Middle Eastern sweets are not only delicious, but they also make for amazing eye candy.
Living in the Midwest, where there are sizeable Middle Eastern communities, has given me the opportunity to fall in love with the fresh and beautiful flavors of Arab cuisine. From the colorful mezze spreads, to the meticulously prepared sweets, Middle Eastern fare is bursting with flavor and leaves us begging for more.
Today I’m sharing a recipe for one of my favorite Arab sweets- Warbat bil Ashta (also referred to as Shaabiyat). Think of Warbat as the cousin of Baklava. It is a phyllo pastry stuffed with a cream filling (ashta), and doused with sugar syrup and ground pistachios. It’s basically a cream filled baklava.
Here is an overview of how to make Warbat bil Ashta–
Ashta/ Cream Filling– Ashta is traditionally prepared by skimming off the layer of fat that forms when boiling milk. It is similar to clotted cream, and is the Middle Eastern counterpart to South Asian malai. Here, we’re using a cheat’s version by preparing a pastry cream consisting of milk, heavy cream, cornstarch and sugar. We’ll be using it here to stuff the pastries.
Sugar Syrup– Sugar syrup is widely used in Arab desserts. We’ll be pouring it over the pastries once they come out of the oven.
Preparing the Phyllo Dough– We will be laying down layers of phyllo dough, brushed with clarified butter (ghee– I have a great homemade recipe here) between each layer. Then, the whole stack gets cut into small squares and stuffed with the ashta that we prepared earlier. All of the squares get folded into triangles, and baked. Once they come out of the oven, we pour the prepared sugar syrup (referred to as Attar in Arabic) over the pastries and impatiently wait for them to cool down before we can dig in 😍
Warbat bil Ashta / Shaabiyat (Middle Eastern Cream Stuffed Pastries)
- 10 phyllo sheets, thawed and kept covered
- 1½ cups clarified butter, melted
- Ground pistachios, for garnish
Ashta/ Cream Filling
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1½ cups heavy whipping cream
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon orange blossom water
- 1 tablespoon rose water
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup water
- ½ teaspoon lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons rose or orange blossom water, optional
Prepare Ashta/ Cream FIlling
In a large cooking vessel, whisk together all of the ingredients.
Bring to a boil over medium heat, while stirring constantly, until thickened, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Remove from heat and transfer to a heat-proof dish and cover with plastic wrap (this will prevent a skin from forming). Cool completely.
Prepare Sugar Syrup
In a cooking vessel, combine sugar, water, and lemon juice. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer (medium-low) and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add the rose or orange blossom water (if desired). Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350°F and set aside a greased baking sheet.
On a clean surface, gently lay flat one sheet of phyllo. Brush with melted clarified butter, and place another sheet directly on top. Continue this process until all of the phyllo sheets are used, ending with the final sheet brushed with butter.
Gently cut the stack of phyllo dough into squares, about 3 to 4-inches.
Place a heaped tablespoon of the cooled ashta/cream filling at the center of each square. Gently fold the corners over to form a triangle.
Transfer each triangle pastry to the prepared baking sheet. Traditionally the pastries are placed in blocks of 4 so that the folded parts of the pastry form the outsides of a square, and the open corners of the triangles meet in the center. However, you can place them on the pan as you please. Brush the tops with clarified butter.
Bake until golden brown and crisp, about 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow them to sit for 5 minutes. Gently pour 1-cup of the prepared sugar syrup over the baked pastries (more syrup can be added to later if desired) and allow the pastries to cool completely and soak up the syrup. Garnish with ground pistachios.
Avoid over stuffing the pastries with ashta/cream filling.
Typically 1 – 1¼ cups sugar syrup provides the ideal amount of sweetness.
Warbat bil Ashta can be kept at room temperature in a covered container.