Advertisement Close

“Lebanese Nights”—Soft Semolina Custard Scented with Rose Water and Topped with Whipping Cream and Pistachios

posted on: Jul 4, 2018

By: Blanche Shaheen/Arab America Contributing Writer

My love affair with Layali Lubnan began when I was 10 years old. My mother brought me along with her to a bridal shower, and to be honest, the endless conversations and gift opening of fine china bored me to tears. However, the lavish dessert table I eyed in the corner of the room sparkled the whole afternoon.

Trays of baklava, semolina date cookies, chocolate kisses, and sesame anise cookies lined the table covered with white lace. Layali Lubnan prominently occupied the center of the dessert spread–a heavenly looking white custard adorned with chopped pistachios. I had never tried this dessert before, but one of the guests who came from Lebanon made the treat for all of us try for the first time.

Layali Lubnan literally means “Lebanese Nights” in Arabic, one of the most popular desserts originating from Lebanon. At that age, I pondered the name: ‘Are real Lebanese nights filled with white clouds? Are the pistachios supposed to be colorful stars lighting up a foggy evening?” My curiosity escalated to the point where I asked my mother if I could have a piece before lunch. She miraculously said yes, as she could sense my boredom (remember there were no iPads then). So I took a piece, sat down, and fell in love at first bite.

The dessert had two distinct layers, a creamy semolina custard on the bottom, and an airy whipped cream on the top. The chopped pistachios added a nice crunchy contrast in texture and color, and the whole sweet was draped with a lemony rose sugar syrup. As I put the spoon to my mouth I could smell the mild fragrance of roses.

I felt sophisticated eating Layali Lubnan as a child and asked my mother to make it for me again in the future. Fortunately, my mother asked the Lebanese woman for the recipe and continued to make the delicious treat for us well beyond the day of that party. Now as an adult, I serve this fancy dessert to the people I love. I can’t think of a better delicacy for this fantastic holiday, as this custard stimulates all of the senses, from the smell of the rose water and lemon to the taste of the light and creamy custard accented by nutty pistachios. I still don’t know what Lebanese nights really look like, but they must have smelled and looked divine at one point to inspire this legendary delight.

For the video tutorial on how to make this dessert, click on the video below:

“Lebanese Nights”—Soft Semolina Custard Scented with Rose Water and Topped with Whipping Cream and Pistachios

(Serves 12)


Semolina Custard:

4 cups whole milk

½ cup sugar

1 cup semolina

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp rose water


1 cup whipping cream

2 tbs cornstarch

1 tbs sugar

½ cup chopped pistachios


1 1/2 cups water

1 cup sugar

Juice of ½ lemon

2 tsp rose water


To prepare the custard, whisk the 2 eggs with the vanilla extract in a bowl, set aside.  Pour the milk into a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat, and slowly pour in the semolina in a steady stream, stirring continuously. Continue to stir and cook until the mixture thickens and boils for about  1 to 2 minutes.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and immediately stir in the eggs and 1 tsp of rose water until fully incorporated. Pour the mixture into a 9×13 inch serving dish, or individual dishes if you prefer. Allow the pudding to cool slightly, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate, for at least 5 hours or overnight.

For the syrup, heat the sugar and water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then cook until the mixture turns light golden brown, which takes about 10 minutes. Immediately remove from the heat and stir in the 2 tsp rose water and lemon juice (which will prevent crystallization as well as add flavor) Remove the syrup from the heat, cover, and chill. The syrup will keep for a month if refrigerated in a sealed container.

To serve, whip the whipping cream with sugar using a hand mixer until stiff peaks form. Spread a thin layer of the whipped cream over the pudding. Sprinkle with chopped nuts and drizzle with the sugar syrup.


Blanche Shaheen is a journalist, food writer, and host of the cooking show called Feast in the Middle East. She specializes in Arab cuisine of the Levant and beyond  You can check out her cooking video tutorials and cultural commentary on growing up Arab American on her Youtube page. Her recipes can also be found here.