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Danish cuisine, like the cuisine of many northern European countries, has become increasingly multicultural over the last half-century, though certain traditional dishes remain quite popular. Risalamande, a rice pudding dessert, is an example of a Danish culinary tradition that has spanned the test of time and globalization. For generations, it has played a crucial role in the Christmastime traditions of Danes around the world, and is often one of the best-loved types of desserts in the Danish tradition. Risalamande is relatively simple to prepare, consisting of little more than rice, sugar, almonds, and cream, but it is rarely tasted outside of the Christmas season.
The loose translation of Risalamande, which is sometimes also written Ris á la mande or Ris ala mande, is "rice with almonds." Most of the time, the dish is prepared by boiling simple white rice in a sugary, milky syrup, then blending it with whipping cream, slivered almonds, or almond extract. The dessert can be served warm or cold. If warm, it us usually topped with butter and cinnamon; when cold, it is often served with a cherry compote garnish. Most of the time, if cherries are served with the pudding they are also cold, though the dish can be prepared with warm topping, as well.
Risalamande is a much-anticipated feature at all manner of Christmas celebrations, from intimate family dinners to the raucous Christmas luncheons known as julefrokost. Julefrokost parties are frequently held in the weeks leading up to Christmas in Danish communities around the world. They are marked by hours-long stretches of food, gathering, and drink. Participants typically treat the parties as are occasions to gorge on Christmas food and dessert, and the grand finale is usually the Risalamande.
Most of the time, the Danish dessert is served in a rounded mound on a plate or in a shallow serving dish with toppings either in the center or in a dish off to the side. In this fashion, the dish can be passed around a table and each guest can serve him or herself. More formal hosts may present Risalamande on plates or in wine glasses that can be served restaurant-style.
One whole almond is almost always intentionally placed in the Risalamande before it is served. Tradition has it that the person who finds the almond in his or her portion is destined to have luck throughout the coming new year, and often wins a prize, as well, depending on the host. It is common practice to plant an almond in the serving given to children. Danish children are also frequently taught to leave a small dish of Risalamande in the family kitchen on Christmas Eve for the enjoyment — and favorable gifting — of any Christmas elves that may visit during the night.
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