Rice Pudding by Audur Ava Ólafsdóttir

Extremely Thick Rice Pudding with Cinnamon Sugar

Icelandic rice pudding comes in a few different variations, all of which are served warm. Two of the most common are a thin gruel and a thick porridge. The recipe here refers to the latter.

This pudding is a staple on Icelandic dinner tables, either on its own with bread, or as a starter or dessert. It is a common winter dish and has been popular with Icelandic children for generations. Rice pudding used to be a treat for special occasions, and many families still serve it as a starter on Christmas Eve, a tradition that came to Iceland from Scandinavia. The Christmas pudding is served with cream, and an almond is hidden in one of the bowls. The person who finds the almond in his or her bowl receives a special prize. Another longstanding Christmas tradition in Iceland is to give books, and they are still the single most popular Christmas gift item in Iceland.


  • 2–3 cups rice (white or brown)
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 1½ litres milk
  • cinnamon sugar

Rinse the rice in cold water. Put it in a saucepan and pour 1½ cups of water over. Salt. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer until most of the water has evaporated, although the rice is still firm (about 5 minutes). Let the child throw in the raisins. Little by little, add the milk and bring back to a boil. Keep the lid off while you are waiting, otherwise it may boil over. Simmer until the rice is soft. Turn off the heat and let the pudding stand for 5 minutes, allowing the rice to absorb the fluid. Help the child mix cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl.

Serve the rice pudding with milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar on top.

This recipe comes from the novel Butterflies in November by the Reykjavík author Audur Ava Ólafsdóttir (translated from the original, Rigning í nóvember (2004), by Brian FitzGibbon). The excerpt involving the rice pudding is from the first part of the book. It takes place on a winter day and is centred around the Reykjavík City Lake, in the heart of downtown Reykjavík.  

Butterflies in November is an Icelandic road story, taking the reader from Reykjavík out to the Icelandic countryside. After a day of being dumped – twice – and accidentally killing a goose, a young woman yearns for a tropical vacation far from the chaos of her life. Instead, her plans are wrecked by her best friend’s four-year-old deaf-mute son, thrust into her reluctant care. But when the boy chooses the winning numbers for a lottery ticket, the two of them set off on a road trip across Iceland with a glove compartment stuffed full of their jackpot earnings. This is a moving and comic story of motherhood, relationships and the legacy of life’s mistakes. As well as being a translator and language enthusiast, the narrator is also interested in food, and the book comes with a bunch of recipes that are part of the storyline.