Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Bread of the Seraglio (Aysh Al Saraya) - Cuisine of Lebanon

Off we travel to Lebanon, brought to you by the letter "L" and the Walima Middle Eastern Challenge Club. The club decided on the savoury dish Sheesh Barak and the beautiful sounding dessert - Bread of the Seraglio.

Minor problem, they decided on this a MONTH ago, and I am only posting it now, because I am what I am. It also starts with the letter "L"... Any guesses?

I fixed on dessert, because
a) I have an insane sweet tooth.
b) The dish had such a romantic name - Bread of the Seraglio....*sigh*
c) I tell you, I really have an insane sweet tooth. Sheesh Barak will have to wait another day. Sheesh......

But back to the Seraglio, which means harem by the way. Picture yourself in the Alhambra or some other dizzyingly beautiful Moorish palace...
There in the lush gardens,beautiful women lazily strum their musical instruments and are fed spoonfuls of this dessert by cherubic, dancing children.........
Till they tasted the dish churned out by their newbie cook Split Al-Pear, and they wrinkle their pretty noses in horror and run away...
Bread of the Seraglio (Aysh Al Saraya) is a Middle Eastern bread pudding composed of bread cooked in caramel, then layered with ashta and finally doused with pistachios. Heavenly. But how could I make this this go wrong?
I erred with this dish on two counts.
1. Because it specifically said to use stale white bread. And I did NOT. Well, I thought I did, I used good ol' Wonder White Bread which I rarely buy, and left it out for 2 days, only to find it as cheery and fresh as the day I bought it. So I still went and used it. When soaking it in the caramel, it became very mushy. In hindsight, I should have toasted the bread. Strike 1.
I also believe if there is a Nuclear War, there will be two things left on this planet when everything else is wiped out. Wonder Bread and Paris Hilton....
2. I let the sugar caramelize to a deep brown. Deep brown caramel has a slightly acid taste, which is fine in caramel puddings like Caramel Flan where it balances well with the eggs and milk. In this dessert, there are no eggs and milk, so my dessert turned out a little too cloyingly sweet and tart. Strike 2.
All in all, a great dessert despite my slight failure, and I thank the combined duo of Joumana of Taste of Beirut and Arlette of Phoenician Gourmet for coming up with this challenge.
Bread of the Seraglio

1 round loaf white bread, about 8 inches in diameter, 1 day old
9 ounces golden superfine sugar
4 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
scant 1/2 cup boiling water
1 3/4 cups Lebanese clotted cream or Ashta
2 tablespoons pistachios, ground medium-fine

1. Cut off the bread crusts and reserve the rest of the white bread.
2. Put the sugar, water and lemon juice in a deep frying pan and place over medium heat. Bring to the boil and cook, stirring constantly, so that the sugar does not crystallize in places, for about 10-20 minutes or until it is caramelized.
3. Towards the end of the cooking time, measure 7 ounces of water and bring to a boil in a teakettle. When the sugar is caramelized, start adding the hot water gradually without taking the sugar mixture off the heat. Be very careful, because the sugar will start spluttering and you could burn yourself!
4. Pour the boiling syrup all over the bread and transfer the soaked bread to the pan.
5. Place over medium heat and cook pressing the bread with the back of a spoon to mash it and make it soak up the syrup.
6. Slide the bread into a serving dish, spreading it evenly across the dish. Let it cool then cover the bread entirely with ashta.
7.Chill then cover with pistachios right before serving.



Desisoccermom said...

I was confused for a minute. How does Bread of Seraglio connect with letter L? Then I realized, it is Lebanese cuisine. I have never had this but it sounds similar to bread pudding they make in India, except it is made with milk and probably baked or cooked in a cooker, I think.
But I have to say, you are tackling exotic recipes this year and that is just peaches (that's is my attempt at using a Tx expression).

tasteofbeirut said...

Hi Ann
You know every time I make up a recipe I realize I could have said more. Your comments are so helpful!
Great job and see you at the next challenge!

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

This rice dish looks so bright and sunny to add spark to our meals on these dreary winter days.

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

This rice dish looks so bright and sunny to add spark to our meals on these dreary winter days.