Ashta cream is the ubiquitous Lebanese milk pudding, fragrant with orange blossom water and rose water. This ashta recipe uses whole milk and cornstarch, but recipes abound and are quite varied, some using white bread as the thickener—and none using eggs, as in a traditional French pastry cream. Ashta is traditionally served in a little pancake for dessert, or as a topping fresh fruit, or as a filling for knafeh and phyllo pastries.

Fresh summer fruit with Lebanese ashta cream on a blue and white plate, surrounded by a wicker table and silver spoons from Maureen Abood

I get asked often, naturally, about a next book. During the early gestation phase of writing, I think I’m not alone as an author who holds the ideas close and wants to let them ferment, long and slow like a good batch of laban. This is how it was when I was considering leaving my job and life in Chicago to go to culinary school: for a time, a long time, I kept it to myself, wanting to really understand it from within rather than cave to my inclination to get others to weigh in. I’ve noticed that my new pattern of behavior, one I like a lot, is that by the time I’m finally sharing, the idea is pretty solid in my soul.

So. I’ve got pastry on the brain, Lebanese pastry, and am taking a long and deep look at all of it. It’s certainly book-worthy, don’t you think? That, my friends, is an idea that’s pretty solid in my soul.

Clotted cream in a strainer for the ashta recipe, with pot of boiling milk beside it, Maureen Abood

In the world of Lebanese pastries and desserts, there is lots to learn (which I love). This ashta cream is one of those recipes that has intrigued me for some time. I’ve been asked about it, and couldn’t really pony up a whole lot in the way of experience or recipes I rely on.

My array of Lebanese and other Middle Eastern cookbooks rarely–meaning never–cover an ashta recipe. When we were in Lebanon, there was the ashta all over the place, mostly as a filling for knafeh and phyllo pastries or as an ice cream flavor, as well as a filling little pancakes, folded up like a horn around the cream. The people were going absolutely nutty for it, and I can see why: it’s creamy, and without any eggs, the milky pudding allows the flavor of the flower waters to shine (enter your bottles of exceptional Mymoune orange blossom and rose water!). Ashta is so often paired with fragrant floral simple syrup that you get extra (but still not overboard) flower water love with it.

Cream and clotted cream in a bowl, with fruit, for the ashta recipe from Maureen Abood

Mymoune Orange Blossom Water next to a pot of cream for ashta, Maureen Abood

The old-world ashta recipe is a clotted cream that seems to have been made by patiently pulling off the thin skin that forms on boiling milk, again and again. That was parlayed into making clotted whole milk (simply vinegar and milk, boiled to separate the cream from the whey) and combining the resulting clotted cream with milk pudding (simply cornstarch and milk, boiled until thickened). Other contemporary recipes use crust less white bread as the thickener for the pudding, and some use a European cream cheese called Puck, either on its own or together with the clotted cream.

I like the milk pudding method because it can be beautifully blended to make the ashta nice and smooth. And you know how I feel about smooth (see hummus, and more smooth hummus). From what I have seen, most ashtas are shaggy, clotted-creamy and not smooth.

An immersion blender smooths ashta cream in a white bowl, Maureen Abood

But until I hear that I’m way out of line with the smooth, that’s where I stand. Especially for ashta cream that’s used as a topping for gorgeous fruit (beautiful meets beautiful. And if you collect pretty little bowls and spoons, there’s extra beautiful!). When the ashta cream is used as a filling for knafehs and phyllo, well then the smooth may be an unnecessary added step and that’s fine.

So…research is very much underway! I have to say this is research I much MUCH prefer over the research of my grad school days. I love me a good story and literature is my thing, but long hours in the kitchen and pouring over cookbooks, I’ll take that any day over a big old cold university library. And you, so many of you have so much knowledge about Lebanese recipes! I’d love to know if you have an ashta cream recipe you love, and to know how you like to use it.

Fresh fruit with ashta cream in a Royal Copenhagen blue dish on a wicker table, Maureen Abood

Ashta Cream

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 8
Recipe by: Maureen Abood

Many ashta recipes leave out the sugar because the cream is so often served in pastry that includes a topping of simple syrup. I think at least a little sugar is key in the flavor of this traditional Lebanese milk pudding. Serve it with fruit or use the ashta as a filling for knafeh and other desserts.

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Ingredients

  • 8 cups whole milk, cold
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons orange blossom water
  • 1 teaspoon rose water
  • 4 cups Fresh fruit, such as peaches, nectarines, cherries, blueberries, currants, raspberries
  • Ground pistachios, for serving

Instructions

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine 6 cups of the milk with the vinegar and heat over medium high heat.

  2. Stir the milk until it is steaming and the whey and cream separate. This will happen swiftly.

  3. Place a strainer over a bowl. Turn off the heat and use a slotted spoon to remove the clotted cream to the strainer. Discard the whey left in the saucepan.

  4. In another medium saucepan (or rinse the last one out), whisk the remaining 2 cups of milk with the cornstarch and sugar.

  5. Cook the pudding over medium heat, whisking constantly until it thickens, about 5 minutes.

  6. Remove the cream from the heat. Add the strained clotted cream and flower waters, whisking until fairly smooth. Use an immersion blender or other blender to smooth the cream.

  7. In a bowl, place plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Chill for at least one hour and up to one week before serving.

  8. Before serving, blend the cream again. Arrange the fruit in small bowls and top with a dollop of the ashta. Sprinkle with ground pistachios and serve immediately.

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9 Responses to "Lebanese Ashta Recipe, with Fresh Fruit"
  1. Lynette Kalifeh says:

    A Lebanese pastry cookbook written by you?? Ummm, can I pre-order it NOW??? :-)) I’d be all over that one in a heart beat! I’ve been cooking my way through your current cookbook and having the time of my life! My husband is Lebanese and we married three years ago. My sister-in-law said your recipes are the closest to their old family recipes. My introduction to Lebanese pastries (and Lebanese cooking in general) was a maamoul mold in his kitchen and I had no idea what it was for. He told me it was his mothers and they were usually done at Easter. I started looking up recipes and videos and made a batch for Easter that year – having never tasted them or even seen them in person. At the time I did not know that no one in his family had made them since his mother and she passed away many years ago. I’ve improved my recipes since then and I’ve been hooked ever since on learning Lebanese cooking – especially the pastries!! I found this ashta cream recipe a year or so ago and it was absolutely incredible. This one used white bread and was very, very smooth. Here is the link to the video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C41Zga9G_Rg Looking forward to your next recipe!! Lynette

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Thank you so so much Lynette for all of your kind encouragement and family stories! AND for the ashta recipe you like–will have to try it!

  2. Rosanne says:

    I just came across your site and find it so pleasing to read your little stories that I can relate to, along with your wonderful recipes. Your hummus is absolutely delish and I’ve made it each time it runs out. Your recipes are divine and I’ve so missed making my family’s Lebanese food. You got me hooked! Thanks for your great recipes.

  3. Mary S. says:

    I remember my Mom making this ONCE and only once. She used an aluminum pan which leached and turned the Ashta a blue color. She got so frustrated she threw it all away. But I got to taste it before she dumped it out, I didn’t mind the blue tint and it tasted wonderful. However the perfectionist in her did not tolerate any thing that did not meet her tough criteria and blue Ashta was not up to her standards

  4. Emuna says:

    Can’t wait to try this — it sounds like the perfect child of white cheese and corn starch pudding! A thought: instead of discarding the whey, you can use it to make Jennifer Reese’s “everyday bread” (recipe available in the “look inside” here: https://www.amazon.com/Make-Bread-Buy-Butter-Shouldnt-ebook/dp/B004T4KXMS). The only problem with doing this is that once you do it once, you’ll be compelled to do it every time you make ashta or white cheese!

  5. Mariam says:

    Wow .. this looks like it’s the one definitive recipe for homemade Ashta ! A pastry and savory bread and pie book ( Fatayer . Manoushe . Sfiha etc)is much needed with accurate tested recipes …

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