Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Arabic clotted cream or Kachta! قشطة

Kachta, a basic ingredient in Arabic desserts
If there's a region around the world that can marry the beauty of nature with the richness of culture and history with the most exquisite flavors this region is undoubtedly the Mediterranean. Obviously I have a bias towards that region, but can you blame me? The Italian, the French, the Spanish, the Greek and the Near-Eastern cuisines are some of the best in the world and they are all Mediterranean.

The Near East (The Levant) and by extension the Middle East, at a crossroads between Asia, Africa and Europe, is a land of exchange and diversity. Its cuisine reflects the richness and depth of history it carries. Moreover, its a land of ingredients, where many firsts happened. Agriculture took roots in this region and many animals where domesticated here paving the way for a leap in human history: the shift from a nomadic lifestyle to a sedentary one. Wheat, barely, dates, figs, grapes, olive oil, gee, butter, milk and honey are all ingredients that are as old as time itself in the Near East. As a land of exchange, these ingredients traveled from it to the world as new ingredients from distant places settled in further enriching its cuisine.

Sweets are an essential part of Near and Middle  Eastern cuisine with a wide variety of fruits and unrestricted use of sugar syrup over baked sweets. Even in the Mesopotamian times, cakes with dried fruits and nuts were prepared and considered as source of energy. 

While many of the region's ingredients are widely known in the West, some aren't. A prominent example would be this post star ingredient: kachta. Kachta is a form of clotted or condensed cream.
Together with nuts, kachta is used in many Arabic desserts. It is not certain when this ingredient came into being, but it is believed that it is centuries old and could haven been produced as a by-product of cheese, yogurt or butter preparation before it became a sought after product by itself.

 The clotted cream or Devonshire cream is made by heating the full cream milk using either steam or a double boiler, then it´s left to cool  for several hours in shallow pans, allowing the formation of clots.
As for Kashta, it is prepared by pouring milk in shallow copper  pans, about 10 cm high and not wider than 125 cm in diameter, then heated on high heat. As the milk starts to boil, the heat is lowered, allowing the milk to lose temperature and at this time a white veil appears on the surface, and it is skimmed with a mesh skimmer.

It seems that as milk is heated the protein and the fats in it react and form this veil or skin on top. The skin is thicker if the milk is richer in fat, however even skimmed milk forms this skin when heated as no skim milk is truly fat free. 

In the middle east, kachta is usually bought from pastry shops, if not available there is an easy recipe to make a similar kachta. I warn you, this recipe requires only one ingredient but a lot of patience. 

I honestly don't have a copper pan and didn't want to buy one just for this recipe so I used  a stainless steel one. I had about a liter and a half of fresh full fat milk which I poured in the pan and put over the stove. Back home, we get fresh milk from a nearby farm every Tuesday, so If you are lucky and you can get it fresh, please do.
One ingredient and a lot of patience

You can pasteurize the milk before you proceed with the recipe and I recommend you do so.  After that, you put the milk on high heat until it boils, then you lower the heat and wait for the skin to form which you skim and put on a strainer to remove the liquid milk. Repeat the high and low heat action untill you are almost out of milk in the pan! . 

In order to make enough kachta to be used in other recipes, you will have to be patient, like really patient. It took around an hour and a half to make one cup and a half. However, I felt proud to do something people usually always buy from pastry shops.

The end result of your hard labor is a rich cream, packed with milk flavor and with a special texture. There are endless uses of this cream and many arabic desserts call for its use. An easy way to enjoy it is by adding some honey and nuts to it or adding it to fruit salads.

If you want you can elevate the level of sophistication and stuff some buttered sheets of phyllo dough with the cream and than bake in the oven until crispy and golden. Drizzle over some sugar syrup or honey and sprinkle some pistachios. But I will share more details about this recipe in the upcoming post, so make sure to stop by and get a taste of Arabian nights.
Sweet, crispy and creamy


  1. Thank you so much for stopping by my blog and leaving that sweet comment. Your ashta is lovely. This definitely takes a lot of patiences but is well worth it in the end -- the result is so delicious!

    1. I love your page, but I think you have noticed that! :)Yes it pays, but was so happy doing it and as you said really worth it at the end!
      Thank you!

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