Om Ali (Egyptian Bread Pudding)

published Apr 15, 2023
ramadan
Om Ali (Egyptian Bread Pudding) Recipe

Creamy, nutty, spice-packed flavor and rich folklore are in every flaky layer of this traditional Egyptian bread pudding.

Serves8 to 10

Prep15 minutes to 20 minutes

Cook50 minutes to 1 hour

Jump to Recipe
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Om Ali in baking dish.
Credit: Laura Rege

Om Ali, which translates as Ali’s mother, is the Egyptian version of warm bread pudding. It’s a rich, satisfying, and simple-to-make dessert that’s most commonly found on the table during Ramadan. Even though I was raised in a Christian Arab household, I associate the dish with Ramadan, because my family always made it when we would host the iftar dinner for our Muslim family friends when I was growing up. 

Om Ali’s popularity stems from how easy it is to make, requiring just a few ingredients that are staples in most Middle Eastern and North African homes. It’s incredibly forgiving — so much so that it’s one of the first things my mom taught me how to make all on my own. I was always so proud knowing that one of the important dishes being served was one I’d created with my own hands. 

The History of Om Ali

Om Ali is so special because it is a distinctly Egyptian dish — especially in a region where there is much overlap in cuisines, as well as constant debate about where recipes originated from. And, while everyone agrees that this is an Egyptian dish, nobody agrees on how it came to be, so whoever you ask will likely tell you a different origin story. 

One of the most popular stories that I’ve heard the most revolves around Om Ali herself, who was the emperor’s second wife. She plotted to kill the emperor’s first wife so that her son, Ali, would become heir to the throne. It’s rumored that this dessert was created when she called on her servants to come up with a new dessert for the celebration. 

Another popular story is that the sultan’s second wife actually plotted his murder because he was planning on taking a third wife. When the news of his death reached his first wife, Om Ali (who herself strongly disliked her husband), she celebrated the news by asking the palace servants to make a dessert with whatever they had in the pantry. 

It’s unclear whether these stories are myth, folk tales, or historical fact, but one thing is certain — the story behind this dessert is still being vigorously debated. 

Credit: Laura Rege

How to Make Om Ali

While I say this dish is easy to make, it wasn’t always the case. The pastry was and still is sometimes made by hand, to create an incredibly delicate and wafer-thin pastry called rokak, which is layered with butter or ghee. The result is so similar to puff pastry that I take the easy route and use frozen puff pastry! One may see interesting variations like using croissants or even palmiers instead of puff pastry, but I’ve found that puff pastry yields the best consistency and taste, and is often the most affordable and foolproof way to make Om Ali. 

I take a slightly different approach to the classic recipe by using coconut milk instead of whole dairy milk. My husband is lactose-intolerant so I tried making it with coconut milk, as you’re meant to add dried coconut in the dessert anyway, and I found that it’s actually lighter and more flavorful (I’ve made the coconut flakes optional in the recipe below). If you’d like to make this recipe vegan, feel free to use vegan puff pastry. 

If You’re Making Om Ali, a Few Tips

There really isn’t one way to make Om Ali, so feel free to play around with whatever you prefer when it comes to ingredients and amounts of things — there is room to play and adjust however you like. 

  • Swap in other nuts. I use only almonds to keep things simple, but you can use any nuts you like, add more or less, or even forego them altogether. 
  • If you don’t like raisins, skip them. But I will say you’d be missing out on how juicy and plump they become in the milk, providing little bursts of fruitiness that cut through the richness. 
  • Try it with or without spices. The addition of the spices is also optional, as the recipe doesn’t traditionally require them. However, I like the subtle warmth of cinnamon and cardamom, which takes the flavor to another level. 

Om Ali (Egyptian Bread Pudding) Recipe

Creamy, nutty, spice-packed flavor and rich folklore are in every flaky layer of this traditional Egyptian bread pudding.

Prep time 15 minutes to 20 minutes

Cook time 50 minutes to 1 hour

Serves 8 to 10

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1

    (14- to 17-ounce) package frozen puff pastry, thawed in the refrigerator

  • 3

    (about 13-ounce) cans coconut milk

  • 1/4 cup

    plus 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar, divided

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    ground cardamom

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    ground cinnamon

  • 2/3 cup

    raisins, divided

  • 1/2 cup

    roasted chopped or sliced almonds, divided

  • 1/2 cup

    unsweetened coconut flakes (optional)

Instructions

  1. Thaw 1 package frozen puff pastry in the refrigerator according to package directions.

  2. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

  3. Unroll the puff pastry onto a work surface or cutting board. Cut into rough 2-inch squares (about 18). Place on the baking sheets, spacing them evenly apart.

  4. Bake until the pastry is puffed and golden-brown, about 15 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheet while you make the coconut milk mixture.

  5. Place 3 (about 13-ounce) cans coconut milk, 1/4 cup of the packed light brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom in a small pot or medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is just dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat.

  6. Arrange half of the puff pastry squares in a single layer in a 9x13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup of the raisins and 1/4 cup of the chopped or sliced almonds. Pour about half of the coconut milk mixture evenly over the top.

  7. Repeat layering the remaining puff pastry squares, breaking them up into large, irregular shards. Top with the remaining 1/3 cup raisins, 1/4 cup almonds, and coconut milk mixture. You want most of the pastry to be submerged, so pat down or break into some of the pastry if you need to, but leave some pieces poking out of it since they’ll crisp up and add a little bit of texture. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons light brown sugar and 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes if using.

  8. Bake until the top and some of the coconut milk is toasted and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Check after 10 minutes: If the top is already browned, loosely cover the top with aluminum foil and continue baking. Serve hot.

Recipe Notes

Puff pastry: Look for ready-made puff pastry in the freezer section, particularly those brands made with all butter rather than oil. They will have a richer flavor, and the dough will produce nice layers of pastry. For best results, defrost in the refrigerator at least 4 hours and up to 1 day before using.

Storage: This recipe is best eaten immediately, but leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Reheat in a 400ºF oven for 10 minutes and add a little more warmed coconut milk if too dry.

Substitutions:

  • Dairy free and vegan: Use dairy-free puff pastry if you want to make this completely vegan/dairy-free.
  • Coconut milk substitute: 5 cups whole milk can be substituted for the coconut milk.
  • Nuts: Any chopped, toasted nuts may be used instead of almonds. Peanuts, pistachios, and hazelnuts (or a mix of any) are other commonly used nuts in this recipe.