Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Oh the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful,
And since we’ve no place to go,
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
– Sammy Cahn and Jules Styne.

It never snows where I live, but sometimes, it gets so cold that you almost feel as though wearing three layers and a scarf is not nearly enough. Winter sends some people into the doldrums. It’s too cold to go to the beach, too rainy, it gets dark too early, and we certainly do miss all those glistening Summer berries and brightly coloured stonefruit. What Winter does have to is advantage however, are comforting fruits such as quinces, beautifully fragrant pears, and of course, versatile citrus fruits such as cumquats, lemons and mandarins.

When the chill sets in, I up my hot tea intake. Correspondingly, the pudding consumption meter soars too. Several nights ago, it was slices of spicy fruit cake. Yesterday evening, we had warm chocolate cake with ice-cream. Today, I’ve rediscovered the humble rice pudding. While the rest of the world is flaunting ruby red cherries, bunches of sweet grapes, plums, apricots and donut peaches, I’m all set over here to celebrate Winter, rather than commiserate on what I might be missing out on. I’ve got my fuzzy jumper, slipper socks, wool rug, a big pot of Marco Polo tea and my rice pudding. This one is flavoured with one of my favourite Winter fruits : Mandarins. Mandarins, made into a jelly with mandarin rice pudding, mandarin segments and rice snowflakes. The snowflakes are made by cutting rice paper into snowflake shapes, dousing them in sugar syrup and baking them in a low oven until crisp. The mandarin segments add a burst of freshness to the dish and are spiced with ras el hanout, which contributes a little bit of heat and delight to a cold Winter palate.

Ras el hanout is a special Middle Eastern/North African spice blend. It literally means “top of the shop” and signifies the best blend a spice shop has to offer. Every shop’s blend is usually a secret combination of spices. You might already have your favourite recipe for ras el hanout, but I quite like this one by Janni Kyritsis, which is wonderful in savoury pies or even simply sprinkled over orange segments and eaten with honey and yogurt.

Ras el hanout :
(makes about 3 1/2 tablespoons; from Wild Weed Pie by Janni Kyritsis)

1 tablespoon green cardamom pods (3 teaspoons ground)
1 large cinnamon stick (3 teaspoons ground)
1 small nutmeg (1 1/2 teaspoons ground)
1 teaspoon cloves (3/4 teaspoon ground)
2 teaspoons white peppercorns (3 teaspoons ground)
2 teaspoons black peppercorns (3 teaspoons ground)
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Remove seeds from cardamom pods. Crumble cinnamon sticks. Chop nutmeg into small pieces. Combine all spices and grind using a mortar and pestle or a spice and coffee grinder. Pass through a fine sieve and regrind anything that’s left behind. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark cupboard.

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21 Comments »

  1. Christie @ fig&cherry said,

    August 27, 2008 @ 6:19 pm

    Love Ras el hanout. It’s really nice on porridge believe it or not.

    Um, spicy fruit cake – yes please! Now that’s something I’ll jump into my flannel PJs and devour ;)

  2. Y said,

    August 27, 2008 @ 6:23 pm

    Haven’t tried it on porridge.. yet.. but it’s simply amazing with oranges/mandarins.

  3. clumbsycookie said,

    August 27, 2008 @ 7:22 pm

    I love the presentation of this! Rice pudding is great, but with mandarins must be even better! The snow flakes are so impressive, i really like them!

  4. pea and pear said,

    August 27, 2008 @ 8:28 pm

    Nice idea with the rice paper y. You have got me thinking…
    And I love ras el hanout might just have to try it on some mandarins.
    Can’t wait for daylight savings…
    Ali :)

  5. Aran said,

    August 27, 2008 @ 8:39 pm

    i love how our seasons are so different… you are talking about mandarins and snow and rice pudding and we are dealing with currants and plums… gorgeous once again!

  6. Lorraine E said,

    August 27, 2008 @ 9:06 pm

    You should get to the snow! It makes all of that wonderful winter food so much more inviting. Looks great!

  7. Christy said,

    August 27, 2008 @ 9:32 pm

    I share your sentiments completely. And I’m from Melbourne, the city where the winter wind never stops blowing. And yes, it’s always colder down here. Just take a look at the daily weather report. But I agree that winter produce offer its comforts at times like these, and it enabled me to strike a compromise with Mr. Winter. Speaking of comfort food, I almost forgot that I have a batch of spicy, sticky, warm gingerbread cake waiting for me. Here’s to celebrating winter!!

  8. linda said,

    August 27, 2008 @ 10:31 pm

    I love tangerines and the combination with rice pudding must be very good!
    Thanks for the ras el hanout recipe. btw are you sure that 1 tbs of the pods is 3 ts of ground cardamom? 1 tbs equals 3 ts and the cardamom seeds are pretty small if I remember correctly but it has been a long time since I used the pods. Or does the bulk of the pods equal the fact that the powder is bulkier than the seeds? Hope you still follow ;)

  9. Alexa said,

    August 28, 2008 @ 12:43 am

    I love middle eastern spices and the combination of the pudding, tangerines and spices must be delightful. This is a very creative way to use this spice mix. Take care and stay warm!

  10. cakebrain said,

    August 28, 2008 @ 1:02 am

    Wow! what a fabulous combination! it looks so good!

  11. Zita said,

    August 28, 2008 @ 7:15 am

    Mmm… I hate winter, love snow though..and of course love rast’l hanout… never try it on mandarin… soon I hope to :)

  12. Helen said,

    August 28, 2008 @ 7:56 am

    I love this. I love this and I haven’t even tried it yet. The combo of mandarins and ras el hanout is genius and I can’t wait to try it. It sounds so comforting and warming, just as you say.

  13. Chris said,

    August 28, 2008 @ 8:09 am

    Wow… the presentation of that is stunning. I have to admit, I’d have never thought of the ras el hanout and mandarin combination, but it sounds very comforting… Quick question, are the snowflakes edible? I’m wondering which type of rice paper you’re using…?

  14. Y said,

    August 28, 2008 @ 8:18 am

    Linda: hehehe.. good question, but I’m afraid I can’t vouch for the conversion as it’s just the guideline provided in the cookbook. For the record, I used the former as my measurement, because I only had whole spices, not ground-up ones.

    Hi Chris, yes the snowflakes are edible. Everything on there is edible, actually (bar the glass and the plate!). I’m not sure how many types of rice paper there are out there, so I’d have to say that I used… um.. normal rice paper? The kind found on nougats and panfortes, if that helps at all.

  15. the caked crusader said,

    August 28, 2008 @ 4:56 pm

    It seems funny to hear you talk about winter when we’re in the middle of (an admittedly rubbish) summer!
    Beautiful presentation

  16. Tartelette said,

    August 28, 2008 @ 5:04 pm

    Love the rice paper snowflakes! Brilliant!! Can’t wait for the colder days to make rice pudding! Love the addition of the Ras-El-Hanout with it!

  17. grace said,

    August 28, 2008 @ 7:19 pm

    never snows? bummer! i like at least a little snow every now and then.
    meanwhile, that’s the fanciest and most delicious rice pudding i’ve ever seen. nicely done. :)

  18. Manggy said,

    August 29, 2008 @ 2:11 am

    Hee, I thought I’d entered a time-space warp :) Your winter is pretty unique in that you face a different set of produce, but how lovely that you get to experience fresh fruit flavors all year long! (Well, I live in a tropical country, so we’re equally blessed, lol.) I love the presentation of your triple mandarin dessert!

    I think I broke my pudding consumption meter a few years ago. Groaaaan.

  19. Vera said,

    August 29, 2008 @ 2:43 pm

    Y, what a wonderful twist on the rice pudding! Love every single component!

  20. Zoë François said,

    August 29, 2008 @ 10:25 pm

    What an incredible garnish you’ve created! The rice pudding reminds me that our seasons are about to change as well. School starts, the stone fruits are gone and the apples are on their way. I’m finally ready!

  21. Sophie said,

    September 3, 2008 @ 7:16 am

    I love the exotic flair of this dessert…and I can’t tell you how much I LOVE winter…and Christmas! I start my countdown right around Halloween! :)

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