Ashta is basically the Middle Eastern clotted cream, and it tastes like mascarpone, only flavoured however you want to.
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Table of contents
What is Ashta?
Ashta is a much loved Middle Eastern cream, resembling clotted cream in texture and is used as both a topping and a filling for countless Middle Eastern desserts.
Unlike its Western counterpart though, ashta is flavoured with either orange blossom water or rose water. I also give you other suggestions on how to flavour your homemade Middle Eastern clotted cream, below, if you can’t get either.
It is also called kashta or kishta and can also be spelt as Eshta. This is because in Arabic, especially Egyptian Arabic, the letter a is pronounced like in apple. I’ve also heard it called Lebanese clotted cream by many eateries in London.
In the Middle East, you find it everywhere, much like we would fresh cream, mascarpone and clotted cream. So if you live there, chances are, you’ve never given it much thought!
For those of us outside the region, don’t fret, ashta is very, very easy to make at home.
How to make Ashta at Home?
Traditional ashta would have been a long, painstaking affair. One would boil some whole milk and keep skimming off the fat (skin) that rises to the top, just like making clotted cream. The collected fat is your eshta.
There are a few different ways to make ashta cream at home. Depending on the method, it may involve curdling milk for the curds (like making ricotta cheese and paneer) and thickening milk and cream.
The thickening agent can also vary. I like using the simple cornflour (cornstarch in the US). But others may use white bread or even all purpose flour.
Making this Middle Eastern clotted cream is a fairly straightforward process. I’m giving you 2 recipes. Well, technically, it’s a single recipe. You have the option of skipping stage one for the Cheat’s Ashta, known colloquially in Arabic as Eshta Kazaba.
This is what we’ll be doing:
Step 1 – making the curds
- Curdle milk with some lemon juice or vinegar.
- Strain and collect the curds and set aside.
Use the liquid you strained (the whey) to make soup or even to replace the water or milk in baking.
Step 2 – making the cream
- Make some cornflour paste (cornstarch paste) with a little milk.
- Mix this paste, more milk, cream and sugar and heat in a saucepan on medium heat until thickened.
- Take off the heat, transfer to a large bowl and leave to cool for 10 minutes.
- Add flavouring of your choice, more of this below.
- Whisk in the curds from earlier.
- Cover with cling film or any plastic wrap and chill for at least 3 hours before using.
What do you think? Easy, right?
Homemade ashta cream using this curd method creates a slightly gritty and lumpy result. If you want a smoother cream, just place it in a blender and process until smooth.
So I promised you a cheat’s version, didn’t I? A super quick and super easy ashta.
To make eshta kazaba, or cheat’s eshta, if you like, skip Step 1 and just do Step 2. So all we are doing is creating a thickened cream mixture with milk, cornflour and cream.
You will end up with a thick and creamy, delicious ashta with this version.
The advantage of doing step 1 as well is added depth and texture. And yes, fat and calories!
What is Ashta Made Of?
The ingredients we need to make eshta are all easily found. All you need to make ashta is:
- Full cream milk (whole milk) – semi skimmed doesn’t quite produce the curds that you need but it will work in a pinch, with less creamy results.
- Lemon juice or clear vinegar – to curdle the milk. I use lemon juice.
- Cream – this is responsible for the body of our final ashta. So single cream will work, with 18% fat. You could also use whipping cream, which has about 36% fat and even double cream (heavy cream) for a loaded eshta. I use whipping cream.
- Sugar – we use only a little bit here (2 tablespoons) for just a hint of sweetness, just how mascarpone tastes. But if you know that you are making it for something that requires sweet cream, you can make it sweeter.
For eg, when filling katayif, (also called atayef) you have 2 options, make a sweet ashta, or stick with this, and drizzle your qatayef with sugar syrup.
- Butter – it gives an added creaminess and rounds eshta cream off nicely. I’ve made it without butter too but much prefer it with.
- Flavouring of your choice, as discussed above.
What Flavours to use for Ashta?
The traditional flavours used in ashta is either orange flower water or rose water. Both are available in the baking aisle of your supermarket next to the vanilla.
If not, go online, these are my affiliate links to purchase them off Amazon, they are what I use.
You can also think outside the box when flavouring ashta, just like when topping mahalabia, as I suggest here. These are some of my favourite ways when finding alternative flavours for eshta:
- vanilla (rather obvious, right?)
- cocoa powder for chocolate ashta
- instant coffee granules stirred in for coffee ashta
- aroma panettone – citrusy, panettone aroma, panettone cream, anyone?
- fiori di sicilia – citrusy and fruity. Sicily has a very strong Arabic history, and I reckon this was created as Italy’s answer to orange flower water.
How to use Ashta?
If you are making a Middle Eastern dessert that calls for cream or ashta, well, then, this is what you would use. Some recipes that we use it in:
- Layali Lubnan (click for recipe on LinsFood)
- Halawet el Jibn (click for recipe on LinsFood)
- Znoud el Sit (filo pastry filled with cream)
- Kunafa (sorry, recipe also still on LinsFood!)
- you could serve it on its own, as a milk pudding, topped with fruit
- or reverse that, and top fruit with a little ashta, like you would yoghurt or whipped cream
- serve it like you would any cream, with desserts like brownies, crumbles and fruit pies
- it also makes a great pastry or tart cream, like in Qatayef, below
Recipes Using Eshta
Below are some of my recipes that use ashta.
1. How to get a smooth ashta?
Just use an immersion blender and blend it until smooth. Or use a regular smoothie blender.
2. Will ashta thicken as it cools?
Yes, it will, so don’t worry too much if it’s a little on the light side once you’ve made it?
3. How to lighten chilled ashta?
If your cold ashta is too thick to spread on say Kunafeh or Layali Lubnan, just whip it up with an immersion blender. This will also create a smoother cream as we discussed earlier.
4. How long will ashta keep?
Kept in a covered container in the fridge, it will last 3 days. And it has to be kept refrigerated, treat it like you would any fresh dairy product.
5. Can ashta be frozen?
Unfortunately, ashta can’t be frozen. Like most creams, the protein and fat molecules will split, giving you a grainy and watery mix. You could blend it back together, but it will start to weep very quickly (release liquid).
And there we have it. How to make your own ashta at home! Look out for our qatayef recipe in a few days!
If you enjoy the recipe, drop me a comment and let me know. And if you are feeling like a star, don’t forget that 5-star rating! Shukran!
If you make this recipe, post it on Instagram and tag me @azlinbloor.
More Middle Eastern Desserts
Homemade Ashta Recipe (plus a Cheat’s Version)
- 1 large saucepan
- 1 ladle
- 1 sieve
- 1 muslin or cheesecloth
- 1 small bowl
- 1 teaspoon
- 2 large bowls (or 1, if not reserving the whey or making Cheat's Ashta)
- cling film
Step 1 – making the Milk Curds (skip for Cheat's Ashta)
- 750 ml whole milk
- 3 Tbsp lemon juice or clear vinegar
Step 2 – making the Ashta Cream
- 3 Tbsp cornflour cornstarch in the US
- 250 ml whole milk
- 250 ml whipping cream or single cream
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 60 g salted butter
- 1 Tbsp orange blossom water OR rose water
Make the curds (skip for Cheat's ashta)
- Heat the milk in a large saucepan on medium heat to just simmering point. Add the lemon juice and stir well to encourage curdling. Leave the milk on this medium heat to allow it to finish curdling.
- Line a sieve with muslin or cheesecloth and place over a large bowl to catch the whey.
- Strain the curdled milk over the mulsin to catch the curds. Leave to drain while you get on with the cream.
Make the thickened Ashta Cream
- Mix the cornflour and a little of the milk into a paste in a small bowl.
- Rinse the saucepan and put it back on medium heat and pour the rest of the mil and cream in. Add sugar and salted butter in and stir to mix. Heat this mix up to simmering point, stirring continuosly as you don't want the cornflour to be lumpy.
- When it's simmering, lower the heat to medium-low and keep stirring until the mix thickens like a very thick custard. This will take about 3 – 4 minutes, depending on your heat.
- Take it off the heat and transfer to a large bowl and leave it to cool for 10 minutes.If you are making Cheat's Ashta, go to step 2 in the next section, add your flavouring after 10 minutes and chill.
Finishing the Ashta Cream with the Curds (skip for Cheat's Version)
- Tip in the strained curds and whisk to mix well. You will have a slightly grainy mix, that's homemade ashta made this way.
- Stir in the orange blossom water. I like to split the ashta into 2 bowls and flavour one with orange blosson and the other with rose water.
- Leave to cool to room temperature (about 1 hour), then cover with cling film and chil for at least 3 hours. It's best when cold. I tend to make it the day before I need it.