White on white: milk and rice, cream and sugar, blanched almonds. Creamy but not rich, filling but not stodgy. Far from the lumpy rice pudding we were served at school with a blob of nondescript red jam just breaking the slimy skin. My granny and my best friend from nursery both abhorred this kind, fully shuddered on mentioning the words rice and pudding together. I copied them, avoided the stuff.
Then, one Christmas Eve, in politeness to a family that was not my own, I tried the Scandinavian version: full grains of plump rice, the crunch of almonds. Hidden in the pot was one whole almond. The one who found it received a marzipan pig with a curly tail. Brave in the knowledge that dessert rice was not in fact gruel, I made this version from one of my favourite recipe books, a compliation of wintery recipes from across Europe: Roast Figs, Sugar Snow. It has whipped cream folded in at the end, subsequently garnished with wine-soaked cranberry compote.
I like it on its own, pure white in a stout glass, a teaspoon. For colour and acid contrast, top with raspberries (fresh or frozen) cooked with a pinch of sugar until just collapsed. In any case, it embodies the very essence of what is “pudding” rather than the more pretentious “dessert”. Full and simple, a few wholesome ingredients thrown together from the cupboard. Not so Danish after all – perfect for an English girl craving a little of home.
Danish rice pudding
makes enough for 4 – from Roast Figs, Sugar Snow by Diana Henry
150g arborio (risotto) rice
225g double cream
50g flaked almonds
2 tsp vanilla extract
In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the milk, rice and sugar to a boil. Turn down the heat and let simmer very gently for 15 minutes until the rice has absorbed most of the milk and is al dente. You may need to add more milk if you cook it too quickly. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and flaked almonds. Whip the cream to loose, floppy peaks. When the rice is just room temperature, fold in the cream. Enjoy plain or with fruit compote.