious dessert after the death of her husband.
This bread pudding has then become popular across Egypt and was named after the Sultan’s wife, Umm Ali. By the way, “Umm Ali” literally means “mother of Ali”. In Arab culture, it’s common to refer to women of age as “umm” (mother of), followed by the name of their first son. The same is done for man, where “abou ali” would be the father of Ali.
Today, Umm Ali is not only popular in Egypt. It has become one of the most famous Middle Eastern desserts.
After this short cultural and historical digression, let’s get back to the recipe for Umm Ali.
To make Umm Ali, you’ll need the following ingredients:
- Croissants: While ancient Egyptians used a different bread type, many modern Umm Ali recipes use either puff pastry or croissants. Croissants are a wonderful choice in terms of texture and taste. Because the croissants will be roasted in the oven, these don’t need to be super fresh. It’s perfectly fine to use croissants that are 1-2 days old.
- Whole milk: Milk is one of the key ingredients to turn this dish into a pudding. I generally use regular whole milk for this recipe as it yields a better texture and is creamier than low-fat milk. If you don’t have whole milk available, low-fat milk works fine too. Some people use condensed milk for more sweetness and creaminess. The type of milk isn’t crucial here.
- Ashta (Kaymak): Ashta is the whipping cream of the Middle East. It’s a thick clotted cream that is used for many Middle Eastern desserts. Ashta comes under various names, mostly Ashta, Qashta or Qishta. In Turkish cuisine, ashta is known as kaymak. You’ll find the ready-made clotted cream in any Middle Eastern grocery store, typically in the cheese array under the name ashta or kaymak. You can also make ashta yourself at home. Ashta adds to the taste, creaminess and texture of this dish and shouldn’t be omitted.
- Sugar: White sugar complements the sweetness of this dessert. The amount of sugar is up to you. Some variations of Umm Ali are very sweet. I personally add only a bit of sugar so as not to overpower the sweetness of the raisins and nuts.
- Raisins: Yellow or brown raisins (or a mix of both) are added to the pudding and as a garnish. Raisins pair very well with all the other ingredients in this dish. If you don’t like raisins, you can leave them out. Add some more white sugar if not using raisins, as the raisins contribute to the sweetness of this dish.
- Nuts: Nuts are used alongside raisins, in the pudding itself and for garnish. Most people use a combination of various types of nuts. I use almonds (sliced or slivered) and pistachios for Umm Ali. If you don’t have those available, you could use pecan or walnuts.
- Shredded coconut: Traditionally, shredded coconut (coconut flakes or powder) is sprinkled onto the top layer of the bread pudding. It truly complements the flavors as it pairs very well with the raisins and nuts. However, I would say it’s an optional ingredient. If you don’t have shredded coconut available, you can leave it out.
- Spices: Umm Ali uses a few warm spices that you’ll also find in many other Middle Eastern desserts. You’ll need the following powdered spices: cardamon, cinnamon and nutmeg. You can use ready-made powdered spices, or make spice powders yourself from whole spices.
Note: Quantities can be found in the recipe card at the end of this recipe and can be adjusted according to the amount of servings you’d like to make.
How to Make Umm Ali
Step 1: Bake the croissants
To begin, preheat your oven to 200°C or 400°F, ensuring both top and bottom heat are activated. This step is important as it sets the stage for achieving the perfect crispiness of the croissants.
Take your croissants and break them into several large chunks. Place them on a large baking sheet, ensuring they are spread out evenly. Now, let the croissants bake in the preheated oven for approximately 8-10 minutes. As they bake, they will become slightly crispy on the outside.
Step 2: Prepare the milk mixture
While the croissants are baking, it’s time to prepare the spiced milk mixture that will infuse the Umm Ali. In a small saucepan, combine milk, sugar and the powdered spices (cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg). As mentioned earlier, whole milk is the preferred choice. For more sweetness and creaminess, you can use condensed milk instead.
Whisk the mixture well to ensure all the milk and spices are thoroughly combined. Heat the saucepan over medium-high heat for approximately 3-4 minutes, or until the milk is on the brink of boiling. Once ready, set the saucepan aside.
Step 3: Assemble the Umm Ali
Once the croissants are ready, it’s time to assemble your Umm Ali in a baking mold. Begin by evenly spreading half of the baked croissants at the bottom of the mold. If you baked the croissants in the mold (not in a tray), just keep half of them in the mold and set the other half aside.
Secondly, generously sprinkle a combination of pistachios, almonds and raisins over the croissants. Add about 90% of the nuts and raisins to the baking mold and reserve the remaining ones for garnishing later.
Next, add the second half of the baked croissants over the nuts and raisins, creating a beautiful sandwich-like formation.
Step 4: Add the milk mixture
Carefully pour the milk mixture from the saucepan over the layered croissants in the baking mold. Be sure to pour it slowly to make sure it’s evenly spread across the baking mold. Keep about ½ cup (100 ml) of the milk aside for the next step! At this stage, the milk should almost cover the croissants, but not entirely.
Step 5: Mix milk and ashta
Next, add ashta (Middle Eastern clotted cream) to the remaining milk in the saucepan. Whisk to ensure they combine seamlessly. Once mixed, pour the mixture evenly over the croissants. At this stage, the croissants should be fully covered.
Step 6: Bake in the oven
Place the baking mold into the preheated oven (again using top and bottom heat at 200°C or 400 F) and bake it for 5-7 minutes. During the baking, the top layer (ashta) should get solid and slightly golden brown. Be sure to keep an eye on the process as the ashta shouldn’t get too dark.
Step 7: Garnish and serve
Remove the baking mold from the oven. Enhance its presentation by garnishing with almonds, pistachios (whole or optionally finely chopped) and shredded coconut. Unlike cake, you can cut and serve this bread pudding right after baking (no need to let cool before cutting/serving).
How to Serve Umm Ali
Umm Ali is often served during Ramadan (the holy month of Islam where people fast during sunrise and sunset). During Ramadan, it’s served as a dessert at iftar (the meal after breaking the fast).
However, Umm Ali is not only popular during Ramadan. In Egypt, the Levant and the Gulf (e.g. UAE), you can find this delicious bread pudding year-round! Umm Ali can be served warm (right after baking) or at room temperature. It’s typically served as a dessert, accompanied by Arabic mint tea or coffee. Many hotels and restaurants in the Middle East also serve Umm Ali for breakfast (though it’s not traditionally a breakfast dish, but a dessert).
Storage & Make Ahead
Umm Ali tastes best fresh, right after baking. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge and consumed within 2-3 days. You can reheat it in the oven (about 5-10 minutes) or enjoy at room temperatures. When reheating, add a little bit of milk to preserve moisture. Though Umm Ali keeps in the fridge, it’s not a dish you’d typically prepare in advance. Umm Ali with croissants comes together easily and quickly (faster than when using puff pastry), so prepping the components in advance won’t save you much time.
Any Questions or Feedback?
If you liked this recipe, I’d appreciate it if you could leave a star rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ below. In case you’ve any questions or feedback, please leave me a comment (down the page). I’m happy to help you make delicious Middle Eastern food at home.
Umm Ali (Egyptian Bread Pudding)
- 750 ml (3 cups) whole milk
- 6 croissants
- 150 g (3/4 cup) ashta Ashta/Kaymak
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 50 g (1/3 cups) raisins
- 50 g (1/3 cup) almonds sliced or slivered
- 30 g (1/4 cup) pistachios
- 1/2 tsp cardamom powder
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg powder
- 1 tsp shredded coconut for garnish
- Preheat your oven to 200°C or 400 F (top and bottom heat). Break the croissants into large chunks and place them on a large baking sheet. Bake them in the oven for 8-10 minutes (they will become slightly crispy).
- Add milk, sugar and powdered spices (cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg) to a saucepan and whisk well. Heat on medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes until the milk is about to boil. Set aside.
- Assemble the Umm Ali by evenly spreading half of the baked croissants in a baking mold as a first layer. Then spread pistachios, almonds and raisins over the croissants. You can use whole pistachios or roughly chop them. Keep some nuts aside for garnish. Now spread the other half of the baked croissants on the nuts and raisins.
- Pour the warm milk over the croissants in the baking mold. Be sure to pour the milk slowly to ensure it’s spread evenly. Keep some milk in the saucepan (about ½ cup or 100 ml) for the next step! The croissants will be almost covered at this stage, but not fully.
- Add ashta to the milk which is still in the saucepan. Whisk to combine. Pour the mixture evenly over the croissant (similar to a glaze). The croissants will now be fully covered by liquids.
- Place the baking mold in the oven (preheated, again top and bottom heat at 200°C / 400 F) and bake for 5-7 minutes. Keep an eye on the process. The ashta should get solid and slightly golden brown but not too dark.
- Take the Umm Ali off the oven. Garnish with almonds, pistachios (optionally finely chopped) and shredded coconut. Serve warm.
- Ashta (also called Ishta or Kaymak) is a type of Middle Eastern clotted cream. You can find it in any Middle Eastern or Turkish grocery store. Since it’s also used in Indian and (East) European cuisine, you can even find it in some Indian or Eastern European stores.
- The traditional Egyptian recipe calls for a type of Egyptian bread called roaa. Since it’s hard to find outside of Egypt, Umm Ali is prepared with croissants or puff pastry in most parts of the Middle East. Umm Ali with croissants has become the most popular variation in recent decades.
- Whole milk yields the best results. You can also use semi skimmed milk, but your Umm Ali will be less creamy. Some cooks like to add some heavy cream (whipped cream) or condensed milk to make it extra creamy. This is purely optional.
Nutrition information is only a rough estimate and may vary depending on factors such as the cooking method, exact weight, type, and brand of ingredients used.