Growing up, my family celebrated every Christmas Eve with friends at the home of our neighbors, Pat and Paul Swanson. Though my family is Jewish, we loved being part of this tradition — the house decorated with white lights and nutcrackers, the crackling fire, the smell of mulled wine and, best of all, the annual appearance of my best friend Bridget’s dad dressed as Santa Claus, who rolled in with a boisterous “Ho Ho Ho, Merrrrry Christmas boys and girls,” handed out candy canes to the all the kids, and scared all the little ones right onto their mothers’ laps! Always on the menu were Pat’s Swedish Meatballs — mini meatballs made from beef and pork in a light cream sauce. I always loved them, and have made my own version many times over the years — both speared with toothpicks for parties and served over egg noodles for family dinners. They always make me think of the holidays.
So, let’s get to the recipe. My starting point was this Swedish Meatball recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, however I have changed it up quite a bit over the years. The recipe is unique for a few reasons: First, the meatball mixture is made in an electric mixer, which makes tender meatballs with a nice “snap” to them — so they won’t fall apart when you spear them with toothpicks. Second, the meatballs are baked, not fried. I have tried cooking them both ways and honestly don’t think much is gained from frying, other than nicer color, and once the meatballs are covered in sauce, who cares?
Begin by making a panade, which is a mixture of bread and cream that binds the meatballs together and makes them tender. Simply whisk together the eggs and cream in a small bowl, then add the cubed bread.
Mash with a fork until the bread is dissolved into the liquid.
Next, combine the ground pork, garlic, baking powder and spices in an electric mixer and whip until the mixture is smooth and pale.
Add the egg mixture and beat until smooth.
Add the ground beef.
And mix again until just combined.
Using moistened hands, form the meat mixture into meatballs and place on a rack over a foil-lined baking sheet.
The rack is useful because any fat from the meatballs drips down but if you don’t have one, don’t worry about it. It’s fine to just place the meatballs directly on a greased baking sheet. Bake the meatballs for 20 minutes, until lightly browned. The rack will leave little marks on the bottoms of the meatballs, but they are not noticeable once the meatballs are covered in sauce.
Meanwhile, make the sauce. Begin by melting the butter in a large sauté pan.
Add the flour.
And whisk constantly until the flour turns golden and fragrant.
Whisk in the chicken broth.
Add the brown sugar and cook for about ten minutes, until slightly thickened and reduced, then add the cream, soy sauce and pepper. I know it seems odd to season this dish with soy sauce but it works — think of it as salt but with a bit more flavor.
Let the cream sauce simmer until thick enough to coat a spoon, then add the meatballs and simmer until heated through.
Transfer the meatballs to a platter and sprinkle with fresh parsley.
You can find these bamboo forks on Amazon — Norpro 190 72-Pack Bamboo Party Forks, Brown.
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For the Meatballs
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1-1/2 cups cubed white sandwich bread, crusts removed (you'll need about 4 slices)
- 1 pound ground pork
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 pound ground beef (85% lean)
For the Sauce
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 3 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar (see note below recipe)
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1-1/4 teaspoons soy sauce (use gluten-free if needed)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice, from one lemon
- Finely chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)
For the Meatballs
- Preheat the oven to 325. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil for easy clean-up and place an ovenproof baking/cooling rack over top; spray the rack very generously with nonstick cooking spray.
- Whisk the eggs and cream together in a medium bowl. Stir in the bread and mash until no large bread chunks remain. Set aside.
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the pork, garlic, allspice, pepper, salt, and baking powder on high speed until smooth and pale, about 2 minutes, scraping bowl as necessary. Add the bread mixture to the mixing bowl and beat on low speed until combined (so it doesn't splatter), then increase the speed to high and beat until smooth and homogeneous, about 1 minute, scraping the bowl as necessary. Add the beef and mix on medium-low speed until just incorporated, about 20 seconds, scraping the bowl as necessary. Using wet hands, form the meat mixture into 1-1/2-inch round meatballs and place on the prepared rack. (The mixture is very sticky and wet hands help; keep wetting your hands as you go). Bake for about 20 minutes, until just done.
- Note: You'll notice that the rack will leave little marks on the meatballs but they will not be too noticeable once the meatballs are covered with sauce.
For the Sauce
- While the meatballs are cooking, make the sauce. In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until flour is golden and fragrant, about 1 minute. (Careful not to burn; it goes from golden to burnt quickly.) Whisk in the chicken broth, getting rid of any lumps. Add the brown sugar and bring back to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, whisking and scraping down the sides of the pan occasionally, until sauce is slightly thickened and reduced, about 10 minutes. Add the cream, soy sauce and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, whisking and scraping down the sides occasionally, until the sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon, about 10 minutes. Add the cooked meatballs to the sauce and simmer, turning occasionally to coat with the sauce, until heated through. Stir in the lemon juice, taste and adjust seasoning if necessary, then serve.
- Note: The cream sauce is a touch sweet. For a less sweet sauce, you can reduce or omit the brown sugar.
- Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The meatballs (without the sauce) can be frozen for up to 3 months. When ready to serve, prepare the sauce and reheat the meatballs in the sauce until hot in the center.
- Serving size: 1 meatball
- Calories: 89
- Fat: 7g
- Saturated fat: 3g
- Carbohydrates: 2g
- Sugar: 1g
- Fiber: 0g
- Protein: 4g
- Sodium: 121mg
- Cholesterol: 31mg
This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.