Is this the mother of all puddings?

Custard style puddings are common across a number of cultures, and California chef Reem Assil believes that most of them can be traced to a single source: the Arab pudding mahalabiya. “I feel like every culture has some version of the mahalabiya. That was the tip-off point for me,” Assil told food writer Genevieve Yam. “It’s usually some form of milk and a thickener. It’s genius. It’s the perfect way to make dessert with very little.” The chef has a hunch that many creamy desserts including panna cotta and blancmange may trace their roots to mahalabiya. 

Mahalabiya itself transformed over the centuries from a savory custard that included poultry (as described in a 13th-century Andalusian cookbook) to one that was sweeter and ditched the meat and vegetables. The first known instance of the pudding served as a dessert was during the 15th century.

(Correction to original post) The EYB Library has recipes for all sorts of puddings and custards, including four for mahalabiya: Arab milk custard and strawberry compote (Mahalabiya) from Arabiyya by Reem Assil, Mahalabia from Nistisima by Georgina Hayden, “Burnt” muhallebi (Kazandibi) from Essential Turkish Cuisine by Engin Akin (available online), and Muhallabia from A Middle Eastern Feast by Claudia Roden. (Thanks to Sydney for finding these!)

If you have an Epicurious membership and can access the recipe in the linked article, you can add it to your Bookshelf as well. In total, there are over 7,700 pudding recipes (1,280+ available online) and more than 4,100 custard recipes (535+ available online). Member favorites include:

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  • Foodycat  on  April 19, 2022

    It must also be related to blancmange/biancomangiare, although I think those turn up in the 16th century.

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