The first time that I ate Om Ali, I was on board the Dhow Cruise (named Majlis), in Dubai. The dessert was part of a delicious Middle Eastern dinner buffet on board the scenic skyline cruise of the city by night. It is a bread pudding basically, but has more Middle-Eastern flavors of cardamom and dried fruits and raisins.
My second time was this year in September when I went for Hajj to Saudi Arabia with family and Om Ali was part of all dinner buffets! If made from scratch, this dish is made by baking the Phyllo pastry dough sheets. But a good hack is to use croissants. Since the technique requires soaking in milk, they do not have to be fresh. A Pakistani snack called Bakarkhaani can also be used but it is very, very sweet so you would have to cancel out the sugar quantity in the recipe - unless you have a serious sweet tooth!
Why is it called Om Ali?
"Om Ali is a traditional Egyptian dessert, 100% Egyptian. This dish, Om Ali (Mother of Ali) has some unsavory history. Om Ali was the wife of a ruler from the Ayyubid dynasty in Egypt called Ezz El-Din Aybek. Her rival Shagaret El Dorr was the second wife of that ruler. After his death, Shagaret El Dorr arranged for Om Ali to be murdered, and to celebrate, she requested from her cooks to come up with the most delicious dessert they can think of to distribute to throughout Egypt. The successful recipe was a special pastry with milk and honey, that was named Om Ali. A gold coin was added to each plate & distributed in the streets of Egypt. Shagaret El Dorr ruled Egypt for some time in the name of her husband, and later died in a conspiracy too. This dish to date is still known as Om Ali." - Source: Eat Like An Egyptian
- Croissants, 12 medium-sized, at least (I got the Safeway box)
- Milk, 5 cups
- Pistachios, fine chopped, as much as you like
- Almonds, fine chopped, as much as you like
- Coconut powder, as much as you like (sweetened can be used)
- Raisins or Sultanas, if you like
- Sugar 3/4 cup (Sugar-Free Version: 20-25 sachets Equal, according to taste)
- Cardamom powder, 1/2 teaspoon
- In a deep baking dish (at least 2 1/2") and 9 x 13" dimensions spread a layer of croissant pieces.
- Generously scatter chopped pistachios, chopped almonds, raisins or sultanas, and coconut powder (or desiccated coconut) over the layer of croissants.
- To prepare sweetened milk: Add 5 cups milk, 3/4 cup sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder and bring to a gentle boil.Sugar-Free Version: Add 20-25 sachets of Equal sweetener to the milk, after it boils, and stir well.
- Pour the milk over the layer of croissants and with the back of a spoon soak the croissants in gently.
- Add a second layer of croissant pieces (comparatively thinner than the previous one) and do not press down.Note: This top layer is to add a crunchy top. If you prefer the softer, soaked and fully soggy version of bread puddings, you may skip this top layer or add more sweetened milk.
- Garnish with chopped nuts