Pudding pies have to be one of my favorite desserts, and topping the list is a Greek version called Ekmek Kataifi. My mom has been making this as a holiday dessert for as long as I can remember. The crust is a syrup soaked and pecan topped shredded phyllo dough (kataifi), which is topped with vanilla custard or pudding, and finished off with whipped cream. She has always made it with pudding, and I prefer it that way. It is an amazing and unique dessert, and is what a holiday dessert should be: decadent, thoughtful, and delicious. Imagine putting your spoon through a layer of homemade whipped cream, vanilla pudding, and a syrupy layer of phyllo. It is one of those desserts that makes you pause as you first taste all of the flavors and feel all of the textures. It is truly amazing! I hope you make this dessert part of your holiday dessert spread or your next special event.
1/2 cup real unsalted butter plus 1 Tbsp. for greasing pan
1/3 of a 1 lb. pack kataifi (shredded phyllo dough)
1 cup pecans
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
3 3 oz. boxes of cook and serve vanilla pudding
5 1/2 cups 2% milk
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
cinnamon stick (6 in. long)
slice of lemon peel (1 1/2 inch wide at middle)
3 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
Make this dessert at least 1 day ahead, but put the whipped cream on it the day of.
Remove the kataifi from the freezer and place in the fridge at least 8 hours before making the dessert. I usually take mine out the night before. Kataifi can be found in specialty stores and most Greek and middle eastern stores. It can also be found online.
Remove the kataifi from the fridge, but keep packaged.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Melt 1/2 cup butter and set aside to cool. Melt the remaining butter and grease a 9x13 inch pan, with deep sides (I use glass). Crush the pecans into small uniform pieces (I find crushing them with a meat tenderizer in a food storage bag works well).
Remove 1/3 of the kataifi from the package and pull apart the individual strands. Press the kataifi in the greased pan and evenly cover the bottom of the pan. Evenly drizzle the melted butter all over the kataifi. Gently press to ensure all areas are covered. Evenly sprinkle the cinnamon all over the kataifi, followed by the crushed pecans. Place in the oven for 35 minutes until golden brown.
While the kataifi is baking, make the syrup. Place the sugar and water in a pan over medium heat (I use stainless steel). Once the sugar is dissolved, add the cinnamon stick and lemon peel and bring to a boil. Let boil for 5 minutes watching constantly and stirring as needed. Reduce heat and let simmer for 20 minutes to reduce and thicken the syrup. Stir as needed. Remove the lemon and cinnamon stick and keep warm.
Once the kataifi is done, remove from the oven and evenly drizzle about 3/4 of the warm syrup* all over. Let the crust cool and make the pudding.
Make the pudding according to pie directions, but as noted, use less milk. Once the pudding is ready, pour over the kataifi. Let cool slightly and then place in the fridge, covering well. This dessert is best if you let it sit overnight, but 4 hours will be enough for it to set.
Make the whipped cream and add once it has set. If you're letting the dessert sit in the fridge overnight, add the whipped cream a few hours before eating.
* Syrup Note: When I first made this dessert, I used the entire amount of syrup, and although it was delicious, I found the crust to be a bit too syrupy. I have started using the extra syrup to drizzle on the plates or over the dessert when serving for an extra touch. Just let the remainder of the syrup cool and store in the fridge until ready to use. You can also use it for pancakes, toast, biscuits, etc.
Add cold cream and vanilla to a mixer with a wire whip attachment and set to high. Don't forget to cover it up.
Once it begins to slightly thicken, steadily add the sugar (I like to stop and scrape the bowl once the sugar is incorporated).
Stop and check the whipped cream once you see it begin to thicken. The whipped cream is ready when it will hold its form (note: you may have to check it several times the first time you make it). Be careful not to over mix or it will separate.
Store in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 2 days or add directly to the dessert. Enjoy!
#1 The syrup can be made 2-3 days before using. Once the syrup is ready, remove the cinnamon and lemon peel and let cool. Place in a sealed container in the fridge. Warm up the syrup when it is time to add it to the kataifi.
#2 Make the whipped cream up to 2 days before you plan to add it to the dessert. Just place in the fridge in a sealed container. Give it a quick whisk and spread it evenly over the pudding.
#3 For best results, make the dessert at least one day ahead and then add the whipped cream the day of.