Once is enough …


This month, The Cookbook Guru is featuring Saha by Greg and Lucy Malouf.  One great thing about trying out recipes for the Cookbook Guru is you get to do a post even when the recipe is a dud. Normally, if a recipe is a dud, I write next to it, “Once is enough” and move on.  But the Cookbook Guru wants us to critique recipes in the featured cookbook.

As I have mentioned more than once, I am a big fan of Muhallabia.  I have been making a modified version of Claudia Roden’s recipe for about 30 years.  So, when I saw Greg had a version in Saha (Lebanese milk pudding with passionfruit (Passionfruit Muhallabeya)), I thought I would give it a go.  It is always good to compare your version against others.

Greg’s recipe was flavoured with orange blossom water rather than rose water.  Orange blossom water is always an alternative to rose water in Muhallabia, but I never use it.  It reminds me of the fragrance 4711, which was all the rage in the 70’s and the fragrance of choice in airline toilets for many years.  In this instance, I decided to go with orange blossom water as I didn’t think rose water would complement passionfruit.

Greg’s recipe also has mastic in it.  I had bought some mastic when I was last in Sydney and was yet to use it so I was keen. That may have been my down fall.

I thought the recipe was a bit weird on a number of accounts.  Firstly, it had one cup of water in it.  I don’t  understand why a milk pudding would have water in it.  Milk is not particularly rich so there is no need to dilute it.

My other concern was the omission of rice flour.  The recipe relied on cornflour to thicken the milk/water and it soon became very evident there was no where near enough starch to thicken it.  I don’t know why I persisted but I sieved the mixture and put it in individual glasses to cool and thicken.  When that did not happen, to save the day, I poured (yes, poured) the pudding out of the glasses and back into the bowl, added 50g of rice flour and started cooking it all over again.  This solved the thickness issue but the texture still wasn’t quite right.

The next problem was the passionfruit.  I like passionfruit (a lot) but it is very strongly flavoured.  It overwhelmed the subtle orange blossom water.  There was no melding of flavours whatsoever.  It was not a good combination.

The orange blossom water was not as bad as I remember the scent 4711.  I actually did not mind it.  It was nice and fresh, although I still prefer rose water.

I have no idea what effect, if any, the mastic had.

Overall, the recipe was very unsatisfactory and not to be repeated.

If you have had a similarly bad experience with Muhallabia, please, do not give up. Try this version – a good Muhallabia is fantastic.


19 thoughts on “Once is enough …

  1. Greetings my dear, With the change of the seasons here, I think of you and your garden – so with the coming of our autumn rains (a week’s worth!), my thoughts on seeing your new post are on how nice it would be to be getting my garden ready for a new year – I’m envious.

    My father-in-law was a tile setter, where they use mastic to cement tiles to the floor – I believe it’s the very same stuff you’re using – I always smile a little when I hear of its culinary uses.

    Please forgive my prolonged absence..

    • Hi Doc, urrh that mastic sounds evil… I hope mine was food standard. Doc, my vegie patch is looking so good. We are getting asparagus, beetroot and broccoli at the moment and I just picked all the garlic. It is hanging under the house. I have lots of onions that are nearly ready and all the summer seeds are in. There will be tales of glut soon, you wait. As you know I don’t look forward to summer, it is just too long here.

  2. A fan of Muhallabia too Glenda but I do not like when it’s made with cornflour. Orange blossom water has grown on me over the years and like you, 4711 would have been my first thought. Mastic thickens things up a bit and has a very distinct flavour which can be hard to describe 🙂

    • Hi Moya, Does mastic thicken things when it cools or is it thick when it is hot like cornflour? I couldn’t taste anything, maybe I didn’t use enough.

      • Glenda I have found mastic to further set a milky dessert on cooling. Mastic also needs to be ground into a very fine powder with a little sugar before incorporating into other ingredients otherwise you will have gum like lumps in your dessert. 🙂

  3. “Once is enough!” A phrase I’ve come to know very well. It can be so disappointing to try a new recipe and it fails, through no fault of your own. I’m sure you’ve spared more than a few cooks from spending a disappointing afternoon in th kitchen.

    • Hi John It happens a little too often. I wonder whether all the recipes in cookbooks have been tested. I made passionfruit rubber footballs a few weeks back because a recipe (in 3 publications) required 9 teaspoons of gelatine. That was very annoying as it took all afternoon to make. At least with this I was able to salvage it – even if it wasn’t the most pleasant.

  4. In my youth 4711 was quite the thing, but I’ve never before connected the fragrance of orange blossom water. I’m quite curious now to sniff orange blossom water…
    I like the idea of the “Once is enough” annotation. There’s many things it could apply to but for recipes, definitely.

  5. Great critique! I can almost smell scent 4711… Mastic, other than a flavour ingredient, is a mild jelling agent, so it may have helped the passionfruit topping to firm. I only ever use it in small quantities as it is a strong flavour, so I was surprised that it was overwhelmed by the passionfruit. I’ve not tried muhallabia of any sort, but if I do, I will certainly not rely on the Saha recipe. Thanks for the heads-up.

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