The dessert name of Om Ali, means ‘Ali’s mother’, has its own story. To make a long story short, not wanting to bore you with the detailed war history of Om Ali ….. Ali’s mother, was a powerful feminist of the 13th century Egypt. Her husband tried to cheat on her so she kills him and celebrates with distributing Om Ali dessert declaring her son Ali as successor. As ever, food is a much more than just the act of cooking and eating. Food is culture, history and the stories of a given people and time.
You could think of Om Ali as the Egyptian cousin of bread pudding. Same idea of soaking some type of bread with milk or cream and sugar, then baking it in the oven. Om Ali skips the eggs though, which makes it lighter in texture, looser and milkier as opposed to custardy. Instead of bread, it is traditionally made with baked puff pastry, phyllo or Egyptian flat bread combined with milk and nuts.
Om Ali has become a well loved and celebrated dessert all over the Middle East, being served at many big celebrations and events.
Instead of using the traditional nuts, raisins and coconut, I’m using the ‘Sahale Snack Mix’ which has a very similar blend in my Om Ali pudding.
OM Ali - Egyptian Bread Pudding
Allow puff pastry to thaw before using. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Cut the puff pastry into squares & poke holes in each using a fork. Bake for about 15 minutes or until puffed & golden brown. Remove from oven & allow to cool.
In a saucepan, whisk together milk, sugar, spices & whipped topping powder. Allow to come to a gentle simmer; add the vanilla & heavy cream. Remove from heat.
Break the puff pastry into pieces & place half of them in either individual ramekins or an oven-proof baking dish. Sprinkle each with some of your fruit/nut blend, reserving a bit for topping. Cover with the other half of the pastry pieces.
Slowly add the milk mixture, one ladle at a time until the milk mixture fully covers the puff pastry. Allow to sit for 10 minutes, you'll notice that the puff pastry absorbs some of the milk. Add milk again until it covers the puff pastry.
Bake for 30 minutes at 350 F. then place under the broiler if you wish, for a couple of minutes to get a golden top. Serve warm or at room temperature.
- When baking is 90% done, sprinkle the rest of the fruit/nut mixture on top so they don't burn & taste bitter. It gives a nice eye appeal.
When I think about Easter, one of the first foods that comes to mind are hot cross buns. I’m sure you think I’m going to have a nostalgic memory of my mother’s hot cross buns, but strangely enough, I don’t. The memory I do have from that time in my life is of some very yellow, cylinder shaped loaves. They were soft, sweet and yellow from the many eggs used in the dough. My mother just called it ‘Easter Bread’. It didn’t have icing, candied fruit and nuts or extra spices, it was just plain and gloriously good.
Each year, at Easter time, I really enjoy to make some version of Easter bread or buns (of course, trying to make it just a bit better than the year past). This year I’m going to make a hot cross bun ‘loaf’.
While hot cross buns are now sold and enjoyed throughout the year, they were once reserved for Good Friday alone. There is no one clear explanation … some theories rest in Christian symbolism while there are also more than a few stories that indicate hot cross buns were baked on Good Friday for superstitious reasons.
No matter what the reason, Brion & I have always loved these soft, spicy little buns. No doubt, this ‘loaf’ will probably make some good french toast for an Easter brunch.
Hot Cross Bun Loaf
In a large bowl, whisk together milk, oil, eggs & sugar. Sprinkle yeast over mixture. Allow to sit for 10 minutes.
In a bowl, combine 4 cups flour with 3/4 tsp cinnamon. Add to yeast mixture & combine. Mixture will be very sticky. Cover bowl with a tea towel & let rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
In a small dish, combine 1/4 cup sugar with cardamom & ginger; set aside. In another small dish, combine paste ingredients for crosses, stirring until smooth. Transfer to a piping bag with a small opening; set aside.
In a small bowl, combine remaining 1/2 cup flour with baking powder, baking soda & salt. When dough has risen, add this mixture & combine. Move dough to a lightly floured surface. Press to slightly flatten dough.
Sprinkle 2 Tbsp spiced sugar & a third of the fruit mixture over the dough. Fold dough over on itself & flatten again. Repeat the process two more times, ending by folding the dough in on itself. Divide the dough into 12 pieces. With floured hands, quickly roll the pieces into balls.
In a buttered, OVERSIZE loaf pan, place 6 rolls then top with remaining 6 rolls. Pipe whatever cross design you prefer on loaf. Cover & allow to rise for about 10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake for 30-40 minutes. If the loaf is browning too fast, place a sheet of foil over it to prevent this.
Combine sugar & lemon juice. When loaf is baked, warm glaze for a few seconds in microwave then brush over loaf.
- If you do not have an oversized loaf pan, a bundt pan will work just fine.
Homemade ice cream …the ultimate old fashioned treat has a very worldly history that stretches around the globe.
When I was growing up on the farm, we had one of those ice cream makers with a hand crank that featured an inner canister and churn. The canister and churn held the ice cream custard, which was placed in a bucket that salt and ice or snow could be added to. My siblings and I would take turns churning until the custard magically transformed into the heavenly frozen dessert.
Ice cream is the perfect treat for any season. In the summer you can cool off by enjoying a scoop of ice cream and in the winter you can pair it with a warm dessert. Let’s face it, if you are an ice cream lover, the possibilities are endless.
The first ice cream sandwich was basic: cold, creamy with a little crunch on either side. The purpose was to make the ice cream better than if it stood alone. My original idea for today’s blog dessert was to replicate the flavors of the classic ‘Bananas Foster’ dessert of the 50’s. The ingredients in it were very simple, such as butter, cinnamon, brown sugar, vanilla & rum. The end result today became a combo of caramelized bananas & banana cake turned ice cream sandwich!
My inherited love for ice cream has never left me to this day and I might add, Brion has the same ‘affliction’ (which doesn’t help).
Banana Ice Cream Sandwich Cake
In a microwave safe bowl, melt butter then stir in brown sugar. Divide evenly between 6 custard cups; slice the 3 ripe bananas & place over sugar/butter mixture. Set on a baking sheet.
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon & salt. In a separate large bowl, cream together butter & sugar; add eggs, Greek yogurt, mashed bananas & extracts & combine. Slowly add dry ingredient mixture to wet batter & mix only until combined.
Pour the batter over the caramelized bananas in the custard cups. Bake for 30 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
Let cakelets cool in custard cups slightly, then invert on a plate. You may have to gently coax the caramelized bananas to loosen with a spatula. Slice each cake half so you can add a layer of vanilla ice cream to the bottom halves. Top each with the other half of the banana cake.
There are so many culinary uses for Medjool dates, in both sweet and savory dishes, whether served hot or cold. Often called the king of dates, not only because they are quite expensive but are highly treasured for their size and rich, intensely sweet flesh.
These special fruits are pricey because their cultivation is incredibly labor-intensive. In order to ensure quality and yield, Medjool date palms need to be hand pollinated, pruned, protected and hand picked. While growing, the date bunches are wrapped in bags to prevent the birds from snacking on them and to keep them from falling on the ground.
Dates are usually left to dry on the tree before being harvested, which accounts for their wrinkly appearance. This places them in a peculiar category of being both dried and fresh. Different types of dates have different textures that fall into three categories: soft (like Medjool); semi-soft, which are chewy and are pitted before packaging to dry a little more; and dry, which are often sun-dried after harvest and sold chopped.
Dates can be paired with lamb or chicken and spiced with Middle Eastern flavors or added to dried apricots, cranberries and toasted walnuts in rice or couscous accompaniments. Their caramel-like flavor adds a hint of the exotic to whatever you choose to use them in.
We had some extra apples I needed to do something with. The thought of pairing them with some Medjool dates and walnuts …. Yum!
Medjool Date & Apple Flans
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, & salt. Cut in white & yellow Crisco shortening. In a dish, whisk together water, egg & apple cider vinegar. Make a well in flour mixture & pour all wet ingredients in it. Combine just until pastry pulls away from the bowl.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry; cut out eight 6-inch pastry circles. They should fit nicely into the mini flan pans that measure about 4 1/2-inches in diameter & are 3/4-inch in height. Once you have the pastry you need for the shells, form the remaining pastry in a 'tube' shape. Set the pastry shells in the fridge while you prepare the filling. FREEZE THE TUBE OF PASTRY. This you will use to GRATE on top of the flans for the top crust.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add prepared apples & saute until they start to soften, about 10 minutes. Add spices & honey, combine & cook 1 minute. Take off heat & allow to cool to lukewarm.
Assembly & Baking
Preheat oven to 350 F. Remove mini flan shells from refrigerator & place on a baking sheet. Spoon some apple mixture in the bottom of each shell. Top each with a portion of the dates & walnuts, then evenly divide the remaining apple mixture between them. Remove the frozen 'tube' of pastry from freezer & grate (on a cheese grater). Sprinkle over mini flans.
Bake until nice & golden, about 35 minutes. Cool slightly. Whip cream with sugar, cinnamon & vanilla until stiff & serve on warm flans.
There’s a whole chickpea world out there beyond hummus. From crunchy, spicy snacks to main ingredients in baking and cooking. This is a wonderful ingredient that can adapt extremely well with herbs and spices.
Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, grow in hot parts of the world so they are naturally a key ingredient in the cuisine of countries such as India, Mexico, Egypt and the southern part of Italy. Despite their origins, chickpeas are available everywhere, usually in either canned or dried form. There is very little difference in nutritional value between precooked, canned chickpeas and the dried variety you cook yourself.
In our part of the country, I remember these peas/beans first appearing in the restaurant salad bars. Chickpeas were one of several choices set out in bowls to add to salad greens. Then a few years later they became better known when ‘Mediterranean hummus’ became trendy. Then the notion came up to use them in baking. Legumes in cake? Remember the big debate when ‘someone’ decided to put carrots and zucchini in cakes etc. (not to mention tomato soup).
Chocolate chickpea cake has been a success for quite a while now so I decided to try a different take on the idea of the flourless cake.
Apple Chickpea Flan w/ Raspberry Sauce
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease 4 custard baking cups or a 9 X 9-inch square baking pan.
In a food processor, place applesauce, rinsed chickpeas & eggs; blend until almost smooth, scraping down sides as needed. Place in a large bowl.
In another bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients. Add dry ingredients to wet mixture & stir to combine. Pour into baking dishes & bake for about 50 minutes OR until it tests done with an inserted toothpick.
To make raspberry sauce: In a small saucepan, combine cornstarch, sugar & salt. Add water & raspberries; cook until clear & bubbling. Remove from heat & add margarine & lemon juice & zest. Cool & serve over chickpea flan.
- In place of one of the eggs I used 1 Tbsp ground flax seed plus 3 Tbsp water.
Autumn is in full swing with all its fabulous foliage and Thanksgiving is right around the corner. The second Monday of October has been the day Canada has celebrated Thanksgiving since 1957. For Canadians, this holiday is linked to the tradition of harvest festivals. A common image seen at this time of year is a cornucopia or horn filled with seasonal fruit and vegetables. The cornucopia, which means ‘horn of plenty’ in Latin, was a symbol of bounty and plenty in ancient Greece. Pumpkins, turkeys, ears of corn and large displays of food are used to symbolize Thanksgiving Day.
The ‘flavor of fall’ always brings pumpkin to mind (or butternut squash) for me. Since there are only two days left before our Thanksgiving day, when we will stir, boil, grate & grease our way to a table filled with wonderful food. While everyone has their own traditions and ‘must eat’ dishes, these pumpkin yeast buns are a perfect compliment to this autumn feast.
Lightly sweet and beautifully light and fluffy, this recipe can be made in two ways. One as a dinner bun to have with the main course and two as a cream cheese filled sweet roll for breakfast.
Pumpkin Dinner Buns
Cream Cheese Filling (optional)
In a small bowl, place yeast, lukewarm milk & 1 tsp sugar. Allow to rise for about 10 minutes until frothy.
In a large bowl, combine yeast mixture, brown sugar, butter, salt, spices, eggs & pumpkin puree. Mix well. Add flour, one cup at a time, until well combined. Knead dough for about 8-10 minutes or until smooth & soft. Place dough in a greased bowl, cover it with a tea towel & allow to rise for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.
Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Turn dough out onto a floured surface, knead for about 2-3 minutes. Divide into 16 equal pieces, shaping into balls. For 16 buns you will need about 16-90 cm pieces of kitchen thread. Tie thread around the dough ball in a way that the ball is divided into 8 parts. Do not tie the ball too tightly as it will continue to rise a lot more during the second proofing & baking. Cover the pumpkin shaped dough balls with a tea towel & set aside to proof until buns have doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Brush each roll with egg wash. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Brush rolls with melted butter. Allow buns to cool completely before cutting thread to remove it. Insert pecan pieces to mimic a pumpkin stem.
For FILLED Buns
In a small bowl, beat together filling ingredients. Follow directions above. At the point where you have divided the dough into 16 pieces, fill each one with some cream cheese filling ( I had divided my filling into 16 portions to make it easy). Gather the corners together to form a ball. Follow tying directions in above instructions to form the pumpkin effect. Cover & allow to rise until doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Brush each roll with egg wash. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Brush rolls with melted butter. Allow buns to cool completely before cutting thread to remove it. Insert pecan pieces to mimic a pumpkin stem.
- If you don't have the time to do all this tying, place the dough balls onto the lined baking tray about 3-4 cm apart. Gently flatten the balls a little. Dip the tip of a scissors into oil. Cut the dough into 'petals' to form the pumpkin look. After they are baked, insert a piece of pecan or even use pumpkin seeds to make the stems.
Back in the later part of August (2019), I had made some buns using Teff flour that my neighbor had shared with me. We had really enjoyed them so this is my next adventure using this unique flour.
Just a bit of history — officially the world’s smallest grain, teff is only about the size of a poppy seed. It’s origin is thought to be Ethiopia and Eritrea, where it’s ability to grow in harsh conditions has made it a staple grain of these cultures.
Teff flour is high in protein, iron, calcium and it contains all 8 essential amino acids. This is due to the fact the tiny grains are so small, when they are milled, the hull is left intact rather than removed.
Teff is rich tasting and very versatile, lending a subtle nuttiness and mild molasses-like sweetness to any baked good. Teff grain and flour are good alternatives to wheat, barley and rye for those on a gluten-free diet.
These muffins are an interesting combination of flavors well worth a try.
Pumpkin Hazelnut Muffins with Teff Flour
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.
In a medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients; set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the hot water & ground chia to form a slurry. Add the remaining wet ingredients & beat together using an electric mixer. Pour the wet into the dry & whisk together. Spoon into muffin cups.
Bake about 30 minutes or until test done. Remove from oven & pan; cool on a wire rack.
Hand pies are just perfect for this time of year. No fork or plate required —a variety of fresh seasonal fruit available — picnics and barbecues happening. Another great thing is that you can make up a big bunch on a cooler day and freeze them. Personally, I would bake them before freezing so they are ready on short notice but nothing says you have to.
Years ago, hand pies were primarily made with reconstituted dried fruit since fresh fruit is often to juicy to encase it with delicate pastry. Now, a blend of dried and fresh fruit with the help of thickeners can yield a balanced mixture of flavors and textures.
There seems to be various successful ways to go with your pastry from the traditional pie crust to a more biscuit-type pastry. One thing I found that helps to avoid having a ‘gummy’ inside is rolling your dough fairly thin.
When it comes to the filling, I always have the urge to overfill pies, be it full or hand size. Getting it right sure helps to keep them from splitting and leaking.
Hand pies have primarily been deep fried in past but my preference is to bake them. I guess I’ll just never be a deep fried lover of anything. These makes such a nice seasonal combo!
Blackberry-Peach Hand Pies
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda & salt. With fingertips, cut in cold butter until mixture resembles small peas. In a measuring cup, whisk together water, egg & vinegar. Make a well in dry mixture & pour wet mixture into it all at once. With hands, mix until JUST combined. Roll out pastry & cut 8 - 6-inch circles with a pastry cutter. Lay pastry circles on parchment paper lined baking sheet. Refrigerate until ready to fill.
In a small saucepan, whisk together sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon & salt. Stir in blackberries & peaches. Cook over medium heat until mixture has thicken, about 6-8 minutes. Add vanilla & allow to cool COMPLETELY. In a cup, beat egg with water for the egg wash topping. Set aside
Preheat oven to 375 F. When fruit has cooled, remove pastry from fridge & divide filling between pastry circles. Try to keep the filling in the center, away from the outer edges. Brush a line of egg wash over pastry edge then fold hand pie in half. Use a fork to press the pastry layers together forming a seal to keep fruit from leaking. With a sharp knife, cut 3 vents in each pie.
Brush the tops with egg wash & sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden.
- Frozen puff pastry can easily be substituted for regular pastry if you wish.
- If you wish, use a hand pie cutter for easy assembly.
It’s that wonderful time of year when there is an abundance of fresh fruit available so why not make the most of it?! Peaches are a favorite of mine, not only because of their great taste but they have such versatility in their uses. Just for something different today, I want to take the peach idea in a whole different direction. These beautiful, old fashioned pastries were very popular in the 1980’s. They are known for their unique look that resembles a fresh peach with a flavor that is delicately sweet and buttery. Traditionally served at Italian wedding showers, Pesche (or peach), are now served at any celebration and may be found throughout many countries in Europe.
Peach cookies are two cookie domes, carved on the inside and paired together to hold a dollop of custard. Once assembled, they are dipped in Alchermes, a crimson colored liqueur infused with a blend of anise flowers, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, jasmine, mace, nutmeg, orange peel, sugar and vanilla. These ingredients are stepped in alcohol, which is then flavored with rose water. Alchermes gives these pastries a vibrant pink hue and a unique, light alcohol flavor that combines custard and cookie beautifully. To further enhance the peach resemblance, they are rolled in a sanding sugar.
Alchermes is a very ancient liqueur of Arabic origin. It’s main feature is an unmistakable scarlet color, which was originally acquired by adding ‘kermes’, a scale insect that eat oak trees. Modern alchermes liqueurs no longer use the kermes insect. Alchermes was created in the Frati’ Convent at Santa Maria Novella in Florence, Italy.
These peach cookies are an impressive dessert, perfect for special summer occasions. You can use any filling you choose such as a pastry cream, lemon curd, limoncello or just plain nutella spread. Since it is almost impossible to find the alchermes liqueur in Canada, I’ve listed a few substitutes that can be used instead.
Peach Cookies or Pesche
In a small bowl, combine filling ingredients; stir in reserved crumbs. Spoon into center holes of cookies & press together to form a peach.
In a shallow bowl, combine lemon & peach gelatin powder. Place package of strawberry gelatin in another bowl. Place sugar in a third bowl.
Working with one cookie at a time, spritz cookie with a bit of water. Dip in lemon mixture, then in strawberry gelatin & then in sugar. Spritz with additional water & add more gelatin as needed to create desired 'peach blush' effect. Place on a wire rack to dry for an hour. Attach mint leaves to top of each cookie with additional preserves. Store in refrigerator.
- Alchermes can be substituted for a peach liqueur or Chambord raspberry liqueur. For my peach cookies, I kept it simple & used a combination of jello powders to replicate the traditional idea.
This is a Canadian berry pie, originating from the Maritime provinces that is made up of at least three kinds of berries. Since there is no such thing as a ‘bumble berry’, as the name suggests, its a mixture of berries that are in season (ones that you might bumble upon).
Berries commonly used in this pie may include blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries. Other choices often used are apples, rhubarb, cherries, plums or fresh cranberries.
Most often the pie is made with a top crust of pastry or designs cut out and laid over the fruit. Other ideas would be to use a nice streusal topping or as I have done on mine, grated pastry sprinkled with coarse sugar.
This is such a great summer dessert served, of course, with ice cream!
Bumble Berry Pie
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder & salt. With a pastry blender or finger tips, cut in white & yellow Crisco shortening. In a measuring cup, place the egg & vinegar then add enough COLD water to make 1 cup; whisk together. Make a well in center of flour & pour ALL liquid in. With hands combine quickly but do NOT over mix. This recipe will should give you enough for about 3 - double crust 10-inch pies. Whatever you don't use, freeze for later use. This is so handy when time is short & dessert is needed. At this time, roll out a 10-inch bottom pie shell, place in pie pan & refrigerate until ready to fill. Take the same amount of pastry, form it into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap & place it in the freezer. When you are ready for the top pastry on your bumble berry pie, remove the ball from the freezer & GRATE it over the top of the fruit.
In a large bowl, combine fruit. In another dish, whisk together sugar, flour, cornstarch & cinnamon. Gently toss into fruit mixture along with lemon juice.
Preheat oven to 400 F. Place filling into chilled pie shell, using the large holes on a box grater, grate the ball of pastry (from freezer) directly over the fruit, as you would a block of cheese. Using a fork, gently move the gratings here & there for an even covering. Sprinkle with coarse sugar.
Bake pie on center rack for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 F. rotating pie for even baking. Bake about 25-30 minutes more or until to is golden brown & juices are bubbly & thick around the edge. Remove from oven. Serve warm with ice cream.
- Never hesitate to vary the fruit you choose for this pie. Remember, its whatever you 'bumble' upon!