When we were in Tel Aviv in February, we met some friends in the old Jaffa market for Israeli brunch. While walking off brunch, they introduced us to malabi, a Middle-Eastern milk pudding..
Malabi is believed to have come from Turkey, where it is thickened with rice flour. In Israel, it's thickened with corn starch and typically topped with rose water syrup, pistachios, and coconut flakes. The shop we went to used to be a street cart and is now a storefront with no name or hours. Lucky for us, they were open when we visited.
After returning home I knew I wanted to recreate this simple dessert, but with my own take on it. We're at the tail end of cherry blossom season here in San Francisco. Every year, seeing all the cherry blossoms in bloom reminds me of spring when I lived in Japan. At this time of year, cafes all over the country are serving cherry blossom lattes, macarons, doughnuts, you name it! Inspired by both Japan and Israel, I decided to make malabi with cherry blossom syrup and they turned out beautifully. It's an unexpected pairing: Milk pudding, ever so slightly scented with the flavor of cherry blossom. The flavor is almost fleeting, just like the cherry blossoms that only really bloom for about a week out of the year. We served these for dessert at the Nourish Passover Seder and it was the perfect, effortless and light spring dessert to finish off an otherwise heavy meal: Here's my cherry blossom malabi recipe:
Total Cooking Time: 24 hours
Active Cooking Time: 20 minutes
1-1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar
scant 1/4 cup cornstarch
Cherry Blossom Syrup Ingredients:
8 salt preserved cherry blossoms
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons sugar
Very small pinch natural red food coloring (like beet root powder)
Pour milk, cream, and sugar into a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Stir occasionally to make sure the sugar dissolves.
While you're waiting for the milk to come to a boil, whisk/dissolve the cornstarch in 1/2 cup water. When the milk mixture comes to a boil, remove the pot from the heat and slowly stir in the cornstarch mixture. Whisk vigorously to make sure cornstarch completely dissolves and thickens the mixture uniformly.
Pour milk pudding into individual serving cups, cover and refrigerate overnight. You can make the cherry blossom syrup on same day you make the milk pudding, or the day after, once the pudding has set.
Place salt-preserved cherry blossoms in a small bowl and cover with a bit of water. Soak for 30 minutes to remove the salt from the cherry blossoms. In a small pot, heat 1/2 cup water over medium heat. Pour in sugar and mix to dissolve completely. Once it comes to a boil, remove it from the heat.
Rinse the cherry blossoms, give them a light squeeze and add them to the syrup. Add the teeniest pinch of beet powder (I use a tiny spoon) to give the syrup a light pink hue. You can always add more to your liking and make sure to mix well so the beet powder is well-incorporated. If using immediately, place the pot over an ice bath to cool it down.
Remove two cherry blossoms from the syrup and place it on one milk pudding, making a "v" shape with the stems. Gently pour the syrup over the pudding and serve. You can also do this step one day before serving. I did this for Passover and it was wonderful to not worry about dessert that day and simply remove it from the fridge right before serving!
*You can purchase salt-preserved cherry blossoms from your local Japanese market. I go to Nijiya, which has multiple locations across the country. Since they are shipped fresh from Japan every year during cherry blossom season, they usually don't appear in the market until beginning-mid April. You can also purchase them online here.