This famous coconut, milk, and wheat flake pudding is an Egyptian treasure. The apocryphal story of Umm 'Ali is that it was invented during the reign of the Ottoman Turks. One day while hunting in the Nile delta, the sultan developed a ravenous appetite and stopped in a small village. The peasants wished to please the sultan, so the best cook of the village, Umm 'Ali , pulled out a special pan and filled it with the only ingredients she had around: some dried wheat flakes (perhaps stale broken pieces of gullash, a phyllo-like pastry), sultanas, nuts, and coconut. She covered it with sugar and milk and put it into the village's oven. It was so good that the sultan asked for Umm 'Ali 's dessert the next time he visited. Another story is related by Charles Perry, a food writer for the Los Angeles Times: Umm 'Ali was a pudding learned from an English nurse named O'Malley.
The coconut came to Egypt by traders, either via Arabs of the southern Arabian peninsula or from East Africa, where it may have been brought by the same Arabs centuries earlier. In any case, although the Arabs were successful in acclimatizing many tropical plants to the Mediterranean, they appear to have been unsuccessful in introducing the coconut to Egypt, according to the fifteenth-century Arab commentator Ibn Iyas.
Take several sheets of phyllo pastry and leave them out until they are completely dry and brittle.
[photo: Clifford A. Wright]
Yield: Makes 4 to 6 servings
Preparation Time: 35 minutes
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
2. Butter a 9 x 12-inch baking pan. Layer the pan with the broken pieces of phyllo pastry. Sprinkle the nuts, sugar, coconut flakes, and raisins over the pastry. Pour the light cream over everything and place in the oven until the cream is bubbling and the top is browning, about 10 minutes. Remove and serve.