Egyptian Dessert Om Ali Has A Dark Origin Story

When you think of desserts that define Egyptian kitchens, baklava or kunafa may be the first sweet treats to come to your mind. However, om ali, a scrumptious twist on bread pudding, may be the ultimate Egyptian fare.

This sweet, gooey pudding is widely considered a national dessert of the country, and Vice states that it is a beautiful intersection between bread pudding and baklava. Served hot and fresh, this pudding can be found in upscale dining establishments as well as street carts. It's also an Egyptian household staple. This dessert comes in several different forms, each delicious in its own right. From the caramelized sugar to the crunchy nuts within each bite, it seems om ali isn't capable of disappointing us. 

But, we know you may not be here to listen to us go on about this pudding's delicious qualities. You're in it for the gory details, right? Well, you've come to the right place, as this dessert is arguably most well-known for its bloody origin story.

The bloody history of om ali

There are many stories that circulate about the legend of om ali. One of the versions, according to Vice, begins in the 13th century while Egypt was under rule by the Sultana, Shajarat al-Durr. She led the country after her husband, Assalih Ayyub, passed away, as per Doha News.

However, she faced extreme criticism from her male-only colleagues while in power. In order to help herself gain respect, she decided to marry a man, Izz al-Din Aybak, as per Vice. Her plan with Aybak was to give the throne up to him, so the position would be respected once again, and she'd retain tremendous influence over the decision-making processes. However, Aybak was already married. And, within a few years, he sought to marry another influential woman, desiring even more power. Rather understandably, this deeply upset al-Durr, and she arranged to have her husband assassinated.

So, how does the dessert figure in? Supposedly, Aybak's first wife, Om Ali, was so elated about her husband's death that she asked her servants to create a celebratory pudding, as per Vice. The cooks used what was lying around in the pantry, and voila. Om ali was born. 

However, another version of the story states that om ali was created to celebrate the death of al-Durr, not Aybak. According to Amira's Pantry, Om Ali arranged to have al-Durr gruesomely killed for stealing her husband. To celebrate her success, Om Ali had the dessert made. 

Ingredients in om ali

Regardless of your opinions in this dark tale, it's hard to deny that the final sweet and doughy result is anything less than spectacular. Many regard this dessert as a cross between baklava and bread pudding, and the reasoning mostly comes down the ingredient list.

In this recipe, puff pastry sheets act as the bread chucks, absorbing the delicious milk and cream, which pairs nicely with the crunchy ingredients. Mixed in to the pudding are often chopped walnuts, chopped pecans, hazelnuts, raisins, flaked coconut, and white sugar along with milk and heavy cream (per The Daily Meal). Vice notes that pistachios and almonds can also be used either alongside or in place of the other nuts. It all comes down to your personal preferences. Even fresh fruit slices or chocolate are not off limits, as per Amira's Pantry

While it is a bit of a lengthy ingredients list, it can be thrown together in no time, as Om Ali's maids did.

How om ali is made and eaten

The first step in making this dessert takes thawed puff pastry sheets and places them in a buttered baking dish that's tossed in the oven. The beautiful top layer will turn golden, signaling it is ready to be taken out and mixed together with its delicious ingredients (per The Daily Meal).

All the chosen nuts, raisins, sugar, and any other flavorings are mixed into the sheets, which will break up the neat stacks of dough. Once thoroughly incorporated, warm milk, cream, and sugar are additionally added in and broiled. Almost like crème brûlée, when the dessert is ready, the top of the pudding will get crisp with golden sugar (via The Daily Meal).

Amira's Pantry notes that this dessert is typically served fresh from the oven and sweet, hot milk is provided on the side to pour over individual portions.

While this may seem like a simple dessert with a bit of dark history attached, to the Egyptian people it is much more. As Vice notes, om ali is "ubiquitous on the Egyptian table," and seen everywhere throughout the country, whether it's served at home or in fancy restaurants. It is a connection that all Egyptians can find, making om ali's modern connotation much more important and pleasant than its past.