This is a traditional Egyptian dessert — Um Ali — the Arabic equivalent of crème brûlée — but it is now commonplace all over the Middle East. It can be made in several different ways, from just simmering raisins and almonds in cream to more elaborate versions, sometimes flavored with cardamom, sometimes cinnamon, and occasionally also with rosewater. This recipe resembles one commonly served in Iraq.
According to legend, this is a dish that was served by Ali’s mother (that is what Um Ali means), but no one seems to know quite who Ali was. The only thing I think we can say with absolute certainty is that he must have had a sweet tooth.–Andreas Viestad
Baked Almond Custard with Cinnamon
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Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Grease four individual ovenproof dishes.
Cut the puff pastry into 4 squares and line the ramekins with the pastry. Bake for 15 minutes, until brown and puffed.
Meanwhile, using your hands, break the cinnamon stick into smaller pieces. In a pot, combine the milk, cream, sugar, and cinnamon and heat until almost boiling. Reduce the heat and let simmer gently for a couple of minutes.
In a bowl, beat the egg. Add the cinnamon cream, little by little, while whisking energetically. Add 2/3 cup of the almonds, the pistachios (if desired), and the raisins.
Push down some of the puffed pastry in the middle of each individual mold to make room for the cinnamon-cream mixture. The flakes that result will help thicken the custard. Add the custard to the dishes and sprinkle with the remaining 1/3 cup almonds.
Bake on the middle oven rack for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown on top. Serve hot.
Baked Almond Custard with Cinnamon Recipe © 2007 Andreas Viestad. Photo © 2007 Mette Randem. All rights reserved. All materials used with permission.