Ktefa (or ktifa) is a traditional Moroccan dessert sometimes called "milk bastilla." Rounds of crispy warqa pastry are layered into a stack with sweetened fried almonds and a custard sauce (creme anglaise or creme patissiere) scented with orange flower water. Ktefa may also be prepared with a milk sauce thickened with corn starch or rice flour rather than egg yolks, but I much prefer the richer custard.
Fresh seasonal fruit, particularly berries, may be added between each layer or served over the top as a garnish.
Traditionally the warqa is fried before assembly; however, the pastry dough can be buttered and baked instead. The latter is my preference, but both methods are described below.
Fillo dough or spring roll wrappers may be substituted for the warqa.
- 1 pound warqa
- vegetable oil for frying (or melted butter, for baking)
- 2 cups fried almonds
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar
- For the Creme Anglaise Custard Sauce
- 3 cups milk
- 6 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 or 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 2 teaspoons orange flower water, or to taste
- Optional Garnishes
- powdered sugar
- fresh fruit
Most of the prep work can be done in advance; the dessert will be assembled and plated just prior to serving.
Prepare the Almonds
- Grind fried, cooled almonds on pulse mode in a food processor until finely chopped but not powdery. Transfer the almonds to a bowl and combine them with the powdered sugar. Cover and set aside until needed. May be made one or two days in advance.
Make the Creme Anglaise (Custard Sauce)
- Set up a strainer over a heat-proof bowl. Place the milk in a saucepan over medium-high heat and allow it to barely reach a boil. Remove from the heat. While the milk is heating, whisk together the sugar and the egg yolks in another heat-proof bowl. Gradually and slowly pour the hot milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Pour the egg and milk mixture back into the pot and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. (Note: Do not let the custard sauce reach a simmer while it thickens.) Strain the sauce and stir in the vanilla and orange flower water. Set the creme Anglaise aside to cool. Cover and chill until needed. May be made a day in advance.
Prepare the Pastry
- Lay out your uncooked pastry sheets into one or two stacks. Using a small dish or bowl as a guide, cut out circles of dough 4" to 5" in diameter. Gently separate the circles of dough into double layers, and fry or bake the dough until crisp. This can be done several or more hours in advance of serving.
- To fry the dough: Set up a metal strainer over a bowl, and layer a baking sheet with paper towels. Heat 1/4" of oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and fry the double-layered circles of dough one at a time for just 15 seconds or so, turning several times with tongs, until the dough turns a pale golden brown. Immediately remove the cooked dough to the strainer, setting it upright rather than flat to allow for maximum draining of oil. Repeat with the remaining dough. Each time the strainer fills with cooked pastry, transfer the cooled pastry to the baking sheet lined with paper towels.
- To bake the pastry: Preheat an oven to 375° F (190° C). Lightly brush the double-layered circles of dough with melted butter and place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake just until light golden brown, about 10 minutes. Watch carefully to avoid over-browning the dough. Transfer the crisped pastry to a rack to cool.
Assemble the Ktefa
- Ktefa is usually arranged in stacks of five or six layers. If necessary, re-crisp the fried or baked pastry at serving time in a 350° F (180° C) oven for a few minutes.
- Set out individual serving dishes. Place a layer of crisp pastry onto each plate. Top the pastry with some custard sauce and a sprinkling of the fried, sweetened almonds. Add another layer of pastry and top with custard sauce and almonds. Repeat until your stack is of the desired height. If desired, garnish the plate or ktefa with cinnamon, powdered sugar or fresh fruit. Serve immediately.