The pastry looks like thin white hair, compressed together to form a bloc, so you need to disentangle it before cooking, available at most of the Turkish and Lebanese grocery shops. It is sold frozen, vacuum packed and even fresh. The Turkish call it Kadayefi and the Lebanese Osmalliyeh or Knefeh sha’r (hair) to distinguish it from the Knefeh mafroukeh (where the pastry is rubbed to attain a crumbly texture). The latter is commonly used to prepare our traditional breakfast Knefeh bil Jibin (Sweetened Cheese topped with Pastry).
Osmalliyyeh is a Turkish word attributed to Osmans meaning the Turks. Though the letter n has disappeared, it, actually, originates from Osmanli meaning the Imperial House of Osman. They were the Ottoman dynasty who ruled the Ottoman Empire that stretched across much of the Middle East including Lebanon. So, I guess this dessert dates back to the time of the Ottomans.
It is an elegant dessert and you can vary its sweetness to your liking. The combination of Ashtah with toasted shredded pastry, ground pistachio nuts and sugar syrup gives this dessert an exquisite soft crumbly taste.
There are several ways to serve Osmalliyeh, the old traditional one consists of sandwiching Ashtah between two round layers of shredded pastry. However, it sounds nowadays old fashioned, and the more I visit Lebanese restaurants, the more I become amazed by the sophisticated way they present it. So, I decided to create my own version which is very simple, relatively light and providing you don’t add Ashtah or clotted cream immediately, it will keep for a couple or even three days.
Serves 4 – 6 (depending how thick you want the layers)
- ½ quantity Ashtah (See recipe in Desserts) or clotted cream.
- 1 quantity Ater or sugar syrup (See recipe in Desserts).
- Enough softened butter to grease the bottom of the baking dish.
- 250 g / 9 oz Osmalliyyeh (shredded pastry).
- Aerosol can of cooking oil (low calories) to spray the top of the pastry.
- 100 g / 4 oz pistachio nuts coarsely ground.
- Candied rose petals for decoration (optional).
- You also need a non-stick baking dish, measuring 30 x 23 cm (12 x 9 inches)
- 6 standard ramekins lightly greased with flavourless oil
- Prepare The Ashtah (clotted cream) and sugar syrup as described in their respective recipes.
- Pre-heat the oven to 190°C / 375°F. Grease the baking dish with the softened butter.
- Disentangle the shredded pastry by pulling the threads gently apart then spread evenly in the greased baking dish. Spray the top generously with the fat, making sure that all the pastry is moistened.
- Pop it in the oven, it should take about 15 to 20 minutes to reach a nice golden colour. However, what I noticed is that some sections and more specifically the edges change colour before other parts. This is where you have to be really watchful and not move away, take the dish out and stir the pastry gently to ensure both evenness of cooking and colour.
- Once the baking time is finished, divide the pastry between the ramekins. Squeeze tight and press firmly so it holds an even round shape. You can leave it like that as long as you need.
- When you are ready to serve. Simply loosen the edges with a table knife, take a dessert serving plate, then holding it against the ramekin, tip the latter up side down. Spread about 2 generous tablespoons of Ashtah (clotted cream). Sprinkle generously with pistachio nuts, and if you like more colours, decorate with candied rose petals. Drizzle some sugar syrup and serve at once with the sugar syrup on the side.
- For a double decker, divide the cooked pastry between 8 ramekins (instead of 6). Proceed as above for the bottom layer, spread the Ashtah. Tip the top layer on something slippery like a parchment paper, then very gently slide it on top of the Ashtah. Now add a dollop of Ashtah on the second layer, sprinkle generously with pistachio nuts then, if you like, decorate with candied rose petals. Serve as described above.
Uncooked Shredded Pastry