Jim and I both love rice pudding. There is something sublimely cozy and comforting about it.
Creamy, flavoured with cinnamon and sometimes studded with rum soaked raisins or currants. At least that’s the way I always thought it should be served. Till now.
So when Phaidon Publishing asked me to review Magnus Nilsson’s The Nordic Baking Book, and I saw a recipe for a Scandinavian Rice Pudding, it was a no-brainer, this would be the recipe I would showcase. I know it may not be the expected first choice, but it will make Jim happy and that is uppermost in my heart. I’ll get to all the Danish pastries, the cakes and tortes and cookies famous throughout northern Europe, I promise.
The book is a comprehensive reference guide to anything and everything Nordic through the ages. Magnus, a renowned Swedish chef (no, not the guy from the Muppet Show!) has spent his career studying and cataloguing Scandinavian cuisine. He took years to speak with, study under and learn from not just the cooking and baking professionals from each of the countries that make up ‘Nordic’ (Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, Sápmi region, Iceland and the Faroe Islands) but even more importantly, the historians and local home cooks (the grandmas etc) who cherish these recipes in their hearts and heritage. The result is this book, as well as The Nordic Cook Book.
These are serious books. Yes, there are some photos. But this isn’t a ‘photo on every page’ type of cook book. It’s really more of a comprehensive reference guide, a mini encyclopedia of sorts. With each category and then recipe, Magnus shares insights into the subtle variances and spins that each country offers for them. Along the way, there are anecdotes, and childhood memories that Magnus shares. So yes, you are getting the background of the recipe, the technique, and the cultural importance of the various dishes. Along with a detailed discussion about the four major grains in Nordic baking: wheat, rye, barley and oats, Magnus covers the history of all the types of bread baking in Scandinavia. The harsh and extreme climate plays a role in the types of breads that were and are baked, so you have your choice of fluffy yeasted breads, or a plethora of flatbread recipes to choose from.
Along with an extensive exploration of bread baking, Magnus has a section for waffles and pancakes. Yep, the Scandi’s take their breakfast baked goods very seriously. In fact both can be used for desserts as well as breakfast or brunch staples. I love that there is a section for porridge and grain soups. The idea of using old rye bread and beer to make a sweet soup with citrus totally intrigues me. Must make it soon!
Of course there is a whole section for yeasted and laminated pastries. This is why Scandi words like Fika and Hygge exist, right?! How is it possible to sit in a cafe with a steaming cup of café au lait, and the perfect Kanelbullar and not feel all cozy inside? Magnus discusses all the shapes, braid techniques and flavour fillings. There is something for everyone in this section. I could go on and on. Layer cakes, Tortes, jams, compotes, crumbles etc are all accounted for. Just get the book!
But for today, I am making rice pudding. You’re thinking, what’s the big deal about rice pudding? How hard can it be? And really, it isn’t very trendy or photogenic. But lately I’m kind of rebelling against all the picture perfect, award winning desserts that may taste amazing, but are an absolute pain to make. It’s really not the way we eat here at our place. And while yes, that Key Lime Torte from a couple of posts back looks all fancy and gussied up, the recipe itself is totally easy and quite boring to look at. So last minute garnishes are totally allowed! But for the most part, I’m often just too tired to go through the tedium of doing all the layers, piping, swirling, etc. Maybe I’ll get over it. But not yet.
So I am making something that will always put a smile on Jim’s face. I’ve got me an old-fashioned boy for a husband! And I’m happy about that! Rice pudding takes us back to our childhoods. It is a retro dessert that only the best diners across the country serve! By a waitress with the name tag ‘Flo’ on her apron. Besides, it’s a one pot and spoon kind of prep. No fussiness, just a bit of stirring. It’s all about the final creamy texture, and not backing off from using a good amount of cinnamon, right? Plus, since this recipe comes from his motherland, it will be fun to tell this that this is probably what his ancestors ate.
How to make Rice Porridge: The Scandinavian way of making what we know as a rice pudding here in North America, actually starts off as rice porridge. So I had to go to the porridge section of the book to get it started. It is so easy. Short grain white rice (I used Arborio), water, and salt are put into a pot. Once the water starts to bubble, milk and a cinnamon stick are added. The heats gets reduced to a simmer, and the porridge is stirred occasionally, until it has thickened beautifully. You could stop here, add some sugar, a knob of butter or dried fruit, a bit more milk of choice and call it breakfast. In fact, this is a common breakfast in these lands.
But to turn it into a dessert, something else has to happen. That thing is whipped cream! As you probably gathered from my Swedish Crispy Waffles post, I am getting to understand and appreciate the love for whipped cream in this part of the world! So, having prepared your rice porridge, you will just let it cool down, and then add a goodly amount of whipped cream! Before you fold in the whipped cream, you will sweeten the porridge with sugar to taste (don’t totally skimp, it is dessert, right?!) I also added a bit more cinnamon, as well as some cardamom. Then the whipped cream is gently folded in. This causes the porridge to cream up wonderfully. At this point the Danes will add chopped almonds, some almond extract and vanilla. The Swedes will often add vanilla sugar, supremed orange segments, orange zest and chocolate shavings.
In Norway and Sweden this pudding is often served with a spoonful of jam, Cordial Soup or Berry Compote. The Cordial Soup is a thickened version of berry cordial juices, so that it turns into something like a syrup. Berry Compotes are similar, but instead of thickening just the juice, you are cooking down berries with sugar and starch of some sort (like potato, corn or arrowroot). Both of these recipes will be found at the end of the book.
For today’s version, I decided to take the easy route. Besides, I just didn’t have any currants, gooseberries or lingonberries sitting around! But in my pantry cupboard I have a jar of sour cherries in syrup. You know that little Italian blue and white jar you will often see in European import stores and delis? I love spooning this over ice cream or waffles, so for sure it would be amazing on rice pudding, correct? And it was. The brightness of the flavour totally balanced the rich creaminess of the rice pudding. The cinnamon and cardamom worked most beautifully with the cherries.
The recipe I followed said that it feeds four. That must be four lumberjacks! I would say that this recipe feeds six comfortably as a dessert. If you stop at the porridge, and everyone is hungry, then yes, it will feed four comfortably. But we don’t usually portion dessert the way we do breakfast, right? At least I don’t! 😀
So, as a classic rice pudding, this one wins for the creamy factor. As a breakfast porridge, this is a fantastic option for a ‘stick to your ribs’ winter bowl to start the day.
Swedish Rice Pudding
Rich, creamy and easy to whip up. This starts off as a wonderful rice porridge that could be your next breakfast treat. But whipped cream and spices turn it into a decadent dessert. Top it with a berry compote or cherries in syrup and you will be rockin' it the Scandi way!
- 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tbsp short grain rice arborio etc (180 grams; 6 1/2 oz)
- good pinch of salt
- 3 1/4 cups milk (800 ml; 28 fl oz) I used whole milk, but feel free to use low fat.
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 2/3 cups whipping cream (400 ml; 14 fl oz)
- sugar to taste start with 1/2 cup (100 grams; 4 oz
- ground cardamom I used 1 tsp
- ground cinnamon I used 1 tsp
- berries macerated in sugar or wine use the juices
- berries cooked down in sugar and thickened with a little cornstarch
- Swirls of strawberry jam
- Orange segments and chopped chocolate
- Whatever you would like!
Put the rice and salt into a heavy bottomed pot. Add 1 2/3 cups water (400 ml; 14 fl oz).
Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.
Once at a boil, lower the heat and add the milk. Add the cinnamon stick.
Continue simmering for another 35 minutes or so, stirring every once in a while. It should be kept at a gentle simmer. Don't stir too often, you don't want to break up the grains of rice.
If the porridge becomes too thick before the rice is tender, adjust the consistency with more milk.
You can stop here and serve this for breakfast. Add some more milk, some sugar, cinnamon, dried fruit, butter, whatever makes you happy. You can make it up to here and let it chill. Before continuing with the rest of the recipe, which will take all of 10 minutes, pull it out to warm up, making it easier to fold the cream into.
Chill the porridge to at least room temperature.
Whip up the cream to soft peaks.
Sweeten the porridge with the sugar. Start with 1/2 cup and add more if desired. You can also add more cinnamon and cardamom at this time.
Fold in half of the cream gently through the porridge. Once it has been incorporated, fold in the remaining cream.
Serve with toppings of your choice.
The original recipe says that this feeds four. I find as a dessert, that this will feed closer to six.
If there are leftovers, they would be great for breakfast.
You can gently reheat with a bit of milk if you find that it has thickened up in the fridge overnight.
Recipe from The Nordic Baking Book by Magnus Nilsson