Aish el saraya is a beautiful Middle Eastern dessert consisting of fragrant scented sweetened breadcrumbs, topped with a cream referred to as ashta (Sort of like an Arabic clotted cream) and garnished with pistachios.
It’s absolutely heavenly, and along with kunafa, my favorite Middle Eastern dessert of all time. It’s also much easier to make than you might expect, and my mom’s recipe is HANDS DOWN the best. That’s why I’m so happy to be able to share her version with you today!
Recipe originally published May 2019 but updated February 2020 with new photos and information.
What is aish el saraya?
Aish translates to bread in Arabic, and saraya to palace, so Aish el saraya literally translates to “the bread of the palaces”. That’s because this is a kingly dessert, based on something as innocuous as bread crumbs!
It’s very commonly consumed in the Middle East, especially in the Levantine region. It’s phenomenal and I so encourage you to give it a try! Aish el saraya is often associated with Ramadan, just like other desserts made with orange blossom and rose water and traditional Middle Eastern flavors.
Why should I make this?
The combination of the sticky, sweet, almost caramelized breadcrumbs with the fluffy fragrant cream is unbelievable. The breadcrumbs are mixed with a sugar syrup that has rose water and orange blossom in it, and the cream isn’t sweetened so the contrast in sweetness is perfect.
It’s an exotic dessert, that feeds a crowd, and looks beautiful. Something different to try!
This actually comes together quite easily once you have the different components ready, and all the parts can be made in advance. The sugar syrup can be made days in advance and stored in the fridge, and I’ve made the cream up to 2 days in advance and stored in the fridge. I’ve even mixed the breadcrumbs with the syrup and placed those in the fridge the day before assembling.
Leftovers, if you have any, taste amazing!
Ingredients you need:
There are two main components to this dessert, the cream topping and the sugar syrup sweetened breadcrumbs.
For the cream:
Heavy cream and milk: with a higher proportion of cream to milk. I recommend using whole fat milk for ultimate creaminess.
White Bread: This is the hack to get that clotted texture to the cream, you process the soft white bread (crusts removed) into crumbs and add to a saucepan with the other cream ingredients.
Cornstarch: A little cornstarch to help the cream thicken (cornflour)
Rose water and orange blossom water: Hallmarks of Middle Eastern desserts, these add a wonderful fragrant quality to the cream. You’ll find these in Middle Eastern supply stores or online. In a pinch, you can substitute a little orange zest for the blossom water.
For the sweetened breadcrumbs:
We need to make a sugar syrup that we’ll then mix the breadcrumbs into. A sugar syrup is an essential part of many Middle Eastern desserts, like baklava, or kunafa. It’s very easy to make, much easier than caramel, but with a similar process.
Sugar and Water: equal amounts of sugar and water to give us a loose sugar syrup.
Orange blossom and rose water: So not only the cream has these, but the sugar syrup does too. The sugar syrup for this aish el saraya differs just a little bit from some other recipes because it has a lot of orange blossom and rose water. So much, that I was sure my mom had made a mistake given me the recipe. She hadn’t! The flavor is incredible, and not overpowering at all. If you are worried, you can add less to your taste preferences.
Breadcrumbs: I use dry plain rusks, which are twice baked white bread that I find in the bakery section of my supermarket. (you can see them in the photo of all the ingredients above). If using rusks, choose unsweetened ones. You can alternately make your own breadcrumbs by baking white bread in a 400 F (200C) oven for 20 minutes or so until golden brown and dry.
Whichever one you chose, process in a food processor until crumbs form.
How to make aish el saraya:
What I love so much about the cream in this recipe is that it tastes like authentic Arabic qishta- which is actually very time consuming to make, and hard to find.
If you know Turkish kaymak, you get the idea. You’ll need to whisk quite a bit, so roll up those sleeves and get to work. Trust me, it’s worth it.
Cut the crusts off of the white bread, then process in a food processor until soft fluffy crumbs form. Add these crumbs along with all the cream ingredients to a large saucepan.
Over medium low heat, whisk the cream ingredients continuously until the cream thickens. It should thicken into a custard like texture, and this will take a while, around 10 minutes. Arm workout for the day! Once the cream is nice and thick, remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.
The sweetened breadcrumbs- our base:
This part actually comes together much faster than the cream topping.
Make the sugar syrup. Add the sugar and water to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and let it simmer for 8 minutes or until slightly thickened. It doesn’t need to be too thick.
Take the dry rusks or dry toasts and process them into fine crumbs, then add the breadcrumbs to the sugar syrup, and stir in the rose water and orange blossom water. The consistency will be like wet, thick sand.
Stir in a LOT of rose water and orange blossom water. I was initially scared by the amount and put just half, tasted it, then added the remaining half. Mom was right, I shouldn’t have doubted her recipe.
Some people make this by just layering untoasted bread in a serving platter and topping with syrup and cream, but I prefer the toasted breadcrumbs so much more. They ends up tasting almost like toffee. It’s really hard to describe, but you’ll get it once you taste this.
In a large 9×13 inch serving platter, spread the sweetened breadcrumbs into an even layer. Top with the cream and spread evenly. Garnish with chopped pistachios, and dried rose petals if desired.
My mom always tops this with something called zahr el laymoun, which is candied flower petal jam. You can see what it looks like in this photo!
Chill in the fridge for a few hours or overnight, and enjoy. It’s luscious.
Making in advance and storing leftovers:
You can prepare the different parts of the dessert in advance. The sugar syrup can be made a week in advance, and the cream topping 1-2 days in advance. You can even add the breadcrumbs to the syrup and mix them and store in the fridge for a couple days in advance.
Leftovers will last 2-3 days in the fridge, tightly covered.
If you liked this recipe, you might like these other Middle Eastern desserts:
and this would go amazingly with this Karak Chai, a wonderful spiced tea.
Aish El Saraya
For the qishta (cream):
- 6 slices white bread, crust removed
- 3 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tbsp rose water
- 1 tbsp orange blossom water
For the sweetened breadcrumbs:
- 2 bags dry unsweetened rusks (qirshala) 320 g total
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 cup rose water
- 1/2 cup orange blossom water
For the garnish:
- handful roughly chopped pistachios
- sprinkle of dried rose petals if desired
- rose petal jam if desired
For the cream:
- Place the soft white bread in food processor and process until it turns into soft crumbs.
- Combine the breadcrumbs with the heavy cream, the milk, the cornstarch, the rose water and the orange blossom water in a saucepan. Over low heat, whisk constantly until mixture thickens into a cream like texture. This may take 7-10 minutes.
- Cool the cream until it reaches room temperature, then store in the fridge.
For the sweetened breadcrumbs:
- Use a food processor to process the dry rusks into crumbs. Set aside.
- Stir together the sugar and water in a large saucepan over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture comes to a boil. It doesn't need to thicken too much.
- Add the dry breadcrumbs, stir to combine, then remove from heat and stir in the rose water and the orange blossom water.
To assemble and garnish:
- Assemble by spreading the breadcrumb mixture into your serving platter, and topping with the chilled cream. Garnish with pistachios and rose petals and clumps of rose petal jam, or however you like!
Aish El Saraya by everylittlecrumb on Jumprope.