The Best Mahalabia Recipe (Middle Eastern Milk Pudding)

Mahalabia in champagne glass, white dessert photo

What is Mahalabia?

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!

And because this chilled dessert is a make ahead dessert, it’s perfect for dinner parties!

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!

Muhallebi Ingredients

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:

  • milk
  • cream (or evaporated milk as I’ve always used)
  • cornflour (corn starch in the US)
  • white sugar
  • ground cardamom (use shop bought or grind the seeds yourself)
  • rose water or orange blossom water
  • some sort of garnish – ground nuts, and dried edible rose petals

The Recipe:

  1. make a paste with the cornflour
  2. mix the cornflour paste with both milk and the sugar, and gently heat
  3. cook for about 5 – 10 minutes
  4. take it off the heat and add flavouring (cardamom and whatever flower water or extract you’re using)
  5. leave to cool, then cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge to chill (minimum 4 hours)
  6. garnish just before serving

I told ya it was easy!

This Middle Eastern dessert can also be made a day ahead, in fact, overnight chilling (covered) gives the best result.

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 corn starch in the US) for Mahalabia as the thickener when cooking this chilled dessert.

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, not muhalabia.

Mahalabia in Tiny Glasses
The rose syrup completes the flavour

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.

Muhallabia recipe with ground pistachios and ground rose petals in champagne glasses
with ground pistachios and ground edible rose petals

How to serve Mahalabia

We are huge fans of this Middle Eastern sweet. We make it for birthdays, summer parties, Ramadan, Eid, Nowruz and for no reason at all!

There is a traditional way of serving this Middle Eastern milk pudding, and that’s the first two ideas given below. However, depending on what you can get where you live, and your preference, you can get as creative as you like.

  • 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. You could also top it with crushed walnuts, but perhaps not pine nuts, leave that for our Maqluba recipes. 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.
  • caramel sauce or salted caramel is another wonderful, if not traditional, topping for muhallebi.
  • 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.
  • shredded coconut with or without raisins is another wonderful way to top muhallebi for something different.
Mahalabia in a tea cup with Balsamic Strawberries
Mahalabia with Balsamic Strawberries

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.

Mahalebi served with tea
as pretty as a picture!

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:

Orange Blossom Water

Rose Water

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 or even almond 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!

Pandan Mahalabia (with Gula Melaka and Coconut)
Pandan mahalabia is a delicious, fragrant twist to the traditional Middle Eastern milk dessert. Topped with coconut shavings and rich, palm sugar (gula melaka).
green pudding with coconut and palm sugar in champagne glass
Mango Mahalabia with a touch of Sumac
Mango Mahalabia recipe, a tropical twist on the traditional Middle Eastern Mahalabia recipe.
Get the Recipe!
Mango Mahalabia

More Middle Eastern Desserts

Sholeh Zard
Persian Saffron Rice Pudding or Sholeh Zard, in Farsi, is a rice pudding without milk, flavoured with saffron, rose water and cardamom.
Get the Recipe!
Layali Lubnan
Layali Lubnan which means Lebanese Nights is a cold semolina pudding topped with cream, rose (or orange flower) syrup and crushed pistachios.
Get the Recipe!
pouring syrup on layali lubnan
Easy Knafeh recipe to make at home using mozzarella and mascarpone. Also spelt as Kunafeh and Kanafeh, it’s a popular Middle Eastern sweet.
Get the Recipe!
Kunafeh, Knafeh Recipe

Images by LinsFoodies

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If you like the recipe, don’t forget to leave me a comment and if you’re feeling generous, a 5-star rating! Shukran!

And if you make the recipe, share it on any platform and tag me @azlinbloor.

Lin xx

mahalabia Middle eastern milk pudding in champagne saucer topped with crushed pistachios and rose buds

Mahalabia Recipe – Middle Eastern Milk Pudding

Mahalabia recipe, quick and easy, chilled, make ahead Middle Eastern milk pudding, flavoured with rose water or orange blossom water.
Updated March 2023.
4.99 from 711 votes
Print Pin Add to Collection
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Keyword: dessert, easy recipes, middle eastern
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Chilling Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 15 minutes
Servings: 8 (Makes just over 1 litre/4 cups)
Calories: 207kcal
Author: Azlin Bloor


  • 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
  • ¼ tsp ground cardamom or pound the seeds of 8 cardamoms in a mortar with a pestle


  • 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 it regularly. Don't whisk it, as that will create bubbles that you don't want. After about 5 minutes, you'll notice the milk mixture begin to thicken slowly with a thicker and smooth consistency.
  • Lower the heat down slightly to medium-low and continue cooking and stirring for another 5 minutes until the muhallebi resembles thick custard.
    Now you need to be careful here as the milk can catch at the bottom of the pot 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 mahalebi 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.

Have you tried my latest Middle Eastern Dessert? YOU MUST!



Calories: 207kcal | Carbohydrates: 32.6g | Protein: 6.3g | Fat: 6g | Cholesterol: 23.2mg | Sodium: 96.3mg | Sugar: 28.1g
Did you make this recipe?Mention @azlinbloor and tag #linsfood!
Made it? Upload your photosMention @azlinbloor and tag #linsfood!

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99 thoughts on “The Best Mahalabia Recipe (Middle Eastern Milk Pudding)”

  1. 5 stars
    I have to agree with everyone here. This is the best muhallabia recipe I’ve ever had. No unnecessary ingredients and the use of evaporated milk is just so inspired. Thank you Azlin.

  2. 5 stars
    Just wanted to tell you how much we love your mahalabia recipe. It’s what my children request everytime!

  3. 5 stars
    I’ve made this recipe 4 times now and really, really love it. Why do some people add rice flour to theirs? Thanks.

    1. Hi Annie, I’m so pleased to hear that. Authentic mahalabia doesn’t contain any rice flour, it really is just a milk dessert. I think that someone borrowed the idea from firni which is a rice flour and dairy dessert popular in both South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking. Or maybe even got the two mixed up. Unfortunately, many food sites don’t know any better when they borrow recipes from each other.

  4. 5 stars
    Shukran Azlin. I cam across your recipe almost a decade ago, when yours was the only mahalabia recipe online. Now I see so many food bloggers with the recipe! I must confess that I’ve tried a few others but my family and I keep coming back to yours, it’s the best mahalabia recipe ever! I think it must be the evaporated milk you know. Anyway, thank you once again, with Ramadan not too far away, we’ll be having this a lot!

  5. Thank you we made this on the first day and it was thoroughly enjoyed by all. Making it again today! So easy yet so perfect for Iftar.

  6. 5 stars
    Thanks for the recipe Azlin. I saw that you’ve given the recipe for condensed milk too. Which is better? Thanks.

  7. 5 stars
    This was the easiest and yummiest dessert I’ve ever had! Everyone loved it yesterday in our first small garden party in what seems like forever. Thank you Azlin, I’ll be making this throughout the summer, it’s so good!

  8. 5 stars
    So delicious! Made this for my whole family, and everyone approves! Thanks so much for sharing this recipe 😀

  9. Jayashree T.Rao

    5 stars
    This looks like a delicious dessert Azlin. Addition of rose water tastes good. Loved the other options.

  10. Thomas Cleary

    It’s been about thirty years since I tasted something very similar to this. It was in an Arabic café which has long ago gone out of business. The owner said that his version was Libyan in origin. I plan to make this once I finish moving next month and will let you know how it turns out. Thanks very much mfor the a SS

    1. Good luck with the move, Thomas, and I look forward to what you think. It’s one of our favourite desserts, both for its flavour and simplicity.

  11. Hi Lin

    Firstly, thank you for sharing this mahalabia recipe. You have a beauty face and heart and it’s kind of you to share this recipe. Your kids are good looking too.
    I would like to make chocolate mahalabia. With the guideline of the above recipe, how much chocolate should I use? And can I use dark chocolate? Thanks

    1. Thank you for your lovely words, Ashida.
      You can go 2 ways with chocolate mahalabia, either cocoa powder or a chocolate bar. And yes, to the dark chocolate.

      Chocolate bar – this is my preferred method, and I usually use 200g of 70% dark chocolate. This gives you a very chocolatey mahalabia.
      Chop up the chocolate (the smaller, the better), and add to the milk mixture between step 3 & 4. So once the milk has warmed up, but before it’s thickened.

      Cocoa powder (I haven’t used this method before) – I would start with 4 Tbsp, and see how that goes. A bit difficult to ask you to taste and add more, as you’ll be fasting!

    1. Hi Protima, yes, I have. I’ve made this for clients with coconut milk, soya milk as well as almond milk. It’s delicious with all kinds of dairy free milk.

  12. 5 stars
    Wow! Started cooking middle eastern dishes a few weeks ago. This is the first dessert I’ve tried. It’s great. I used milk and half-n-half. (Its what I had on hand.) I also added cashews to custard in addition to lemon juice, desiccated coconut and pure almond extract. Amazing! Thank you.

    1. That’s really wonderful to hear, Liz, I’m excited for the adventure you’ve begun! All your additions sound absolutely delicious! If you are looking for inspiration and actual recipes from the region, you’ll find a huge range on my Middle Eastern and North African page:
      Stay in touch, I’d love to know how your cooking progresses! x

  13. 5 stars
    What an interesting dessert, I’ve never heard of it before. I’ve recently gone vegetarian, and vegetarian gelatine is just not quite great. So I’m definitely trying this recipe out, as I miss my panna cotta!

  14. Masturah Maidin

    5 stars
    I’ve been looking for a good mahalabia recipe for so long. I tried yours and it’s just amazing, just the right amount of sweetness! Thank you Azlin.

  15. Ariadne Simms

    We made this yesterday and it was a super big hit for the international collection of guests. Thank you, Azlin, my husband had to go and print out your recipe for everyone! We made sure to include your site link on it. You have quite a few fans for life!

  16. oh my god azlin you look so hot in that tutorial. your accent is also sexy . also that dessert is so beautiful the way you made it.

      1. Hello, can you please let me know if this requires ‘corn starch’ or ‘corn flour ‘ ? I see both in the supermarket.

        Thank you

        1. Hi Nehron, what you are looking for is what is used to thicken liquids. In different parts of the world, it is called different things. In the UK, we call it cornflour. In the US, it is called cornstarch. In Canada, I believe it is also called cornstarch. Either way, you are looking for the white, powdery version that resembles baby powder or tapioca flour, not the one that looks like fine semolina. Here is the wiki page for it:

  17. Mona Alsagoff

    Thank you, Azlin for this wonderful recipe. I made it for the whole big family for the first day of Ramzan yesterday, and everybody just loved it! I’ve made it again for iftar today. And I am looking forward to trying the Mango Muhallabia too. Ramadan kareem to you and your family!

  18. I saw someone make this on Masterchef, and yours was the recipe that popped up when my greedy self drooled and googled it.

    I made it for 4 of us for a dinner party, and boy oh boy – WHAT A TRIUMPH!!! Everone loved it, and you can bet I’ll be making it again.

    Thank you for sharing! I’ll be checking out more of your recipes to impress my family and friends at future dinners.

    1. Someone made Mahalabia on Masterchef? Interesting!
      Thank you so much, Gina, for trying the recipe and taking the time to leave me a comment. I’m glad everyone loved it, it’s always ben a huge favourite in our family, especially during the summer months!

  19. Yasmina Khan

    The best mahalabia recipe on the net! Thank you, Azlin, I’ve tried so many and yours is the creamiest, yet lightest of them all. There was one that used oil in hers? That’s just not right! Anyway, keep it up, off to check your mango mahalabia. What flavour is next?

  20. Jasmine Ryan

    Another incredibly exotic recipe, and this one is so easy. Planning to make it for Sunday’s birthday party, along with your Semolina cake!

  21. Dear Azlin Bloor

    I would love to make the mango mahalabia for a large party but I cannot make out from your recipe if I can use mango pulp and also when I should add it to the cornflour mix

  22. Rosemary Stanner

    Wow, this looks so easy to make, I never knew! I thought maybe there was gelatine, and I hate using gelatine. Going to be the perfect dessert with after your rice. Now, I’ll have to look for other dishes from your site to make a complete meal! Lol!

  23. Anisa Iskandar

    Perfect dessert for these hot summer months! I just made this yesterday, Azlin, and it’s just amazing! Planning to make the mango one next weekend! Thank you!

  24. Thank you for this muhalebi recipe! I made this last weekend for Eid, doubled the recipe and used rose water in one and orange in the other. It was a big hit with my family. I definitely like with rose water best. I am planning to make your mango one next week!

  25. I have a friend that her mom makes this and I literally fell in love, SO good now that I am lactose intolerant I wonder if I could make it with coconut milk or cashew or something? Mouth watering….

  26. Azlin, I just read your words above in bold, and felt that I had to leave a comment to thank you! I have been making this recipe of yours since I first saw it in 2013. My mother makes it too, she says it’s better than the one she learnt as a child from her mother! I think everyone in my family makes this recipe, not just during Ramadan, but all throught the year. And now, I’m going to take a look at your Mango one!
    Thank you for this wonderful recipe, and all your other recipes that remind me of my childhood in Syria.

    1. Oh wow, Djamila, you’ve made my day! Thank you so much and thank your mum for me, that is high praise indeed! I am so glad that this is a hit in your family, all of us here are such big fans of it too. x

  27. Thanks for sharing. And I’m glad you clarified the whole cornflour and cornstarch thing as I often see recipes with cornstarch, especially for mahalabia, and often wondered if it’s the same as cornflour.

    Question: Does this have the same taste/texture as phirni?


    Zee x

    1. Hi Zee, it definitely is slightly similar in flavour to phirni, given the huge amounts of milk used in both. Texture wise, mahalabia is completely smooth, no hint of graininess as in firni. x

  28. Hi, want to try it but we do not get evaporated milk where I live – is there a substitute for it – ok help- thanks

    1. Hi Maria, yes, just use whole (full fat) milk only for both types of milk. In fact, traditionally, it’s made with just fresh milk. If you want it creamier, you can use fresh cream for the evaporated milk.

      1. You mean reduce the milk and the add cream-how much?
        Using rice flour would make it firni right?
        Sorry for the late reply.

        1. Wish I had seen yr reply earlier- the mango season is just over – yr right I’m from India !!

          1. Leave out the evaporated milk and use 500ml (2 cups) whole milk and 500ml (2 cups) fresh single (light) cream. Not the sort you whip, the lighter one.
            Shame about the mango season but you can use use canned or frozen mango. It will also work.

      1. Thanks Azlin! I am in Canada, and they are two different things. I followed your recipe and used corn flour. It turned out well. 🙂

  29. I must say “GORGEOUS LOOKING DESSERT” 🙂 This is perfect while entertaining guests as it looks beautiful and can be prepared well in advance too:)

  30. Muhalabia is definitely one of my all time favourite desserts! I live in Jordan and eat it quite often. Silky, smooth, and lovely!

  31. Hi Lin,
    I would so love to try this out. This is a lot like “kheer” correct. I love the orange blossom water in it.

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