#165 risalamande

The best art about traditions is the warmth that comes with them, especially when it comes to food. This recipe reminds so many people up north of their holiday season with family & the togetherness that a big bowl of risalamande can bring!

  • 1 cup (180g) of short-grained white rice
  • 1 cup (250 ml) of water
  • 4-1/1 cups (1 Liter) of milk
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 5-1/2 ounces (100g) of almonds
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 cups (500 ml) of heavy cream
  • 1 can of cherry sauce

In a saucepan add the rice & water. Heat up & let boil for about 2 minutes. Add the milk to the pudding & heat up until boiling, constantly stirring. Add the vanilla & sugar to the pudding. Let the pudding simmer at low heat. The rice has a tendency to burn at the bottom of the saucepan, so remember to stir regularly! Let it simmer for about 35 minutes.

After the rice pudding is done, let it cool in the fridge before you proceed to make the Risalamande. You can actually prepare the pudding a day in advance.

Heat some water to a boil and pour it in a small bowl. Add the almonds & let them soak in the hot water for about 5 minutes. One-by-one, take the almonds up & press them between two fingers so that the peel separates from the almond. Add more hot water if needed. It should be easy to skin the almonds. Coarsely chop them up and mix them with the cold rice pudding. Cheat sheet: buy the chopped almonds…

In a separate bowl, whisk the heavy cream into whipped cream & gently mix it into the rice pudding. The Risalamande is now done! Chill until ready to serve. Serve the Risalamande with some warm cherry sauce. If your want to play the traditional Danish almond game, mandelgave, leave a whole almond without peeling in the Risalamande – who ever gets the whole almond wins a small prize!

The days between Christmas and New Year’s should have an official name to them. I believe it’s a somewhat common phenomenon that occurs in most parts of the world, where we are uniquely absorbed by the magical post-Christmas bliss, a blurry & carefree wrinkle in time, where there is absolutely no sense of an outside world, where rules & responsabilities determine our every move. Long live pijamas, food, and sleep!

This year has definitely been different, and although the days of forced quarantined lockdowns are far from over, luckily for us here it really hasn’t made much of a difference this week. Aside from the brisk, cold walks we take with the newest member of our household, there really isn’t much of a reason to step out the door. On December 14th we entered a major lockdown in Germany, as COVID numbers were getting out of hand again and since then we’ve been taking it easy, spending as much time as possible at home and that can only mean one thing for me: time for some good old fashioned cooking!

Three years ago we spent the lazy post-Christmas days and New Year’s visiting our friends in Copenhaguen, Denmark. I’ve been getting social media memory reminders this week of that lovely trip, and not only did I realize that it feels like forever since we travelled to another country, but I realized how much we miss it! Thankfully, the vaccine brings an end to this annoying & scary reality..and luckily, we have beautiful memories to cherish in the meantime.

Christmas time in Denmark is quite special, considering the Scandinavian traditions that practically define our idea of a white Christmas. The land of ice & snow, of warm-huddle fires & reindeer; a look at the Scandinavian Christmas traditions of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, & Finland offers a hint at how the classic idea of Chritmas came to be. The Danish Christmas begins with the Advent wreath of spruce & red berries, with four candles atop it, one lit every Sunday leading up to Christmas Eve, which is the main festive day. The Christmas tree, as we know it, also stemmed from the Nordic countries, decked with a silver or gold star at its peak.

On Christmas Eve, a Danish spread would likely contain stuffed duck or goose with apples & prunes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, sliced beets & red cabbage – a bit of a parallel to the American Thanksgiving but with a twist! Rice puddings rule dessert here, with two variations: risengrød, which is a hot rice pudding, or ris a l’amande, a French tradition of rice pudding mixed with whipped cream, vanilla, almond, & cherry sauce. It was only fitting, when we first arrived for dinner that night three years ago, that our Danish friends would welcome us with a classical Christmas dinner and a big bowl of ris a l’amande for dessert.

French for ‘rice with almonds’, it’s actually known as ‘the Danish Christmas dessert’ in French. Funny, huh? It was actually based on the classical French dessert of riz á l’impératrice (empress rice) which is more solid, shaped in moulds and decorated with raspberry jelly. Today risalamande is the spelling authorized by the Danish Language Committee. The dessert itself is made of rice pudding mixed with whipped cream, sugar, vanilla, and chopped almonds. It gained popularity in the 19th century when rice pudding became more common. Until then it had been an exclusive dish, requiring two expensive, imported ingredients: almonds & cinnamon. After WW2, risalamande became more popular as a ‘savings’ dessert, adding whipped cream (which was easily available) to the still fairly expensive rice would make the rice last longer.

It’s use in Christmas tradition begins on December 23, or lillejuleaften, or ‘Little Christmas Eve’ when families make a large batch of it for dinner and keep a part of it for preparing risalamande as a dessert after the big Christmas dinner. Some actually eat hot rice pudding as part of the Christmas dinner, usually as a starter and more rarely as a dessert. However anyone chooses to eat it, the truth is, it’s a delicious Christmas sweet dish that’s perfect for the long, lazy days in pijamas!


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