I’m planning to mix up the Italian Christmas Eve menu. Though I generally come down on the side of the traditional holiday, I’m not a huge fan of the salt cod stew, and sure, pizza is always welcome, but I make it all year. Delicious cannoli is always a “yes, please!” to eat, but who wants to deep fry the shells? I’d much rather get cozy by the fire and eat a big bowl of something creamy, yummy, and sweet. Yes, I am going to make baccala stew and anchovy pizza for my dear father this Christmas Eve, but I will add a lovely dessert from another tradition in our American melting pot.
I didn’t have to look any further than my own beautiful sister-in-law whose family is of Danish descent. The former Miss Garroutte grew up with grandparents who returned from visits to the old country with clogs for the little girls along with handmade mittens and socks, and ornaments from the outdoor Christmas markets. What a darling picture the four little blonde children must have made in their new clogs and socks, hanging simple, traditional ornaments on the Christmas tree.
As hinted at by Danish modern home décor seen in American homes from the 1960’s on, Danish design is simple and makes use of the natural world for color and materials. The sleek lines of wooden furniture and uncluttered interiors make a clean background for a Nordic pine type of live Christmas tree. A limited palette of ornaments keeps it looking fresh and crisp.
Of course, being Italian and Scottish, I am too fond of Christmas tartan, gold ornaments, and elaborate Christmas cookies to go completely minimal with my holiday décor. A photograph of our Christmas Eve table from last year celebrated the tartan and buffalo plaids but we did mix in embroidered red Dala horse napkins along with fresh holly and holly-themed china. I suppose a little Nordic was sneaking in even then.
Back to my creamy Christmas dessert. Enter Risalamande, or the creamiest rice pudding on the planet. It starts with rice porridge, ricengrod. According to Annette at the Soquel Curves, my expert on all things Danish, the ricengrod is made and eaten on December 23rd. The unsweetened milk and short-grained rice porridge is stirred over a low flame for about half an hour, similar to how risotto is made. This is eaten with cinnamon sugar.
About this constant stirring for the better part of an hour. I usually avoid recipes with prolonged stirring, as I am most likely doing several other kitchen tasks at the same time. However, this holiday season I am instituting a less frantic pace, hoping to enjoy the season more and run around crazy less. In aid of this goal, I slid a kitchen stool up to the stove and gave myself over to stirring the pudding. It was almost mesmerizing watching the raw rice and cold milk slowly turn into this thickened, creamy, white mass. I also noticed that if you stay in one place, people can come to you, if need be, and as nothing is more important than not burning the rice pudding, most likely they will not bother you. Score!
On Christmas Eve, the leftover porridge is turned into risalamande by having sweetened whipped cream and chopped almonds folded into it as well as one or two whole almonds. This is important because whoever finds the whole almond is the winner of this game. And there is strategy; the finder hides the almond under their tongue or surreptitiously in their napkin because guests are tasked with eating more and more pudding until the almond is “found.”
Here is where I am going to diverge from the traditional pudding forced feeding game, fun as that sounds, because I (and you) really, really want to have leftover rice pudding to make rice pancakes, klatkager, from the remaining pudding on Christmas morning. These pancakes are truly a revelation in how delicious a pancake can be. As a bed and breakfast cook, I have flipped my share of pancakes, but these are special. The chopped almonds, which a few testers thought odd when encountered in the rice pudding, combined with the slightly chewy rice and heavenly whipped cream component, make the pancakes light and hearty at the same time. You definitely would love these cooked-in-butter pancakes with maple syrup and perhaps sausage or bacon at Christmas breakfast, preferably served fireside, with strong black tea.
Wait, I forgot about the rice pudding’s ruby-hued cohort, the cherry sauce. The contrast of the creamy pudding and slightly tart cherry sauce is magical as well as visually stunning. I used frozen cherries from Trader Joe’s, to make a simple cherry, water, sugar, and corn starch cherry sauce. Opening a can of cherry pie filling, thinned with a little water or cherry brandy would also be great. However you do it, just get some cherry sauce on top of your pudding.
I used the recipes for klatkager, ricengrod, and Risalamande from Nordic Living Christmas which is run by an adorable Danish guy, Kim Nielsen. Not only is the website graphically clean and fresh looking, his photographs are mouth-watering and his writing charming. Do look not only for his recipes for the rice porridge, rice pudding, rice pudding pancakes but aebleskiver, Danish butter cookies, rum balls, and many other tantalizing savory and sweet recipes.
I hope you all can find a cozy fireside to gaze at the lit-up tree, be with loved ones, and eat some creamy sweet stuff.