By Elizabeth Davis
Whether you’re hosting a large group or serving a family of four, when it’s time to eat, everyone wants to know… What’s for dessert?
Om Ali, basboosa, kunafah, luqaimat and halawat el jibn are perennial favorites, but this holiday surprise your guests by veering from traditional recipes and add some modern culinary flair and flavor to your customary confections.
“Always start with fresh, quality ingredients,” recommended Rabih Nayef, Executive Pastry Chef at the Abha Palace Hotel, “during Ramadan we serve all the traditional desserts, but add something special.” After 14 years preparing pastry at Abha’s only five-star hotel, Nayef knows a lot about making superb sweets. Even in the low season, the hotel attracts a big dessert crowd, serving up to 300 slices of cake nightly on the hotel lobby’s tree-rimmed veranda. In the high-summer season crowds flock to this regional favorite, particularly during Ramadan, when city dwellers escape to the Asir mountains to escape the high temperatures in Riyadh and Jeddah.
When planning your holiday menu, take a cue from the experts and add a contemporary sweet, pastry or cake to your table.
“After fasting all day, you need something sweet to give your body a boost of energy,” said Nayef, “so in most Arabic desserts sugar is added with syrup.”
From basboosa to kunafah to baklava, these recipes call for sugar to be added in the form of syrup which is drizzled over the final product. To imbue a unique flavor to simple syrup, mix equal parts sugar with rose, orange blossom or chamomile infused water. Boil the sugar mixture until the granules are dissolved.
Here are a few more tips on how to make your homemade holiday confections more delicious.
A Ramadan must-have, the chef’s easy tip will turn this classic dessert into the standout hit of the holiday. Start with a deep dish of homemade puffed pastry, salted butter and fresh cream baked until golden. The chef recommends this Arabic-style bread pudding be served plain, but with an assortment of chopped nuts, raisins, honey and shaved coconut toppings on the side. Guests will really enjoy accenting their pudding portions by piling on the sweet and crunchy toppings to taste.
Use only fine semolina flour, along with desiccated coconut, sugar and ghee for a richer taste. After baking, for a special pop of flavor brush lightly with lemon salt and an orange blossom-infused simple syrup.
Whether you prefer cheese or the sweet cream variety of this Arabic favorite, change-up the filling ingredients for a more unique flavor. For the cream variety of kunafah, add a bit of finely-ground mastic powder to a mixture of milk and cornflower. For a delicious twist on traditional cheese kunafah, use an assortment of cheeses for broader, richer flavor. Chef Nayef suggests a blend of mozzarella, cheddar and akkawi, a type of Palestinian cheese. Use a blend of finely chopped cashews and pistachios to finish the dish.
However you choose to personalize your family’s Ramadan dessert recipes, using fresh ingredients and a bit of culinary creativity are the keys to great food.