Mediterranean/Middle Eastern Custard (Mahalabeah) مهلبية

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Similar to what you may know as a blancmange, this is a sweet dessert commonly made with milk or cream and sugar thickened with cornstarch or rice flour (I chose the latter for texture and nutritional value) and traditionally flavoured with almonds. It is usually set in a mould or sundae cup.

This dessert is actually quite similar to the Italian ‘Panna Cotta’ but with some Middle Eastern variations which make it more foolproof and, in my opinion, superior in flavour. Mahalabeah is a very well-known dessert in the Middle East and is enjoyed by many as it is really quite easy and very delicious indeed!

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If you are looking for something new and unusual to try, I definitely recommend this as it is even more simple than making custard as you actually don’t have to use any eggs and just very easily available ingredients. For decoration, pistachios or almonds are usually crumbled on top and provide a crunch to the dessert, but you can top it with pretty much anything you believe will compliment the flavours. A good alternative is to top it with summer fruits like raspberries and blueberries or any fruits that take your fancy.

You will need:

Cup measurements are used because we are working with volumes here for the milk; a cup basically equates to 250ml of the named liquid.

1 tbsp cornstarch or rice flour (which ever is more readily available)

2 tbsp caster sugar

3 cups milk (semi-skimmed is fine, but full fat is better)

4 tbps of rose water

1 tsp almond/vanilla essence

1 tbsp ground almonds (optional- but if you are using almond essence it will add to the almond flavour)

Crushed pistachios/almonds or fruits for garnishing

1) Dissolve the sugar, rose water and essence into the milk in a medium large saucepan and set over a medium heat.

2) When the mixture is almost boiling (hot) add the cornstarch/rice flour and, if using ground almonds, add them too.

3) Reduce the heat to low and continuously gently stir the mixture with a whisk. This is VERY IMPORTANT because if you don’t continue stirring the mixture will become lumpy and not set properly.

4) When the mixture becomes thick and quite custard-like, take it off the heat  and pour into the serving glasses of your choice.

5) Leave to cool in the glasses and to prevent a skin forming on top of the custard if you are not eating it straight away, cover the glasses  with cling film and refrigerate. Then when you are ready to eat it, garnish and enjoy! This dessert can be eaten warm but I prefer to make it the day before, cover it with cling film and eat it cold like a Panna Cotta. 

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