A few years ago, I happened to spend Christmas in the company of a Norwegian friend and got to experience a traditional dish commonly served the morning of December 24th in homes across his northerly homeland. The memory of its subtle sweetness and warming heartiness has stayed with me and this year, I decided to make it here in Paris. And to share it with you! Get ready to experience risengrynsgrøt (rice porridge).
This vegan version of the grøt (porridge) is very easy to make, composed of a just a few ingredients. And if you use rice milk, which is naturally sweet, there’s no need to add any sugar.
In preparing my own recipe, I drew inspiration from basic rice pudding recipes and also this Norwegian vegan risengrynsgrøt recipe. Some versions call for other milks, including full-fat canned coconut milk, but I found that rice milk thickened up nicely enough.
Risengrynsgrøt is traditionally served with husholdningssaft, a juice made from apples, grapes and cherries. Personally though, I dislike pairing sweet dishes with sweet beverages. And since I’m not Norwegian myself, I decided to flout tradition and have it with coffee.
My Norwegian friend later assured me that it was okay to have coffee too (emphasis his). I promised to have some berry juice later in the day to make up for it, but he only sighed and shook his head in dismay.
A word of caution about cinnamon:
There are two types, Cassia and Ceylon. Cassia, the most common kind due to its lower cost, can cause stomach pains and more serious problems if consumed in higher doses (1 teaspoon or more per person, per day) due to the coumarin it contains. So although cinnamon is yummy, be careful not to overdo it if you suspect yours is the Cassia variety.
Norwegian Christmas rice porridge
Makes about 3 cups (2 to 3 hearty servings)
1 cup (200 g) short-grain rice
3½ cups (830 ml) rice milk or rice milk blend
1 cinnamon stick (optional, preferably the Ceylon variety)
The rice you want for this recipe is the short-grain type, the kind used to make risotto. For the liquid, I recommend rice milk because it is naturally sweet (I used a rice and coconut milk blend). But you can substitute another plant-based milk and add a bit of sugar if needed.
Combine the rice, milk, pinch of salt and cinnamon stick in a saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Once it is boiling, turn the heat down to low and simmer (still covered) for 15-20 minutes until the rice is soft. During this time, stay close, stirring occasionally and ensuring that the mixture doesn’t boil over.
When the rice is done, taste it to see if you want to add some sugar. Remove the cinnamon stick (tip: save it to make pot-pourri with later).
Serve the rice porridge in cereal bowls. Place a pat of margarine or vegan butter in the center of each bowl and sprinkle the top with a small amount of ground cinnamon (see my word of caution about cinnamon above). When the margarine has melted, stir it into the porridge to combine.
If reheating leftover rice porridge, mix in some extra milk while stirring to achieve a creamy texture again.
Variations: add diced raw apple, raisins or dried cranberries to the rice near the end of the cooking process. Dust some sugar and/or gomasio over the top if you like.
Sunrise and Julenisser photos courtesy of Jon Helge Hesby
Where to find ingredients…
Short-grain rice: most general grocery stores offer this type of rice, labeled variously as risotto rice, arborio rice or sushi rice. In France, riz rond is what you want.
Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum or true cinnamon): check at high-end or specialty shops, or look online. Note that Saigon or Vietnamese cinnamon (Cinnamomum loureiroi) is closely related to the Cassia variety (Cinnamomum cassia) and therefore should probably also be consumed only in small quantities.
Like me, you may enjoy coming together with family or friends after Christmas dinner to watch a beloved holiday classic. A Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, Charlie Brown’s Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and A Child’s Christmas in Wales… there are so many good ones. But what if Christmas seems to be coming around oftener and oftener, and you’ve seen all of these too many times?
In recent years, I’ve discovered a few “new” (to me) vintage Christmas gems. Nobody seems to ever talk about these, but they’re just as good as the more popular classics. At the very least, they offer something a bit different and prolong the black & white charm. I now present them to you, personally tested and approved, in order of release date.
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
Those of you who love It’s a Wonderful Life won’t want to miss Ernst Lubitsch’s very cute romantic comedy starring a younger Jimmy Stewart.
An aspiring salesman in a Budapest leathergoods shop, Alfred Kralik (Stewart) must contend with the arrival of a maddeningly headstrong new shop assistant, Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan). But at the same time, his love life is looking rosy as he begins exchanging anonymous letters with an intriguing woman encountered through a personal ad in the newspaper. As the story progresses, we learn that Miss Novak, who has taken a strong dislike to Mr. Kralik, is also writing to a secret anonymous correspondent of her own… Can you guess where this is going? Also, if this sounds a bit familiar, you may be thinking of Nora Ephron’s 1998 You’ve Got Mail, an adaptation of the same story with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in the lead roles writing to each other anonymously via some primitive form of email.
Although I liked You’ve Got Mail well enough when it first came out (unaware at the time of this earlier version), perhaps impressed by their use of that newfangled technology, “electronic mail” (!), I now much prefer The Shop Around the Corner. The tight focus on the shop interactions allows us to closely follow the character development and evolving relationships among the staff. Stewart’s endearingly awkward character and the fiery arguments he has with his nemesis/love interest Klara are endlessly fun. I also love that the screenwriters kept the story’s original Budapest setting, including the characters’ Hungarian names, references to the local currency and Hungarian-language text in the shop’s signage. Why must everything always be transposed to an American setting? The world is full of other countries.
Much like in It’s a Wonderful Life, the Christmas season doesn’t make an appearance until a later part of the story. But any inclusion of Christmas during a film is enough to make it officially a Christmas one, I say. 😉
Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
Decades before smartphones were even imagined, Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) has created an Instagram-perfect fake image of her life in the housekeeping column she wrote for a women’s magazine.
Unmarried, childless, living in a city apartment and unable to cook, she writes about the sprawling Connecticut farm she shares with her husband and their baby and the lavish meals she cooks there. Readers of the magazine eat it up and demand more and more. Things are going pretty well for Elizabeth, who is even making enough money to buy a mink coat (which EVERY woman from the 1940s to the 60s seems unfailingly to want).
Until the day when an imbroglio involving her boss, an unrefusable Christmas request, her longtime suitor and a dashing war veteran forces her to confront the falseness of the story she has woven and she must find a way to make the fiction become real…
Christmas in Connecticut is much more of a madcap, implausible story than The Shop Around the Corner, but still delivers on nostalgia and a certain kind of old-fashioned humor.
The Apartment (1960)
The most modern of the black and white films I’m presenting here, both in its year of production and the content it presents, The Apartment is a cute and rather sweet story that happens to take place around Christmastime.
C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) plays a put-upon insurance company employee who has begun lending his apartment to his bosses for their dalliances with mistresses and doesn’t know how to get out of the situation. Dangling the prospect of a promotion in front of his eyes, they occupy his home every evening, leaving him to stand outside in the cold or work extra (unpaid) hours after everyone else has left. Meanwhile, his neighbors grow increasingly impatient with the constant parties and nonstop parade of different young women through the building. Baxter can only sigh and promise them to be more quiet as he frets over how to extricate himself from the mess, which could also spell the end of his job if the big boss ever finds out.
At work, Baxter has grown fond of a sarcastic but cute elevator operator, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), who also has a melancholy side. One married executive after another tries to pick her up without success, and Baxter wonders what his chances with her might be. Perhaps when he finally gets that promotion he’ll be in a position to try. Meanwhile, Miss Kubelik has a secret of her own…
I loved this film’s aesthetic, with the worker-bee office setting (and company Christmas party that must have served as inspiration for Mad Men) and the very cozy looking apartment that made me want to move right in – if the executives would stop coming around with their girlfriends, that is. And I was especially fond of Baxter’s frustrated neighbors, one of whom calls him a “beatnik” upon discovering he has no napkins in the house.
A Muppet Family Christmas (1987)
And finally, one that isn’t black and white but will charm you all the same! This shortish (47 min.) and often overlooked television special manages to bring together characters from ALL of the shows starring the world’s favorite felt puppets: The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, Muppet Babies and even Fraggle Rock. It’s a heart-warming celebration of togetherness, family, friends and sharing.
You may already be familiar with The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), another favorite of mine but not covered here because this post is about the lesser known things. A Muppet Family Christmas precedes it by five years, but because it was designed for television only, it could not be widely released elsewhere due to copyright on the songs. It can therefore be hard to find, but if you take a look here you may just luck out.
The special begins with Fozzie Bear driving his friends from The Muppet Show to his mother’s house in the country for a surprise Christmas visit. Little does he realize that she’s about to leave for a Malibu vacation and has rented the house to the man from Fraggle Rock and his dog Sprocket, who have already arrived and are relishing the prospect of a quiet Christmas surrounded by nature. But when the gang arrives, they decide to stay with the uninvited guests, whose numbers seem never to stop growing as the program continues. The main Sesame Street cast is soon knocking at her door, followed by random groups of other Muppets, some known (Dr. Bunsen Honeydew) and some that may have been new (the snowman and turkey).
The Muppets meet, sing, negotiate space in the house and worry about Miss Piggy’s perilous journey through a snowstorm to join them. Meanwhile, the Swedish chef, who has arrived with a very large stockpot, sets his sights first on the turkey and then on Big Bird (!!!). The choice he makes next, disarmed by Big Bird’s naive benevolence, is rare both on the screen and in real life.
My favorite moments in this special are when we see a decidedly 1980s Miss Piggy chatting to Kermit over the phone from her photo shoot and shopping session, and when Kermit and Robin discover a spooky portal in the basement.
Be sure to watch to the end for the cameo by a VERY special someone!
Perhaps some of these will become favorites for you, too! What holiday films do you like to watch again and again? Do you have any other obscure ones to add to this list?
And here’s my recipe for the perfect Christmastime evening:
Christmas is just around the corner, and if you’re as busy as me you may still be wondering what in the world to make for Christmas dinner. Today’s decidedly festive Nordic recipe, created by French chef Ôna Maiocco, may be the answer!
This savory dish offers a range of lovely textures and flavors. Smoked tofu comes together with onion, toasted nuts and mashed potato to form balls with a nice firm consistency and a bit of crunch. These are paired with fluffy mashed potatoes (everyone’s favorite!) and a rich, creamy brown sauce based on a buckwheat roux with fruity notes provided by blackcurrant juice. Finally, an armada of spices (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, turmeric and black pepper) makes this a perfect Christmas dish—juleboller in fact means “Christmas balls” in Swedish and Norwegian.
I discovered this recipe a few years ago in Ôna’s 2013 cookbook Boulettes et galettes végétales(in French only).I’ve made it for several Christmas dinners since then and it’s always a delight. And while I usually present only original recipes on this blog, this one is so good that I felt it deserved a wider audience and asked Ôna if I could translate it for you.
Before we go on, a few words about Ôna. From an early age, she had been familiar with healthy organic cuisine thanks to her parents, who were firm believers in the merits of this type of food. Several years ago, after a first career in biology, she returned to her roots, deciding to forge a path for herself in the culinary arts, her true passion. Ôna earned a degree in pastry-making and supplemented her knowledge through self-study. Building upon her family’s tradition and her own values, she opted to make local, organic, sustainable vegan cuisine her focus. In 2011, she won the top prize in the professional category of the French sustainable food culinary competition Saveurs durables.
And now, back to our recipe. The version presented here includes a few tiny changes and adaptations from the original. I’ve doubled the original amount to serve more people, added the cranberries as an optional garnish and suggested pomegranate juice as an optional alternative to the blackcurrant juice. The mashed potatoes recipe is my own.
If you know you’ll be pressed for time on the day of your dinner, you can make all three parts (mashed potatoes, tofu balls and sauce) ahead of time and reheat them, but I recommend making at least the sauce the day of.
Let’s get started!
Serves 4 after removing 2 cups for the tofu balls. Can be made a day ahead and reheated on the stovetop.
8-10 medium potatoes of a variety that’s good for mashing (Yukon Gold or others)
1/3 cup (78 ml) unsweetened soy or other plant-based cream, or more as needed
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
a few grinds of white or black pepper, or to taste
Peel the potatoes and cut them into large chunks. Place them in a large stockpot, add enough water to cover them and bring to a boil, covered, over high heat. After the water starts to boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered but leaving a little space for the steam to escape, until the potatoes are tender, about 25-30 minutes. Drain the water and mash the potato chunks using a potato masher or immersion blender (if using a blender, try not to overmix).
Reserve 2 cups of the mashed potatoes (before anything else is added to them) for your tofu balls and set aside.
Add the vegan butter, plant-based cream, salt and pepper to the remaining potatoes and mash further to combine. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed. Put the cover back on the stockpot and set aside.
Juleboller (Christmas tofu balls)
Makes around 30 tofu balls, enough for 4 people if served with mashed potatoes; otherwise enough for 2-3 people. Can be made a day ahead and reheated in the oven.
3/4 cup (80 g) nuts (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts etc.) or seeds (pumpkin, sunflower)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups, loosely packed (300 g) mashed potatoes reserved from the above recipe
7 ounces (200 g) smoked tofu (or use plain tofu plus a bit of liquid smoke)
1/2 cube vegetable bouillon (enough to make 1 cup/236 ml bouillon)
1/2 cup (50 g) rolled oats
1/3 cup (60 g) dried cranberries, for garnish (optional)
Small bunch parsley, for garnish
1 recipe spiced blackcurrant sauce (scroll down for recipe)
Begin by chopping the nuts, tofu and onion.
I used a combination of hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds, but you can use any nuts or large seeds. Chop roughly; the pieces should be around the size of a pumpkin seed. Be careful not to chop too finely as you want recognizable pieces of nuts in the final product.
Break the tofu into chunks with your fingers and then crush the chunks between your fingers and thumb to form coarse crumbs as shown.
Peel and roughly dice a medium onion.
Heat a dash of olive oil in a sauté pan and begin browning the onion over low-medium heat, stirring frequently.
After a couple of minutes, add the nuts. Stir to combine.
Add the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and black pepper and stir to incorporate. Take a moment to enjoy the wonderful Christmasy scents that are now filling your kitchen. 🙂
Continue browning the mixture, stirring often, until the onion is soft.
While waiting for the mixture to cook, dilute half of a bouillon cube in 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (88 ml) hot water. Keep the remaining half-cube out as you’ll need it for the sauce recipe.
Transfer the reserved 2 cups of mashed potato to a medium or large mixing bowl. Mash any remaining lumps, as the potatoes need to be as smooth as possible to hold the tofu, oats, nuts and onion together.
Add the tofu, rolled oats and onion/nut mixture.
Pour the bouillon uniformly over the top of the mixture and stir thoroughly to combine. Preheat your oven at this point to 350°F (180°C).
Roll up your sleeves and, with scrupulously clean hands, shape the mixture into balls of around 1.5 inch (4 cm) in diameter. But they don’t have to be exactly this size—just try to make all the balls the same size as each other for a uniform result. Place them on a baking sheet covered with baking paper.
When the tray is full, put it in the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes. In the meantime, you’ll prepare the sauce and reheat the mashed potatoes (if serving).
Spiced blackcurrant sauce
Makes enough sauce to go with the tofu balls in the above recipe.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons buckwheat flour (do not substitute another flour because the buckwheat plays an important role in the flavor)
1/2 cube vegetable bouillon (enough to make 1 cup/236 ml bouillon)
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (100 ml) unsweetened soy cream
1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons (70 ml) blackcurrant juice (not syrup!) or pomegranate juice
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons granulated sugar (or more to taste), UNLESS you use a sweetened juice
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil over low-medium heat. While waiting for it to heat, dilute the remaining half cube of bouillon in 1 and 1/4 cup (300 ml) hot water and set aside.
When the oil is hot, add the buckwheat flour and whisk to incorporate. Stir frequently.
After a few minutes, it will have formed a thickish roux base and be simmering lightly.
Add the bouillon (not shown), blackcurrant (or pomegranate) juice, soy sauce and spices. Whisk to combine.
Add the soy cream and whisk to incorporate. Simmer, stirring frequently, for another two or three minutes. Taste the sauce to see if it needs any sugar (if it’s too acidic) or more salt (add more soy sauce) or more of the spices. Turn off burner and cover the saucepan to keep the sauce warm. At this point, if the tofu balls are almost ready, you can reheat the mashed potatoes if they need it.
Once the tofu balls are done baking, begin plating the mashed potatoes (leave the tofu balls in the oven for the time being so they don’t lose heat). If you want to get fancy, a circle mold like this one will give you a nicely defined cylindrical shape. But you can achieve a similar effect using a measuring cup or small ramekin or bowl.
Just after baking, the tofu balls can be a bit fragile (they firm up more after they cool a bit), so remove them from the paper carefully, using a twisting motion to gently release the part that’s stuck to the paper.
Arrange the tofu balls around the mashed potatoes. You can use more tofu balls than this if your plate is larger, and also depending how many people you will be serving (just make sure you have enough for everyone). 😉
Spoon the sauce over the tofu balls, add some cranberries and garnish the potatoes with the parsley sprigs.
You can also opt to serve the tofu balls alone without mashed potatoes.
Finally, here’s a more casual presentation with a mound of mashed potatoes (not molded) in the center and the sauce poured over the top.
Whichever way you choose, waste no time in getting everyone around the table and tucking in, as this dish is seriously yummy and you’ve been sweating in the kitchen long enough!
If you liked this dish and can read French, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Boulettes et galettes végétales, the book it comes from. I’ve been impressed by every one of the recipes (both savory and sweet) that I’ve made from it. It’s actually now out of print, but (as of December 2017 at least—act fast!),you can still get it on Amazon.fr. Also check out Ôna’s new book, Ma cuisine super naturelle : manger bio, végétal et local.
Variations: Instead of mashed potatoes, serve with rice or couscous (note however that you will still need mashed potatoes in the balls to hold them together). Use roughly chopped or whole pumpkin seeds as an additional or single garnish.
I usually spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve either in Paris or back home with my parents and sister. But this year, for something different, I went north to Denmark, where my brother is now living. To make things more interesting (and give my trip a much smaller carbon footprint), I decided to travel there and back by train rather than flying. This took me through Germany (with stops in Hamburg and Hannover), which was fun as I hadn’t been there for a few years. And as I also spent an afternoon in Malmö, Sweden (only a half-hour from Copenhagen by train), this trip took me to three countries, two of them new to me. I love this about Europe—with these relatively small nations (compared to the US), it’s so easy to cross borders and experience other cultures and languages.
Another excuse for traveling by rail was the chance to take a train that crosses the Fehmarn Belt strait by ferry! Yes, it drives right into the ferry at Puttgarden, Germany alongside the cars and patiently waits for the boat to reach Rødby, Denmark on the other shore 45 minutes later. During this time, passengers must leave the train and go up the stairs to the upper levels of the boat, where a plethora of duty-free shops and pricey food services can be found.
When you get this far north at the end of December, the days are pretty short—the sun sets at about 3:30 pm. I was hoping that it would still be somewhere in the sky for the beginning of our ferry crossing, but some technical delays meant that we couldn’t get started until around 4 pm. So my photos are a bit dark (click on them for a larger view), but for a better look you can also check out this short video that someone made in the summer.
Because I was in Copenhagen right in the middle of the holidays (plus a Monday), most museums and restaurants were closed, but I did manage to stroll through the city streets and also explore a bit of Freetown Christiania, a self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood that happens to lie within the borders of Copenhagen. One restaurant I did get to visit (twice!) is SimpleRAW, which I highly recommend. Despite its name, it does offer a cooked burger plus another cooked dish of the day (dhal, the week I was there), and hot drinks like coffee, tea and matcha latte, of which I was very glad as it really was SO COLD outside. Their raw lime cheesecake was simply divine.
The weather was gray and drizzly most of the time, but I still managed to get some fun and colorful photos. Here’s a selection.
Amager Strand (beach)
House near the beach
I took one afternoon to go and explore Malmö, Sweden, which as mentioned above is only a short train ride (more trains!) to the east of Copenhagen. Trains leave in both directions several times per hour, and the cost is only around €10. I loved Malmö, a very cute smallish town with lots of old-timey charm. It didn’t hurt that it was also a nice sunny day.
Thanks to some advance planning, I managed to visit two vegan restaurants that were not closed during the holiday period. First, Lotta Love Açaí Bar, where I had—what else?—a huge açaí bowl covered with fruit, nuts and cacao nibs. And later, Vegan Bar, which is more like a restaurant with a bar in it and offers a range of super yummy burgers, including a portobello mushroom one. I also happened upon a thrift shop with lots of cute things (candleholders, clothes and dishes that would have been perfect for my food photos). It was sad, but probably also lucky, that I couldn’t buy anything due to insufficient room in my suitcase (and my apartment!).
If you ever visit Malmö, don’t miss Lilla Torg, a little square with a lamp installation that is lit both at night and during the day, but is most interesting after sunset.
On the train from Copenhagen to Malmö
St. Petri Kyrka
Streets of Malmö
Streets of Malmö
Canal in Malmö
Lotta Love Acaí Bar
Lotta Love Acaí Bar
Lotta Love Acaí Bar
More cute stuff
“Poet on the corner” poetry café
The perfect skirt for Scandinavia
Café in Malmö
More window shopping
Lilla Torg by night
We also took a day trip to Denmark’s second-largest city, Aarhus, to visit the impressive ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum. Established in 1859, it is Denmark’s oldest public art museum outside Copenhagen. It has been especially attractive to visitors since 2011, with the addition of the circular skywalk installation Your Rainbow Panorama by Icelandic-Danish artist Ólafur Elíasson. Inside, we enjoyed various exhibits on multiple floors, most of them featuring Scandinavian artists apart from a temporary exhibition devoted to works by Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos.
The final excitement of my trip was the New Year’s Eve party with some friends of my brother, for which we made a huge dinner. My contributions included a spinach, red bell pepper and tomato quiche and some almond-apricot cupcakes decorated with toasted slivered almonds and edible gold dust. Everyone in the neighborhood was setting off fireworks the whole evening, but at midnight they multiplied their efforts by 10 and there was no break in the booming, crackling and colorful explosions of lights for a full 35 minutes.
Your Rainbow Panorama by Ólafur Elíasson
Your Rainbow Panorama by Ólafur Elíasson
Your Rainbow Panorama by Ólafur Elíasson
Your Rainbow Panorama by Ólafur Elíasson
Your Rainbow Panorama by Ólafur Elíasson
Anything Helps by Jani Leinonen
Work by Joana Vasconcelos (pots and pans)
Work by Joana Vasconcelos (telephones)
Work by Joana Vasconcelos (plastic cutlery)
Work by Joana Vasconcelos (tampons!)
Work by J.F. Willumsen
Work by J.F. Willumsen
The vegan aisle at a Danish supermarket
My vegan quiche for New Year’s Eve
Apricot-almond cupcakes for New Year’s Eve
Fireworks mark our entry into 2017
Soon after that, I was back on the road (or rather, rail) again to return to Paris. I stopped for the night in Hannover, where I got to try out the highly acclaimed restaurant Hiller, and the next evening was home and reunited with Sésame, who greeted me with many kitty kisses.
It’s easy to get overly ambitious around Christmastime and to plan a number of grand meals and complicated desserts, only to wake up one day and realize it’s already the 23rd or 24th and you don’t have the right ingredients or enough time to make everything you wanted. This is especially likely to happen, for some reason, with dishes that you hope to bring to holiday parties, escalating your anxiety levels further. But never fear, your favorite blogger is here to the rescue! Today I bring you a very easy-to-make traditional French confectionery creation that will nevertheless impress just about everyone. And since the toppings can vary greatly, you might already have everything you need in your kitchen cupboards.
These little Yuletide delicacies hail from the south of France and the fruits and nuts traditionally used represent the colors of the robes worn by the friars in four mendicant orders during the Middle Ages. These are gray (raisins) for the Dominicans, brown (hazelnuts) for the Augustinians, white (almonds cut in half) for the Caramelites and purple (fig or cranberry) for the Franciscans. As these friars subsisted on charitable offerings, they were referred to as mendiants (beggars), and the confections took on the same name. These items are also among the 13 desserts served at the end of the traditional Christmas meal in Provence.
Today, many types and combinations of nuts and fruits are used, so feel free to use whatever you have on hand! I used walnuts, peanuts, pistachios, cranberries, physalis and pineapple.
Makes 12 to 15 mendiants
about 6 oz (180 g) dark chocolate in bar form (or chocolate chips)
dried fruit (cranberries, cherries, raisins, apricot, citrus segments, etc.)
other items such as pumpkin seeds, candied ginger, white chocolate chips, toasted coconut chips, colorful Christmas sprinkles, fleur de sel, gold leaf
Equipment needed: double-boiler or metal mixing bowl plus saucepan, parchment or waxed paper
Begin by assembling all the fruits and nuts you will use, so that you’re ready once the chocolate has melted.
Break or chop your chocolate bar into more or less evenly sized pieces.
Next, heat some water in a medium-sized saucepan and place a metal bowl on top of it (or a second, smaller saucepan for a double-boiler). Be sure that the water in the saucepan does not touch the bottom of the bowl or second saucepan. Place the chopped chocolate in it and heat, stirring occasionally with a heat-proof spatula.
Once all of the chocolate has melted, turn off the heat but keep the bowl on top of the saucepan full of hot water.
Line a tray with parchment paper and, using a teaspoon (the kind you use to stir your coffee, not the measuring kind), form small, round disks. After creating them, go back and add a bit more on the top of each one to ensure that they are thick enough. Make only six at a time so that you have time to add all the toppings before the chocolate firms.
Add your toppings. I like to start with the larger items and then add the other ones around them.
Once you’ve finished the first batch, put the tray in the fridge and continue making mendiants until you have used up the rest of your chocolate. The mendiants will be set after an hour or two of chilling (allow two to three hours to be on the safe side).
Serve your mendiants on a platter at a party, or box them up as a gift!
These mendiants were my Christmas gift to the concierge of my building, who brings our mail to our doors and takes time out of her morning to give Sésame (who is in love with her) a thorough scratching and petting on the days when my mail includes a package. This year, I included some photos of the furry little guy, which she was delighted to receive (they now adorn her refrigerator door, I was told). 🙂