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How to Make Blancmange, Muhallebi, Mahalepi, Malabi and Kazan Dibi, Middle Eastern Desserts - Old-Fashioned Milk Puddings

Mahalepi (in glass) and rose-flavoured blacmange
Mahalepi (in glass) and rose-flavoured blacmange
I added a drop of red food colouring to the blancmange, because, after all, everybody likes a pink blancmange!

Who would have guessed?

The humble, old-fashioned blancmange, which I always thought to be an English, or, due to its name; blancmange (eat white, or white dish), French dessert, has been enjoyed for centuries all over the Middle East under other names, muhallebi, mahalepi, malabi and kazan dibi.

A dessert by any other name would taste as sweet!

Old-fashioned blancmange
Old-fashioned puddings

These sweet, wobbly delights are basically made from milk and sugar thickened with corn flour (corn starch) or rice flour, and, particularly in the Middle East, slathered with rose water syrup, and topped with crunchy chopped pistachio nuts, in England however, where its inhabitants are known for being rather straight-laced and puritanical, it comes as is, straight up and unadorned.

The origins of this simple sweet can be traced back to the Middle Ages, Geoffrey Chaucer mentions blancmange in his “Canterbury Tales” as far back as 1340 or 1344 to 1400;
(Written in Olde English)

"A cook they hadde with them for the nones (occasion) To boil the chickens and the marrow bones,
And powder merchant tart and galingale.
Well could he know a draught of London ale.
He could roast, and stew, and broil, and fry,
Make mortrewes, and well bake a pie.
But great harm was it, as it thoughte me,
That, on his shin a mormal ( open running ulcer) hadde he.
For blanc manger, that made he with the best."


  Back in the day i.e. around 1200 to 1300, blancmange consisted of shredded chicken along with the milk and sugar and was considered a suitable dish for invalids, this goes for both European and Persian versions, all variations on a theme.
By the 1800s the chicken seems to have disappeared from the dish (I’m really pleased about that!).

  Lemon and almond- flavoured blancmange  with ground cinnamon or nutmeg
Lemon and almond- flavoured blancmange
 with ground cinnamon or nutmeg


Muhallebi, or, as it’s known in Greece, mahallebi, not to be confused with Mahlepi an aromatic spice made from ground cherry kernels, which tastes similar to bitter almonds, was introduced to the Middle East by a Persian cook who made it for an Arab General, al-Muhallab bin Abi Sufra, who loved it so much, he gave the dish his name.

Muhallebi can also be made with ground almonds or almond milk, flavoured with vanilla, rose water, or ground  Mastic.

 See the most popular rose water brand here, recommended by top chefs:

 Cortas Rose Water

Muhallebi
Muhallebi

In Israel, malabi, or shekedim, is traditionally eaten in Sephardic homes to break the fast after Shavout, The Feast of Roses, on Yom Kippur.

To keep within diet rules, it is made with almond milk instead of cow’s milk.


Vanilla-flavoured blancmange with rose water syrup
Vanilla-flavoured blancmange with rose water syrup, or, if you like muhallebi, mahalepi or malabi!


Kazan dibi, a Turkish dish, is basically blancmange with a caramelized bottom, the name means burnt pudding, bottom of the pan (Kazan), or burnt bottom (now that name would get the conversation flowing at a dinner party, “Who’s for burnt bottom?” !) and it’s divine, rather like crème brulee or crème caramel.

I didn't have much of a story to tell you about kazan dibi, until per chance, my good friend Aris, on hearing I had had a go at making this Turkish treat, told me the wonderful story about the origins of this Turkish dessert, it appears it was invented by mistake!

Being rather difficult to regulate the heat over a wood fire, the cooks burnt a type of cream dish they were preparing, but all was not lost, they scraped off the burnt bottom and served up the cream only, but, being frugal, they weren’t about to throw away the burnt bottom, and so, they removed it from the pan, in rolls, drenched it in ground cinnamon, to disguise the burnt flavour and sold it, and what do you know? It was a hit!

Today in Turkey, kazan dibbi can often be found served in rolls as well as slabs.


Kazan Dibi
Kazan Dibi

Why my interest in all of this?

 Well, MGG (My Greek God), has a fixation with blancmange, or, as it’s called in Greece, crema, I make a batch, at least twice a week, now, I'm as partial to a bit of blancmange as the next person, it brings back sweet, childhood memories, my grandmother made it all the time, in cute little aluminum molds, maybe she had the same fixation as MGG, but sometimes, you just want a change.


Almond-flavoured blancmange Petimezi to serve
Almond-flavoured blancmange
Petimezi to serve. (see link about petimezi at end of post.)

 MGG was happy enough, just sprinkling cinnamon over the top of his "crema", he's a creature of habit, but, as I don’t care for cinnamon, I decided to experiment, and so, for two days I boiled liters of milk, mixed sugar and corn flour (corn starch), and even produced some surprisingly good rose water syrup, and most likely put on a couple kilos, I had to test all this you understand!

I can’t say I was optimistic about MGG preferring any of my new concoctions, he likes same old, same old, but, he surprised me, you’ll find out about that shortly.

Here’s what I came up with, using the same basic recipe, and different flavours.

These are ideal for flavoring milk puddings: Amoretti Premium Floral Syrups 50ml 3 Pack (Rose, Violet Lavender, Orange Blossom)

 Dried Lavender flowers are also used for another popular flavour choice, and, if I had had any, I would certainly have tried this !


Blancmange and Middle Eastern Milk puddings
Blancmange and Middle Eastern Milk puddings
Lemon-almond, orange-vanilla, rose-water and good old plain vanilla flavoured.

The Middle Eastern recipes were usually half corn flour (Corn starch), and half rice flour, but some recipes did mention that rice flour can produce a gritty or grainy result, and anyway, I didn’t have any, so I just used my usual corn flour (corn starch) recipe.

Don’t despair if you are lactose intolerant, I found this fabulous book for you, with dairy alternatives, so, you see, you don’t have to miss out, and, if you need to be gluten free, use rice flour!

The New Milks by Diane Cheney Dairy free recipes
The New Milks
by Diane Cheney
Dairy free recipes
Click on link below for more info about this useful book:

 The New Milks: 100-Plus Dairy-Free Recipes for Making and Cooking with Soy, Nut, Seed, Grain, and Coconut Milks

Basic blancmange recipe

Ingredients

Rose-flavoured blancmange
Rose-flavoured blancmange
Darling MGG went searching Loutraki just to find me a rose to enhance my photos, bless him!

1.5 litres milk

100g Corn flour (corn starch)

150 g Sugar

One of the following flavourings:

1 vanilla pod, (split, seeds scraped out), or 1 tsp vanilla essence.

Or

1 tsp almond essence plus the zest of 1 lemon.

Or

Vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla essence plus the zest of 1 orange

Or

Vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla essence plus 2 tsp rose water

Or

1 tsp ground mastika

Method

Have your molds, or containers at the ready for the blancmange, as it thickens quickly once boiled and maybe difficult to pour if you dally about and let it cool.

You can use anything, small dishes, glasses, even jam jars (You won’t be able to turn it out of a jam jar though).

 Use glass or ceramic, (tea cups are a good idea), as it’s difficult to turn the blancmange out of plastic containers, it sticks to plastic like nobody's business, and looks a sorry sight indeed by the time you've prodded and poked at it with a knife trying to coax it onto a plate.

Run the containers under the cold tap, before filling and your blancmange should just plop out easily, cover the top of mold with a plate and flip over, voila!

Old-fashioned molds
Old-fashioned molds

Right, let's get started then, keep back about half a cup of the milk, put the remaining milk in a pan, along with whichever flavour you are using and bring to the boil.

While the milk is heating up, mix corn flour and sugar together in bowl, and mix well with the half cup of milk, I have found the best way to prevent lumps forming, is to beat it with a wire whisk.

Remove pan from heat as soon as the milk has reached boiling point and add the corn flour-sugar mixture, whisking well as you add it to the milk.

Return pan to the heat, and stirring, or whisking continuously, bring the mixture to the boil again, remove pan from heat as soon as it begins to bubble.

Pour mixture into molds, the easiest way is to pour the mixture into a heat - proof jug and then fill the molds one by one.

Leave the blancmange to cool, and then place in fridge for at least 5 hours, overnight is best.

Vanilla and orange - flavoured blancmange Sprinkled with grated dark chocolate
Vanilla and orange - flavoured blancmange
Sprinkled with grated dark chocolate
Never got chance to try this one, MGG scoffed them both!


That’s it, once set, and just before serving, sprinkle with whatever takes your fancy, ground cinnamon or nutmeg, grated chocolate, or pour over petimezi, fruit syrup, a spoonful of jam, or, of course, rose water syrup!

Rose Water Syrup

Rose water syrup
Rose water syrup

Sugar and water syrups are usually half sugar, half water and boiled for about 10 minutes; this produces thin syrup, usually used for pouring over cakes and pies, it's too thin for pouring over blancmange, so, I used the usual syrup recipe and boiled for longer, about 20-25 minutes or so, until I got the consistency I wanted.

500 mls water

250 g sugar

2 table spoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons rose water

A couple of drops red food colouring

Put water, sugar, lemon juice and rose water in a pan and bring to the boil, turn down heat and simmer until required consistency, about 25 minutes, stir continuously once syrup begins to thicken.

Remove from heat.

As this is clear syrup, I added a couple of drops of red food colouring, once I removed the syrup from the heat.

This syrup can be poured over Greek yogurt, ice cream, panna cotta, and yes, blancmange!

rose water syrup
I decanted my rose water syrup into an old , but practical, plastic bottle
 which once held a delicious fig balsamic vinegar, I knew I would find a use for this bottle!

Kazan dibi

Ingredients

1.5 litres milk

100g Corn flour (corn starch)

150 g Sugar

2 tsp rose water or 1 tsp vanilla essence (or vanilla pod).

Butter to grease pan

2 tablspoons sugar

Method

Keep back about half a cup of the milk, put the remaining milk in a pan, along with rose water or the vanilla, whichever flavour you chose,and bring to the boil.

While the milk is heating up, mix corn flour and sugar together in bowl, and mix well with the half cup of milk, I have found the best way to prevent lumps forming, is to beat it with a wire whisk.

Remove pan from heat as soon as the milk has reached boiling point and add the corn flour-sugar mixture, whisking well as you add it to the milk.

Return pan to the heat, and stirring, or whisking continuously, bring the mixture to the boil again, remove pan from heat as soon as it begins to bubble.

Grease the bottom of a baking tin or heatproof dish (About 24 x 25 cm) and evenly sprinkle over the 2 tablespoons sugar.

Preperation for Kazan dibi,  cover the greased  bottom of an heat-proof dish with sugar
Preperation for Kazan dibi,
 cover the greased  bottom of an heat-proof dish with sugar


Pour a thin layer of the cooked cream mixture (about half) evenly over the sugar, and spread to the edges of the pan.

Cover sugar with a thin layer of  ceram
Cover sugar with a thin layer of  ceram


Either using a kitchen blow torch, evenly burn the bottom of the pan, moving torch about until you can see  a dark brown colour at the bottom of the pan as the cream bubbles, or on top of the oven, gas or electric, moving the pan about until all the bottom is evenly “burnt”.
Be careful, things get extremely hot, be sure to hold the pan with oven gloves.

Heat bottom of oven-proof dish until sugar turns brown
Heat bottom of oven-proof dish until sugar turns brown


You need to be brave here, it has to be a very dark brown, not a golden caramel colour, as the sugar melts, it turns to syrup which runs to the edges of the pan, when this turns from clear to brown, it should be done.

I used a heat-proof glass dish, which made it easier to see how things were doing.

You will smell burning, you will think “this is going to be inedible”, which is exactly what I thought, but I was wrong.

Once you have burnt the bottom evenly, remove from heat, pour over the rest of the cream mixture, leave to cool and place in fridge for at least 5 hours, best is to leave it overnight.

Cut into squares and with a large spatula remove a piece, invert a plate over the top and flip it over, this is much easier than you think, to reveal the dark, caramelized underside.

Kazan Dibi Burnt pudding or burnt bottom
Kazan Dibi
Burnt pudding or burnt bottom

All my efforts were delicious, I’m sure you will love them too, and what a wonderful dessert idea for a dinner party, something different, slightly exotic, something with a story, which, best of all, can be made the day before, even two or three days before, it keeps well in the fridge.

Oh, you’re waiting to hear MGG’s thoughts, well, up until now; day in, day out, we had vanilla- flavoured blancmange, but from now on, (and probably for evermore) we are to have the almond and lemon zest blancmange!

Almond and lemon - flavoured blancmange
Almond and lemon - flavoured blancmange

MGG was okay with all these new and exciting flavours, except for the rose water one, which he didn't take to at all, but the almond-lemon one he loved.

Why is Greece called Hellas and who are the Hellenes?

Hellas By beanve on Deviant Art
Hellas
By beanve on Deviant Art

How did Greece come to be called Hellas (Ἑλλάς- Ellás,  Ἑλλάδος- Elládos), and who are the Greeks?


The who, what, when and where, when talking about the Greeks, could go on forever, I want you to read this post, not send you to sleep, so, here is the long and the short of it!


Anyone who spoke the Greek language was considered Greek, so said the ancients, (So, you see, I’m “Greeker” than I thought!).


The first Greek - speakers were the Mycenaean Greeks, who originated way back in the Neolithic (15,200 BC - 4500 and 2000 BC) or Bronze Age (3300 - 1200 BC), and Greek was, of course, spoken in the Greek colonies which sprung up along the shores of the Mediterranean and Black Sea, but which mainly centered on the coast of the Aegean and Ionian seas.


According to Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”, after the “Deucalion Deluge”, a terrible flood in Greek mythology, (of which there are three; the Ogyges deluge, the Deucalion deluge and the Dardanus deluge), similar to the story of Noah and his Ark, or The Epic of Gilgamesh, the Greek civilization was wiped out, leaving only two survivors.

"The Flood" Deucalion and Pyrrha Paul Merwart
"The Flood"
Deucalion and Pyrrha, the only survivors of the Greek  Deucalion deluge
Paul Merwart

The two who made it through the “Deucalion Deluge” were Deucalion, son of the Titian, Prometheus, creator of mankind (Greek mythology), who later gave them fire, and Pyrrha, daughter of Pandora and Epimetheus, the first woman to be created by the gods.

‘Pandora’ 1878 Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 - 1882)
‘Pandora’ 1878 Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 - 1882)
Mother of Pyrrha

Deucalion, ruler of Phthia, an ancient city of Thessaly, central Greece, was warned by his father, Prometheus, that the big rains were coming, and advised him to be prepared; build a wooden chest (Ark?), stock up on provisions and hope for the best.


Deucalion and Pyrrha riding out the Greek Deluge
Deucalion and Pyrrha riding out the Greek Deluge and hoping for the best.

Sure enough, the heavens opened, Deucalion, and his wife, Pyrrha, took refuge in the chest he had put together and proceeded to be thrown around in turbulent seas for the following nine days and nights, before finally running aground on the highest peak of Mount Parnassus, which overlooks Delphi in central Greece.

(Other variations on this story have the couple running aground on Mount Othrys, Thessaly, or Phouka, Argolis, today named Nemea.)


Mount Parnassus Source wikipedia
Mount Parnassus
Source wikipedia


So relieved to be back on terra firma, Deucalion and Pyrrha, would agree to anything asked of them, and so complied when ordered by Zeus (King of the Greek gods) to throw stones over their shoulders, which instantly became people, the stones thrown by Deucalion became men, and the ones thrown by Pyrrha, women, who went on to repopulate Greece.


From this story comes the Greek word for people; λαός (laós) m (plural λαοί), which derives from the word “laas”, meaning a stone.


Hellenes Illustration Johnny Shumate
Hellenes
Illustration Johnny Shumate

Of the couple’s many children, (or should I say stones?) the first was a son, Hellen, or Hellinas, (Not to be confused with the great beauty, who launched a thousand ships, Helen of Troy).


 Hellen eventually had many children himself, including Aeolus, leader of the tribe of Aeolians, Dorus, leader of the tribe of Dorians, Xuthus, leader of the tribe of Achaens and Ion, leader of the tribe of Ionians.


These ancient Greek tribes conquered ancient Thessaly, and other Greek cities, and the people of these conquered areas came to be known as “Hellenes”, and their territory, “Hellas” (Ellas- Ἑλλάς).

 "Do not fear me fair one; I am a Hellen and no barbarian" Perseus Part IV Illustration William Russell Flint "The Heroes (or Greek Fairy Tales for My Children) By Charles Kingsley
"Do not fear me fair one; I am a Hellen and no barbarian" Perseus Part IV
Illustration William Russell Flint
"The Heroes (or Greek Fairy Tales for My Children) By Charles Kingsley

And so, Greeks were known as the “Hellenes” of “Hellas”, until the onset of Christianity (The Byzantine period), when the name “Hellenes” smacked of pagan rituals, idolatry, a belief in Zeus and the worshiping of the twelve gods of Olympus.


Mount Olympus Thessaly Home of the twelve Greek gods.
Mount Olympus Thessaly
Home of the twelve Greek gods.
2,917 m (9,570 ft)]  the highest mountain in Greece.

“What shall I do with these heathen Hellenes?”, asked Theodosius I, Roman Emperor from AD 379 to AD 395, who, in 380 he proclaimed himself a Christian.


“I know" said Theodosius, answering his own question,  "From now on, the Hellenes shall again be  known as "Romaeos”, as they were called by the Romans."

 (Virtually all Greeks, after 212 AD, were under Roman rule) 


St. Ambrose Barring Theodosius I from Milan Cathedral.  Anthony van Dyck, 1619-20
St. Ambrose Barring Theodosius I from Milan Cathedral.
 Anthony van Dyck, 1619-20

After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the “Hellenes”, under Turkish rule until 1821, were largely known as Romaeos, Graecus and Gracus, by non-Greeks and came from Graecia, “The land of the Greeks”.


By the early 20th century, over half of the Greek-speaking population was settled in Asia Minor (Turkey), later, that same century, many Greeks migrated to the United States, Australia, Canada and elsewhere.

The emblem of The Hellenic Republic by Kostas Grammatopoulos Adopted on June 7 1975
The emblem of The Hellenic Republic by Kostas Grammatopoulos
Adopted on June 7 1975


 Today the population of Greece, which since 1973 is officially called "The Hellenic Republic", is about  ten million, and they are known as Greeks in English-speaking countries, Yunan, from the old Persian Yauna, for the Ionian Greeks living on the West coast of Asia Minor, the first Greeks the Persians ever came across and Yevanim in Hebrew, Turkish and Arabic and Berdzeni by the people of Georgia (A country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia).


For the Greeks though, they will forever be called Hellenes, and their country is Hellas.




Hellas

Percy Bysshe Shelley 1792–1822

The world's great age begins anew, 
         The golden years return, 
The earth doth like a snake renew 
         Her winter weeds outworn: 
Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam 
Like wrecks of a dissolving dream. 

A brighter Hellas rears its mountains 
         From waves serener far; 
A new Peneus rolls his fountains 
      Against the morning star. 
Where fairer Tempes bloom, there sleep 
Young Cyclads on a sunnier deep. 

A loftier Argo cleaves the main, 
         Fraught with a later prize; 
Another Orpheus sings again, 
         And loves, and weeps, and dies. 
A new Ulysses leaves once more 
Calypso for his native shore. 

Oh, write no more the tale of Troy, 
         If earth Death's scroll must be! 
Nor mix with Laian rage the joy 
         Which dawns upon the free: 
Although a subtler Sphinx renew 
Riddles of death Thebes never knew. 

Another Athens shall arise, 
         And to remoter time 
Bequeath, like sunset to the skies, 
         The splendour of its prime; 
And leave, if nought so bright may live, 
All earth can take or Heaven can give. 

Saturn and Love their long repose 
         Shall burst, more bright and good 
Than all who fell, than One who rose, 
         Than many unsubdu'd: 
Not gold, not blood, their altar dowers, 
But votive tears and symbol flowers. 

Oh cease! must hate and death return? 
         Cease! must men kill and die? 
Cease! drain not to its dregs the urn 
         Of bitter prophecy. 
The world is weary of the past, 
Oh might it die or rest at last! 

Picked for you:


The Heroes (or Greek Fairy Tales for My Children)

By Charles Kingsley



Metamorphoses (Oxford World's Classics) 
By Ovid
Author A.D. Melville (Translator)
E.J. Kenney (Introduction)
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