When you’re small and living with your parents, whatever the rules of your home are, that’s how the world works. When you visit friends, you find out that other parents have different rules, but still, how things are done at your home is How Things Are Done. It’s only when you start your own household, or even better, start one with somebody else, that you find out that How Things Are Done is just what your parents prefer.
So when I was little I never questioned the Rules for Desserts. The Rules were these: dessert is either vla or yoghurt. Dessert is eaten every day (except when you haven’t finished what’s on your plate). One day we’ll have one of the two, the next day the other, alternating vla and yoghurt days. Each person at the table has the same dessert. You cannot mix vla and yoghurt except on special occasions. Vla is always vanilla flavour. Yoghurt is plain yoghurt with sugar added at the table. Vla is tasty. Yoghurt is healthy. Only on extra special occasions will we have vla or yoghurt with a different flavour. Only on extra extra special occasions will we have a different dessert like pudding or ice cream.
These were the Rules.
So it was only on extra extra special occasions that my mother made semolina pudding. It was my favourite dessert. My mother used to make it with a mix from the supermarket: you boil milk and add this ready-made mix of semolina, sugar and flavourings. You boil it for a few minutes, stirring all the while, and when the semolina is cooked you pour the mixture into a pudding pan. My mom had a really cool one: an earthenware fish-shaped one. She’d rinse it with cold water first so the pudding wouldn’t stick. Then the pudding mixture would go in and the whole thing would go into the fridge for a few hours. She would turn over the pudding onto a plate and serve us a beautiful pudding fish. Then the bickering would start on who would get which part…
Although also found in other countries, semolina seems a very Dutch kind of dessert: it contains dairy, it’s filling and none too subtle. But very very good.
Semolina pudding is made with milk, sugar and (unsurprisingly) semolina. Semolina is coarsely ground grain. For this recipe you need semolina made of wheat (Amazon sells it as semolina wheat). Watch out though: semolina can be made from durum wheat and is then used to make gnocchi and pasta. This is not the kind you need for pudding. You need semolina made from soft wheat, the same stuff that couscous is made of.
For basic semolina pudding for four people you need:
Put the milk into a pan, add the salt and cinnamon and bring it to a boil. Mix the sugar with the semolina. When the milk is boiling, turn down the fire and add the sugar/semolina mix, stirring constantly. Cook the pudding for five minutes, stir every once in a while to keep it from burning.
Pour the pudding into four individual bowls or into one large bowl. If you plan on serving the pudding on a plate later, rinse your bowl with cold water before you pour in the pudding. To prevent a skin from forming, sprinkle some sugar over the pudding or put a piece of clingfilm directly onto the surface. Or if you don’t mind a little bit of skin on your pudding, leave it be. Put your pudding into the refrigerator for an hour or two, until it’s cold all the way through. Serve.
Now basic semolina pudding is tasty but not all that exciting. The real orginal Dutch semolina pudding has bitterkoekjes in it, and this tastes great! Bitterkoekjes are small, chewy almond cookies that taste similar to biscotti and amaretto. You can make them yourself, but you’d need bitter almonds and they are hard to find (and illegal in the USA if Google Answers is correct). For a similar taste experience (but different texture), you could take a sponge cake or pound cake, cut it into bite-sized pieces and sprinkle those with amaretto or almond essence. Put the cake pieces into the pudding bowls before pouring on the pudding.
Alternatively, you can serve your semolina pudding with a fruit sauce. The Dutch traditionally use redcurrants to make a sauce for this pudding. If you can find redcurrant juice, make the sauce in the following way: heat 250 ml of redcurrant juice with 250 ml of water, bring to a boil. Mix 20 grams of cornstarch or potato starch with a bit of cold water (avoid lumps!) and add this to the juice. Let it boil for a few minutes until it thickens, add 75 grams of sugar, boil until the sugar is dissolved. Pour this sauce over the pudding.
Because semolina pudding is thick and creamy, it tastes best with tart flavours like redcurrant. Redcurrants are very sour. If you can’t find redcurrants, a similar tart flavour like rhubarb or blackberry might also work well with the pudding. Or invent your own combination and let me know about it!
Of course now I'm all grown up I can make up my own rules about dessert. I never eat plain yoghurt anymore, and when I eat semolina pudding it usually comes in a tub straight from the supermarket, with extra-chemical redcurrant sauce. And I eat it any day I please, because any day is a special occasion if I decide it is!
If you’re desperate to try semolina pudding but can’t find any of the ingredients, /msg me. I just might be tempted to send you a packet of instant pudding mix, with bitterkoekjes! And a translation of the instructions.