The first snow of the nascent Seattle winter fell today, blown sideways by an eerie whistling gale, so it’s not surprising that many conversations are centered around beach vacations. Yet the research for this dessert leaves me longing to visit Latvia, more specifically to overwinter at the enchanting neo-Gothic Rumene Manor in the Latvian countryside. Of course my days would be filled with strenuous activities like reading by the fire, strolling around the snowy grounds and perusing the wine cellar before a lengthy dinner. So what would I eat?
Latvian food is hearty, starchy and influenced by the cuisines of Germany, Russia and Sweden (Aukstais Galds is a Latvian version of smorgasbord). Following suit, Latvian desserts are of the comfort food variety, and this layered cranberry pudding is both comforting and timely with the imminent arrival of Thanksgiving.
Rye bread (Rupjmaize) is a Latvian staple, and if you think a dessert made with this dark and distinctively flavored loaf sounds less than appetizing, remember how lifeless stale bread can blossom in a bread or summer pudding. The sharp, olivey taste of the rye bread mellows with the addition of cinnamon and sugar, and swirled together with the cream and cranberries the experience is reminiscent of a wintery cheesecake. You can also substitute loganberry jam or leftover cranberry sauce (7oz / 200g) to make this lovely, rich dessert.
Adapted from a recipe on the wonderful Russian and Eastern European food blog Russian Season.
For the cranberry sauce
½ cup / 100g sugar
½ cup / 125ml water + extra for thinning
2 cups / 8oz / 220g fresh cranberries (substitute frozen if necessary)
1/2 tsp orange zest
For the breadcrumbs
10oz / 300g dark rye bread, day old or toasted
6 tbsps light brown sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
For the cream mixture
1 cup / 240ml heavy cream
1/2 cup / 110g sour cream
3-4 tsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Food processor (optional)
8×8 baking dish
First, make the cranberry sauce (skip this step if using prepared jam or sauce). Place sugar and water in medium pan and bring to a boil. Stir in cranberries, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 8-10 minutes or until most of the cranberries have burst. Stir in orange zest, remove from heat and set aside to cool.
To make breadcrumb mixture, coarsely chop bread in food processor – you want chunky crumbs, not dust. You can also use a hand grater to grate the bread into large crumbs. Place breadcrumbs, brown sugar and cinnamon in a large skillet and stir over a medium heat until sugar is dissolved and breadcrumbs are crunchy. Set aside to cool.
To make cream mixture, whip together heavy cream, sour cream, sugar and vanilla. Cover and place in refrigerator until ready to use.
To assemble, first thin out the cranberry sauce or jam with a little warm water so a slightly runny consistency is reached. Place a third of the breadcrumb mixture in the bottom of baking dish. Top with half of the cream mixture and half of the cranberry sauce or jam. Repeat layers, finishing with a layer of the breadcrumb mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. (Alternatively assemble layers in individual glasses like a trifle)
Cut into rough squares and serve with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkling of leftover breadcrumbs.