Rabanadas are one of many traditional desserts that are served in Portugal for Christmas. I can describe them as being a very moist rich slice of fried crusty bread, a bit like the "pain perdu" of the French cuisine. Warm or cold, as a dessert or for Christmas day's breakfast they are always present on my family table. I have great memories of the preparation of "rabanadas".
As a child I would see the long, rough baguette being baked in the ovens of my grandmother's patisserie than later collected by my mum, sliced in diagonal thick slices, soaked in the spiced infused milk, coated in really yellow beaten eggs then fried in the bubbly oil from the old cast iron pan that would come out the cupboard during the festive season. My job was (and still is) to finish the recipe by coating these glorious golden slices of bread, with a mixture of vanilla and cinnamon flavoured sugar. How wonderful to play my fingers in such scented preparation.
The "rabanadas" were then layered in the best china dish and displayed on the red cloth covered long table that smelt of pine nuts and candles. With the days going by, the coat of sugar that wraps each slice dissolves and creates a wonderful scented syrup that evoques so much my spirit of Christmas: silent crisp morning breakfast, wrapping paper crackling on the fire, the cup of tea after the walk in the woods.
In all these years, even after I left Portugal, I make sure my mum and I still prepare this dessert together. We have always followed the rhythmic pattern of the recipe while talking about the past, projecting the future and drinking copious amounts of coffee at the same time. Special. Here's one of my Christmas time recipes.
12 slices of a good quality crusty loaf
750ml of full fat milk
1 tbsp of butter
300g of sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp of nutmeg
1 tsp of vanilla essence
1 lemon peel
1 tbsp of Port wine
5 eggs (preferably organic)
For the coating
250g of sugar
1 tsp of vanilla essence
2 tsp of cinnamon powder
Put the milk, sugar, butter, lemon and spices into a pan and let it slowly simmer for 5-10 minutes. Take it out of the stove and let it cool down before soaking the slices of bread, one by one. In a slightly deep dish beat the eggs and bath each slice on them, both sides so that they are well covered.
Fried the slices on a pan of hot vegetable oil, turn each one when they become golden. Transfer them to a kitchen paper covered dish and let dry and cool. Put the sugar, vanilla essence and cinnamon powder in a dish and mix well with your fingers. Roll each slice in this preparation and transfer to a large deep dish. With time, the sugar coating will dissolve and a beautiful tasteful syrup will emerge on the bottom of the dish.