Sutlaj, Sütlaç, Muhallebia, Sholeh Zard—there are various takes on pudding, many of them rice-based, that are eaten throughout the Middle East. These particular cigar-shaped pastries, my great aunt's recipe, are the answer to the question that has plagued pudding for centuries: where is the texture contrast? And hey, who says you can’t eat pudding without a spoon?
Keep a close eye on your sutlaj as it cooks. The recipe is heavy-handed with the cornstarch so that it thickens quick and can set properly. You are looking for a thick consistency at the end of its cook time. Cooling time in the refrigerator will take you the rest of the way, helping to firm the pudding into a flan-like texture so that it is easy to work with.
Remember that you are dealing with single, paper-thin sheets of phyllo here. Make sure to keep a slightly damp tea towel over your phyllo while working to prevent it from drying out. When you bake these pastries, the sutlaj will soften and can find its way through cracks that may have occurred when rolling. A looser roll with a little give is best here. This will allow the sutlaj some breathing space to expand, reducing the chance of oozing.
Serve warm, dusted with powdered sugar or a mix of fine granulated sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on after they come out of the oven.
- Prep time 10 hours
- Cook time 15 minutes
- makes 40-60
rosewater or orange blossom water (or to taste)
box phyllo dough, brought to room temperature
unsalted butter, melted
powdered sugar (optional)
- In a large pot, whisk cornstarch and milk until cornstarch is dissolved. Over medium-high heat bring milk to a boil while whisking constantly. It should begin to thicken as it gets closer to a boil. Once it thickens, turn heat down so that mixture is at a simmer and there is a slow and steady rate of bubbles at the surface. Whisk in heavy cream and sugar and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the mixture reduces down and reaches a thick (it should run off a spoon very slowly like a thick pudding might) consistency, about 7 to 10 minutes.
- Take the pot off the fire, whisk in vanilla and rosewater or orange blossom water and allow the mixture—the sutlaj—to cool down for five minutes.
- Pour the sutlaj onto a half baking sheet and use an offset spatula to spread to the edges until it is about ½ inch thick. It will fill about ¾ of the baking sheet and that’s okay. Put baking sheet on a wire rack to cool. When cool, use plastic wrap to cover the surface of the sutlaj and put in the refrigerator for at least several hours or overnight to allow it to set.
- When set, take the sutlaj out of the refrigerator and use a paring knife to cut the sutlaj into rectangles about 2 ½ inches long and ¾ inch wide.
- Unroll the phyllo onto a clean surface. With the long side facing you, cut stacks of rectangles, about 5 inches in width. Depending on the size of your phyllo, you will likely get either 2 or 3 sets of rectangles. Cover the stacks of phyllo with a damp tea towel to keep it from drying out. Set a few parchment-lined baking sheets in front of you.
- Melt butter in a small pot one stick at a time over medium-low heat until melted.
- Lay a sheet of phyllo on your work surface with the short side facing you and use a pastry brush to lightly brush the surface with the melted butter. Using a spatula, take a rectangle of the sutlaj and place it in the middle, about an inch from the bottom of your phyllo sheet. Begin rolling away from you and after two rotations, fold the sides toward the center and continue rolling into a cigar shape. These should be rolled loosely while still keeping the integrity of the shape. Since the custard will expand in the oven, rolling them too tightly will lead to more likelihood of pastry oozing or bursting. When you are an inch from the top, brush the edge with a little bit more melted butter and finish rolling to seal. Lightly brush the top with melted butter and place on the parchment lined baking sheet.
- Repeat with the remaining sheets of dough and rectangles of sutlaj, rewarming the butter as necessary. If making ahead, freeze the pastries on baking sheets until firm, then store in Ziploc bags or tightly sealed containers.
- To bake: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. When fresh, bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. To bake when frozen, bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Pastries may ooze slightly, and that is okay.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool until warm, about 7 to 10 minutes. Serve warm dusted with powdered sugar.