Um Ali

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Um Ali Header

When this month’s theme for the Sweet Adventures Blog Hop was revealed as being “Layer upon Layer” I decided to take the opportunity to finally try and make the Middle Eastern dessert Um Ali. Often likened to bread and butter pudding, Um Ali is made up of layer upon layer of pastry and nuts and smothered in a sweet, creamy mixture before being baked in the oven.

Layers of Pastry


In this region, mothers are often referred to in relation to the name of their oldest son and Um Ali, which directly translates as “Ali’s Mother” is named after the lady who is credited with having created the dish many, many moons ago.

Um Ali IngredientsAlthough many Middle Eastern desserts are too sweet for my palate, I have always enjoyed Um Ali and remember adding a little twist to it when I was younger, by drizzling hot chocolate sauce on top.

Chopped WalnutsI was a little nervous about attempting this dish but I was pleasantly surprised by how straight forward it was and I’m sure I will make it again. I also, almost inadvertently, managed to make a healthier version by using filo pastry which just happened to be fat-free, low fat milk and honey instead of lots of sugar. I stress healthier, not healthy!

Um Ali First LayerPuff pastry is also commonly used instead of filo and in my research I noticed that a few people also used torn up croissants which looked like a great idea, especially if you’re in a hurry.

Um Ali

Red JugI’m not claiming that this is a wholly traditional Um Ali as, although I have not veered too far from that, my recipe is missing one key ingredient that would be found in most Um Ali recipes – raisins. I’m not a huge fan so I left them out but as you can imagine, they do compliment the other flavours beautifully.

My first attempt seemed to pass the test with my Bahraini friends – hopefully they weren’t just being polite – which was a big relief! Some of my other taste testers also suggested that it might be nice with apple or dried apricots mixed in too. Might have to give that a go next time!

Plate of Um AliUm Ali (Serves 10)
(adapted from Nancy Girgis’ recipe on


250g filo pastry sheets*
100g flaked/sliced almonds
10g butter, melted
70g chopped walnuts
1L low-fat milk
250ml cream
120ml honey (or more to your taste)
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon and extra to decorate

*I found a 500g packet of big filo sheets and cut them in half to roughly fit my dish. It doesn’t need to be big sheets though, as you break them up anyway.


Pre heat the oven to 180°C/350°F.

Place the pile of filo pastry on a sheet of baking parchment on top of a baking sheet and put in the oven. Watch carefully and as the top layer begins to brown (approximately 10 minutes) remove it from the oven. Repeat until all layers of pastry have browned. You may find that the bottom couple of layers are too brown and need to be discarded.

Set aside about 30g of the almonds to decorate the top of the Um Ali at the end.

Use the butter and a silicone or pastry brush to grease your pan (mine measured approximately 32cm x 26cm/13” x 9”) and break 3 sheets of the pastry into pieces into the dish. I found the easiest way to do this was to put the whole sheets in the dish and then just press down on them to break them up.

Sprinkle over some of the chopped walnuts and almonds and repeat layering until you have used up all of the pastry and nuts.

Pour the milk, cream, honey, vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon into a large pan and bring to the boil.

Pour the milk mixture evenly over the pastry and nuts. Decorate the top layer with the almonds you set aside earlier and a generous dusting of cinnamon.

Bake in the pre heated oven for approximately 15-20 minutes or until the top is a nice golden brown. Serve immediately on its own or, for a fusion twist, with a scoop of ice cream or a drizzle of chocolate sauce!

SABH Layer Upon Layer

This post is part of the Sweet Adventures “Layer upon Layer” Blog Hop hosted by KC from Capers of the Kitchen Crusader. If you’d like to join the hop, click here for instructions. To see other entries in the hop, click on the thumbnail images below. Learn more about the Sweet Adventures Blog Hop here.

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18 Responses

  1. Moya 21 Mar,2012 at 12:35 pm

    Amy this has to be one of my all time favourites “Um Ali” and I fell in love with this wonderful dessert when I arrived in Bahrain many years ago. I agree that it is similar to bread and butter pudding. Just seeing and thinking about it makes me want to have some right now! :)

  2. Anoush 22 Mar,2012 at 8:33 am

    As a matter of fact just went to a lovely restaurant in Mornington called “The Garlic Kiss” and they have a fantastic bread and butter pudding which they said was made with croissants. Had not heard of that before. Delicious but naughty. I do like the fact that there is a slightly “less fat” recipe. Keep them coming.

  3. Amy 22 Mar,2012 at 9:50 am

    Lizzy & Bambi – Thanks! It is yum and great for a pretty easy dinner party dessert.

    Anoush – Interesting! I think I will definitely have to give croissants a go, sounds way too easy not to try!

  4. Amy 28 Mar,2012 at 8:52 am

    Thanks Peta! I noticed on your blog that one of your sons can’t eat eggs so hopefully this is something the whole family can enjoy :)

    • Amy 18 Jul,2012 at 4:10 pm

      Thank you! It is very comforting and as it’s a healthier version I have decided that means I can eat more!


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