Mahalabia is a super quick, super easy, delicious Middle Eastern milk pudding, slightly sweetened and flavoured with rose or orange water.
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Table of contents
- Mahalabia Recipe
- Origin of Mahalabia
- Mahalabia Ingredients
- What milk to use?
- Cornflour (Cornstarch) or Rice Flour when making Mahalabia?
- Can you make Mahalabia with Condensed Milk?
- How to serve Mahalabia
- Balsamic Strawberries for our Mahalabia
- Where to get rose water or orange blossom water?
- More Mahalabia Recipes on LinsFood
- More Middle Eastern Desserts
- Images by LinsFoodies
Mahalabia or Muhallabia, as mentioned, is essentially a milk dessert. Very much like Blanc Mange, it is extremely easy to make, takes only a few minutes, then placed in the fridge to cool. Consider it the Middle East’s answer to panna cotta, minus the gelatine, which is a bonus, really!
This Arabic dessert is found in many Middle Eastern countries, with each one claiming ownership (of course); but whatever its origin, suffice it to say, if you like milky puddings, you’re going to love this one!
Origin of Mahalabia
Many Middle Eastern countries lay claim to this delicious milk pudding. Legend has it that Mahalabia owes its origin to Persia, all the way back to the 7th century during the Umayyad Dynasty.
There was this Arab general call al-Muhallab ibn Abi Sufra. He had a Persian cook who served him the most delicious Persian milk pudding. He loved it so much that he named the pudding after him, calling it Muhallabia. Or so the legend goes.
Like all legends, we take it with a pinch of salt because I can tell you that the Arabic word for milk is halib (also spelt haleeb). So that’s probably more likely to be the origin of mahalabia, the fact that it’s a Middle Eastern milk pudding.
But the first story sure is more romantic!
This milk pudding really is the easiest thing to make. We have it so often at home, and half the time, my kids are the ones making it. All you need to make mahalabia is:
- cream (or evaporated milk as I’ve always used)
- cornflour (cornstarch in the US)
- white sugar
- cardamom (we’ll be grinding the seeds only)
- rose water or orange blossom water
- some sort of garnish – ground nuts, and dried edible rose petals
To make Mahalabia:
- make a paste with the cornflour
- mix the cornflour paste with both milk and the sugar, and gently heat
- cook for about 5 – 10 minutes
- take it off the heat and add flavouring (cardamom and whatever flower water you’re using)
- leave to cool, then cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge to chill (minimum 4 hours)
- garnish just before serving
I told ya it was easy!
What milk to use?
You can “play around” with the dairy that you use in the recipe. Fresh milk is traditional. For example, some people like to add a little cream to the milk for a richer taste but if you’ve been following me a while, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of evaporated milk, especially in my desserts.
Which means that our Mahalabia recipe gets the evaporated milk treatment too! I use a mixture of fresh whole milk and evaporated milk, for an indulgent, but surprisingly, still light dessert. I’ve made this with semi skimmed milk and semi skimmed evaporated milk with very good results too, if you don’t fancy all that fat!
Cornflour (Cornstarch) or Rice Flour when making Mahalabia?
You definitely want to use cornflour (called cornstarch in the US) for Mahalabia. Don’t be tempted to use rice flour as it changes the texture of this Arabic pudding, adding a slightly gritty mouthfeel, no matter how finely your rice flour has been milled. And that is not what mahalabia should be.
Mahalabia should not never made with rice flour. Arabic rice flour pudding is something completely different, more like the South Asian firni.
If you have memories of eating slightly gritty milk pudding as a child, chances are it was the Middle Eastern firni.
Can you make Mahalabia with Condensed Milk?
Absolutely! But you need to reduce the amount of sugar, or omit the sugar altogether. Otherwise, your mahalabia will be far too sweet. So, for our recipe here:
- 750 ml (3 cups) fresh whole (full fat) milk
- 250ml (1 cup) condensed milk instead of the evaporated milk
- No sugar
- ⇒ then follow the rest of the recipe
Mahalabia can also be made a day ahead, in fact, overnight chilling (covered) gives the best result.
How to serve Mahalabia
We are huge fans of this Middle Eastern dessert. We make it for birthdays, summer parties, Ramadan, Eid, Nowruz and for no reason at all!
- Crushed pistachios and almonds are used as a light topping, as you can see from the pictures and provide a wonderful contrast in texture and temperature. Don’t fancy nuts? Leave them out.
- Crushed dried rose petals are another common topping, adding a delicious musky, floral and a touch sweet flavour to Mahalabia.
- Crushed hibiscus petals are tart and while not traditional, make a great flavour contrast in this Arabic milk pudding.
- Remember I mentioned right at the start that we flavour it with either orange flower water or rose water? I always lean towards rose and if you have access to rose syrup, that makes a wonderful topping too, slightly diluted and drizzled over.
- If you can’t get rose syrup, think fresh berries, butterscotch, caramel (salted caramel would be good). Not traditional but always good with this Middle eastern dessert.
- Chocolate is always good too! Whether you grate some chocolate onto the mahalabia, or spoon some chocolate ganache or chocolate sauce over it.
- And, how about some balsamic strawberries for a funky fusion garnish? The sharp, tangy and sweet balsamic strawberries go extremely well with the creamy muhallabia.
Balsamic Strawberries for our Mahalabia
- 12 strawberries, quartered
- 2 Tbsp balsamic strawberries
- 1 tsp white sugar
- dash of freshly ground black pepper
⇒ Mix everything up and leave to macerate for 30-60 minutes, stirring a couple of times.
Where to get rose water or orange blossom water?
They should be sitting next to the vanilla in the baking aisles of your supermarket. Failing which, online is the way to go. If you shop on Amazon, these are the ones I use, click below to get them with my affiliate links:
Can’t get Orange Blossom Water or Rose Water?
I know some of you can’t get rose water or orange blossom water, and that’s perfectly fine.
Don’t flavour it or go with half a tsp of good quality vanilla extract in this recipe. Or leave the flavouring out completely and serve with some fruit.
More Mahalabia Recipes on LinsFood
I love playing with variations of traditional recipes. Below are 2 very different Mahalabia recipes on here. The first one uses the combination of coconut milk and palm sugar, a favourite South East Asian flavour combination.
And the second is a sexy mango and sumac combination. Sumac in a dessert? Totally works!
More Middle Eastern Desserts
Images by LinsFoodies
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Mahalabia – a Middle Eastern Dessert
- 500 ml fresh whole milk
- 500 ml evaporated milk
- 150 g white sugar
- 5 Tbsp cornflour cornstarch in the US
- 1 Tbsp rose water or orange water
- finely crushed seeds of 4 cardamoms
Make a paste with the cornflour and about 3 Tbsp of the fresh milk.
Combine this cornflour paste, both types of milk and the sugar in a heavy based saucepan or milk pan and stir to mix.
Bring to a simmer on medium heat, stirring stirring it occasionally. After about 5 minutes, you'll notice the milk mixture begin to thicken slowly.
Lower the heat down slightly to medium-low and continue cooking and stirring for another 5 minutes until the mahalabia resembles thick custard. Now you need to be careful here as the milk can catch if your heat is not low enough, or if the pan doesn’t have a thick enough base. You don’t want burnt milk or bits in your mahalabia! Just in case, do not scrape the bottom of the pan as you are stirring.
When the mahalabia is as thick as custard, take it off the heat and add the rose/orange water (whatever you’re using) and crushed cardamom seeds and stir.
Pour into your chosen serving dishes or cups.
Place in the fridge to cool for at least 4 hours. It will thicken when cold. If you are going to chill it overnight, cover the cups/dishes with cling film or saucers to prevent the Mahalabia from absorbing any smells but also to stop the surface from becoming dry.
To serve, drizzle the rose syrup over it (if using) and sprinkle with nuts.