In Denmark, the tradition of eating rice pudding, or risengrød, on Christmas starts with a mischievous elf.
In many European countries, traditions linked to Christmastime feature magical creatures who are slightly less benevolent than the American version of Santa and his elves. In fact, it seems that many of these curious sprites, in fact, are trying to steal or otherwise make trouble for people.
Danish folklore features a gnome or elf-like creature known as “nisse”, who lives in barns and becomes particularly exuberant during the Christmas season. If treated well, the nisse can be helpful, but if treated badly, he may retaliate by stealing small items or harming livestock. So, in the Christmas spirit, Danish families would leave a rice pudding for them!
On current days, of course, fewer people are worried about the health of their sheep or cows, but the tradition of eating risengrød on Christmas Eve continues.
In recent decades, also a variant became popular, know as Risalamande, adding vanilla, cream, and chopped almonds. If Risengrød is a rice-based porridge served hot, traditionally topped with sugar, cinnamon, a small scoop of butter and it’s usually considered a meal, its variant is served cold, with warm cherry sauce, and it’s considered a dessert.
Risalamande turned into a game of sorts: one whole almond is hidden in the pudding, and everyone has to keep eating until it is found. Whoever gets the almond in the bowl is entitled to a gift. But, if someone finds the almond, they might sneak it back into the pudding, to prolong the game, until there’s so little pudding left the almond can no longer be concealed, or everyone else at the table has eaten far too much!
Historically, Risengrød has been a beloved dish in Denmark for centuries, a dish enjoyed by rich and poor alike. But in the 1800’s, as was the case in most of Europe, there came a point when the bourgeoisie wanted to further distinguish themselves from the poorer, working classes and that distinction included food. However, they didn’t want to give up their beloved Risengrød, yet to eat the common food of the poor farmers wouldn’t do either!
A solution was found: they would add some “luxurious” ingredients like whipped cream and almonds and then give it a new name, a French name, “riz à l’amande”, to give it an air of elegance.
Thus, Risalamande has remained one of the most popular of all Danish desserts ever since, and It is probably the most popular Christmas dessert, served every Christmas Eve following dinner!
Risengrød is typically made in one’s home, so you might not find it in Danish restaurants. There are, however, lot of recipes and variants online so you can make some yourself. Just an example below:
2.5 dl cream
250 g grødris (short grain rice)
1 liter milk
¼ tsk groft salt
Preheat oven to 170C, combine all ingredients in a oven proof pot. Put into the oven uncovered stirring when needed baking around 50 min. When a film forms on top of the liquid stir film back into rice then stirring about every 5 to 10 minutes until rice is about the consistency of loose cooked oatmeal.
Traditionally served with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar and a knob of butter in the center. Is also traditionally served with Julehvidtøl (Christmas white beer) also known as Nisseøl (Nisse beer) a low alcohol (around 1.8%) beer.
Enjoy and Glædelig Jul og Godt Nytår!
Images from web.