Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Happy Holidays | Danish rice and almond pudding

Christmas time is upon us and it's time for the last blog entry this year. I would like to use the opportunity to share again the recipe for rice and almond pudding (risalamande), a traditional Danish dessert that always gets many views on my old food blog in December. I remember seeing the pudding on the Christmas table in my childhood but it wasn't an annual tradition. The Danes have served the pudding at Christmas since the late 1800s and it has undergone some changes. I think I remember it correctly that the whipped cream wasn't added to the recipe until the era of the Second World War (1939-1945) when the price of rice got higher. A few years ago, when we were living in Copenhagen, my aunt and her Danish husband invited us to their home for a Christmas dinner and for dessert they served risalamande with organic cherry sauce, which was a wonderful combination. This was back in 2009 and since then the rice pudding has been on our Christmas table.

I serve the pudding on Christmas Eve, which is the day of celebration in the Nordic countries, when a festive dinner is enjoyed before the presents are opened. If buying the cherry sauce I would opt for an organic choice, free of refined sugar. Preparing the sauce is very easy. If I can get fresh cherries at this time of year I use 600 grams: Cut the cherries and remove the pits before mixing with 1 tablespoon of pure maple syrup in a food processor. Pour it into a small saucepan, stir in 2-3 tablespoons of unrefined cane sugar and add a bit of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Let it simmer gently for 10-15 minutes, until the liquid has mostly evaporated, but not to the point of having dried out. Transfer the sauce to a bowl and allow it to cool before serving. You can also use frozen cherries: you will only need 300 grams that go straight into a saucepan with the syrup, sugar and lemon juice, and let it simmer longer. When the sauce is ready you can mash the cherries with a fork or a spoon before allowing it to cool. On Sunday I made the rice and almond pudding and for the sauce I used frozen mixed berries. It tasted wonderful and that's the sauce you see in the photos.

In this house the Christmas preparation is pretty much done and the smoked lamb (hangikjöt) is on its way from Iceland via express mail. Here in Scotland there is hardly any chance of white Christmas, even a bush by our dining room window has started to form buds. I would like to wish you Happy Holidays and my best wishes for 2016, and at the same time to thank you for all the blog visits this year.

On this blog, late in 2011, I mentioned the risalamande recipe (some write ris a la mande or ris à l'amande) and much to my surprise my readers were eager to view it, which is why I shared it on my old food blog. It is the recipe I got from my aforementioned aunt and her husband in Denmark and I have only made slight changes: I use more sugar because my children like it that way (they use half tablespoon) and instead of blanched almonds I use almonds with the skin, which provides dietary fibre. I always prepare the pudding in the morning of Christmas Eve, as it needs time to cool, and the scent of vanilla that fills the house is heavenly. As I said before, I serve it with either organic cherry sauce or home-made. If you are interested in a lighter version of the pudding you can substitute the whipping cream for Greek yoghurt, or you can combine cream and yoghurt. At Christmas I always prepare the real thing, with the whipped cream.


190 g pudding rice (scant 1 cup)
250 ml water (1 cup)
1 litre milk (4 cups)
1 vanilla pod
2 tablespoons unrefined cane sugar
½ teaspoon fine sea/Himalayan salt
75 g almonds (½ cup)
400 ml whipping cream (about 1½ cup + 2 tablespoons)

To make the pudding: Rinse the pudding rice (white short-grain rice) before boiling in 250 ml water (1 cup) for 2 minutes in a saucepan. Add the 1 litre of milk (4 cups) and bring gently to the boil. Turn the heat down and let it simmer gently for about 35 minutes. Use a lid but tilt it to allow the steam to escape. (The cooking time applies to Danish grødris (pudding rice). Other type of rice could need longer time to cook. Most of the liquid should be absorbed and the rice should be soft.)

Before adding the vanilla pod to the saucepan you need to split it and remove the seeds. Use a sharp knife to split it lengthways and then scrape the seeds out with the knife tip (I use the seeds to make my own vanilla sugar with unrefined cane sugar).

When the rice pudding is done remove the saucepan from the heat and remove the two halves of the vanilla pod. Spoon the rice pudding into a big bowl, add the salt and sugar and stir gently. Cover the bowl and allow the pudding to cool in the fridge.

Chop the almonds with a knife or in a food processor and add them to the cold pudding. (You can use blanched almonds if you prefer. If you can't buy them then simply put them in a bowl of hot water and rub the skin off with your fingers.) Whip the cream (not too stiff) and gently stir it in.

Serve the pudding with cherry sauce or sauce with mixed berries.

Uppskrift á íslensku.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Swedish braided bread with cardamom

Swedish braided bread with cardamom is the latest recipe on our Christmas menu, a welcome new tradition that is making our Sunday brunches in December even better. Perhaps the recipe should be called Nordic or Scandinavian Christmas bread, as it isn't specifically Swedish. Some people call it coffee or tea bread but I'm used to calling it Swedish. In Finland they call it pulla and another Finnish word for it is nisu or nissua. The Norwegian bread is called julekake (Christmas cake) and has raisins in it but I don't think they necessarily braid the loaf. In Denmark I have seen teboller (tea buns) with cardamom. The ingredients in these recipes will vary slightly but the cardamom, widely used in Scandinavia, is the common factor.

In Sweden they either bake a loaf or buns from the dough and usually they sprinkle pearl sugar on top, which is something you will never find in my cupboards. In some recipes the braids are formed into a ring that has been filled with butter, sugar and spices, and often topped with sliced almonds. All these Nordic recipes include butter and sugar, but it shouldn't come as a surprise that my version is less sugary and has just a bit of coconut oil instead of the butter. The bread is still soft and has a sweet taste but for us it's more about the heavenly taste of cardamom.

In my recipe I use freshly ground cardamom, from half tablespoon of cardamom pods (20-25 green ones). My first braided bread experiments included fresh yeast but I decided to experiment with dried yeast as well, in case some of my readers weren't able to buy fresh yeast (no one in this household complained, perhaps it was the cardamom coma!). The recipe calls for 735 grams of flour (5½ cups) but it's enough to use dried yeast needed for 500 grams (1 lb). I bake the bread with white spelt flour but I have also used organic plain flour, using either fresh or dried yeast, with good results. It was my intention to share a yeast-free version as well but to avoid confusion I will post it separately some other time.

I have told you before that I have Danish ancestors and was brought up in Iceland with quite many Danish traditions. However, I don't remember ever having seen braided bread on the table or buns with cardamom. The look of the bread has always fascinated me and I wanted to make my own version, as I have found the breads I have tasted too sugary. It isn't complicated to bake the bread, it just takes time as you first have to activate the yeast and then allow the dough to rise two times, first for an hour and then for 30-40 minutes after the loaves have been braided. If you don't know how to braid don't let it stop you, just make regular loaves instead. As I said before, my version of braided bread contains no butter and is less sugary than the recipes I have come across. Let's just say that in my recipe the scent of cardamom plays a leading role.


makes 2 loaves
17 g fresh yeast + 125 ml warm water (½ cup) to activate the yeast
  (or dried yeast for 500 g of flour - see notes in ivory box below)
185 ml milk (¾ cup)
4 tablespoons organic unrefined cane sugar
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon sea/Himalayan salt
½ tablespoon cardamom pods (or ground cardamom)
1 egg, free-range
135 g + 600 g white spelt flour or organic plain flour (1 + 4½ cups)
coconut oil for greasing
1 egg white for brushing

To activate the yeast: Put the fresh yeast with warm water (35-37°C /95-98.6°F) in a medium bowl. Stir gently with a spoon to dissolve the yeast and let it sit for about 5 minutes, until the surface is covered with froth. (See notes in the ivory box below if using dried yeast.)

Crack the cardamom pods with e.g. a rolling pin to remove the seeds. Crush the seeds coarsely using a mortar and pestle or a grinder. You can also wrap the seeds in baking parchment and crush them with a rolling pin.

Warm the milk in a small saucepan - do not boil it! Put sugar, coconut oil, salt and cardamom in a medium bowl. Pour the warm milk over and stir gently while dissolving the sugar and coconut oil.

In a large baking bowl, put 135 grams (1 cup) spelt flour/plain flour and egg. Break the yolk with a whisker before pouring the yeast mixture and milk mixture into the bowl. Whisk until smooth. Add the 600 grams (4½ cups) of flour and combine with a wooden spoon. Knead the dough while still in the bowl to get a feel for the texture. If it feels sticky sift some flour into the bowl and knead the dough until the texture feels right: moist but not sticky.

Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead with your hands for 5-7 minutes. Grease the bowl with a little bit of coconut oil before putting the dough back in. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and set aside in a warm place for at least 1 hour, until it has doubled in size.

Punch the dough down and knead it slightly before dividing the dough in half, and each half into three balls. Roll the balls and shape into 6 equal ropes, 30 cm long each (about 12 inches).

Arrange 3 ropes of dough on a baking tray lined with baking parchment and pinch the ends farthest from you together. Braid the ropes and fold the ends under the loaf. Repeat with the other 3 ropes and make sure there is space between the braided loaves. Cover with a tea towel and set aside in a warm place for 30-40 minutes.

Brush the loaves with egg white before baking at 180°C/350°F (160°C fan oven) for 20-25 minutes. If you tap the bread bottom and the bread sounds hollow you will know it's done. Place the loaves on a wire cooling rack before slicing and serving with butter.

Uppskrift á íslensku.

For this recipe you can use either fresh yeast or dried yeast. Activating fresh yeast: see instructions above. Activating dried yeast: Even though the recipe calls for 735 grams of flour (5½ cups), I use the dried yeast needed for 500 grams (1 lb) - simply follow the manufacturer's instructions on the packet, as those may vary. The type of dried yeast I have used to make the bread calls for 125-150 ml lukewarm water (1 part boiling, 2 parts cold), 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 tablespoon of dried yeast. First you dissolve the sugar in the water in a medium bowl, and then you sprinkle the yeast into the bowl, whisk thoroughly and leave in a warm place for about 15 minutes, until the surface is covered with froth.