Last week I was looking for a way to use up extra milk. I could have made yogurt
but I wanted a dish that could easily be frozen. Rice pudding came to mind.
Fortunately, I had many tempting rice puddings I could choose from.
France I learned from restaurant chefs to prepare a souffle-like baked rice
pudding with the egg whites whipped separately. Even fancier was a rice pudding
baked in a caramel-coated dish. I’ve also liked a French rice pudding enriched
with egg yolks and butter and topped with poached fruit glazed with jam. The
most elaborate rice pudding was a classic molded dessert, riz a l’imperatrice,
made with candied fruit, and, like Bavarian cream, enriched with custard and
whipped cream and set with gelatin.
I wanted to make a homey rice
pudding. There are many variations of this popular pudding made in kitchens
around the globe. “Wherever there is rice, there seems to be a simple rice
pudding, most often cooked in milk,” write Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, the
authors of Seductions of Rice.
Although the milk most commonly used in
rice pudding is fresh whole milk, there are other options. Patricia
McCausland-Gallo, author of Secrets of Colombian Cooking, makes her arroz con
leche with whole milk, sweetened condensed milk and heavy cream. Other Latin
American cooks add canned evaporated milk to their rice puddings. Coconut milk
is the choice in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia. Cooks looking for
parve or vegan alternatives to dairy milk that are lower in fat than coconut
milk use soy milk or rice milk, and these also produce tasty rice
Vanilla is a favorite flavoring for rice puddings, especially
in France. The recipe lends itself beautifully to using vanilla beans, as their
fine flavor infuses into the milk. Some add strips of lemon or orange zest to
infuse as well, or stir in grated citrus zest when the pudding has finished
cooking. Others use sweet spices such as grated nutmeg. In India and in Iran,
rosewater and saffron lend an exotic touch to rice puddings.
in their whole form gives rice puddings a delicate flavor and has the advantage
of leaving the dessert white. McCausland-Gallo cooks whole cloves and cinnamon
sticks in the milk in her Colombian rice pudding. My friend Barbara Hansen,
author of Mexican Cookery and of the Mexican food website www.eatmx.com, flavors
her Mexican rice pudding with vanilla, strips of lime zest, and cinnamon in two
forms – a cinnamon stick that simmers in the milk with the rice and ground
cinnamon sprinkled on top at serving time.
I settled on an Indian rice
pudding, inspired by the one I had last month at a Sikh temple. For my husband
and me, the creamy pudding was the highlight of the delicious vegetarian meal
that we enjoyed sitting on a carpet strip on the temple dining-room
When I asked how they make their pudding, I found out that their
technique is different from the one I often use. Instead of first cooking the
rice in water to soften it rapidly and then heating it in milk, they cook their
rice very slowly in whole milk – two or three hours for the large amount that
they make – until the rice is tender and the pudding has thickened. Then the
pudding is sweetened with sugar, flavored with cardamom and embellished with a
small amount of almonds, cashews and raisins.
Although the pudding was
rich, its texture was light because it had a relatively low proportion of rice
It had thickened not only from the natural starch in the rice
but also because the milk had reduced in volume.
My challenge was to make
a similar pudding at home using my milk, which was nonfat, even though some
cooks advise not to use skim milk in this type of pudding.
A friend of
mine laughed at the idea of using nonfat milk, saying “You can’t thicken water
by reducing it.”
Yet I knew that if the pudding remained soupy, I could
add rice flour or cornstarch to thicken it.
In fact, the Indian-style
pudding turned out delicious. (The recipe is below.) Instead of using
Basmati rice or risotto rice, I used common, inexpensive long-grain rice and was
pleased to see how well it worked.
Rice pudding thickens as it cools. If
the pudding has cooled to room temperature and you would like to serve it warm,
gradually stir in a little hot milk to bring it to the consistency you like. If
you’d like to serve it cold and it has become too thick, stir in a little cold
milk. Pudding served cold may also need a little more sugar.
Faye Levy is
the author of Fresh from France: Dessert Sensations and of Healthy Cooking for
the Jewish Home.
LIGHT AND CREAMY RICE PUDDING
You can substitute chopped, unsalted pistachios or
other nuts for the almonds and, if you like, add a spoonful of raisins, dried
cherries or other dried fruits. I used nonfat milk but of course you can
make this pudding with low-fat or whole milk. You can keep the pudding, covered,
up to 2 days in the refrigerator.
Milk heated at length tends to stick.
It’s best to use a heavy pan or a good nonstick pan and to stir the mixture
often, especially before it has come to a simmer.
If you multiply the
recipe to make more servings, use a pan that is wide enough so that the layer of
pudding mixture is not too deep; otherwise it will take a long time to
Makes about 3 small servings
3 cups milk, or up to 4 cups if
3 Tbsp. long-grain rice, rinsed in cold water and drained
2 Tbsp. sugar,
or more to taste
1⁄8 tsp ground cardamom seeds, or to taste
1 Tbsp. sliced
almonds, plus additional sliced almonds for garnish
In a nonstick or heavy
medium-size pan of about 3 liters (3 quarts), heat the milk over medium heat,
stirring often with a wooden spoon, until it comes nearly to a simmer. Add the
rice and cook, stirring very often and scraping the bottom of the pan, until it
comes to a simmer.
Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring often and
scraping the bottom and sides of the pan, until rice is soft but not mushy,
about 45 minutes, adding more milk by quarter cups after about 30 minutes if
mixture thickens too much before rice has softened.
Stir in 2 Tbsp sugar
and heat briefly over low heat, stirring, until it dissolves. Add cardamom and
almonds and heat for a few seconds.
Serve pudding warm, room temperature
or cold, sprinkled with additional almonds.
SPANISH RICE PUDDING – Arroz
This recipe is from Seductions of Rice. Jeffrey Alford and Naomi
Duguid call it “classic comfort food from Spain, here presented in its plainest
They advise: “Be sure to use a very light hand with the
sprinkled cinnamon, or you risk overpowering the aromas of the
Their recipe calls for Spanish or Italian medium- grain rice. You
could also use risotto rice.
Makes 6 servings
41⁄2 cups whole milk
cm. (2 inches) cinnamon stick
Zest of 1⁄2 lemon, peeled off in large strips
cup Spanish or Italian medium-grain rice, washed and drained
1 Tbsp. unsalted
3⁄4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
Dusting of ground cinnamon
Place the milk,
cinnamon stick and lemon zest in a large heavy pot. Bring just to a boil,
sprinkle in the rice, and bring back almost to a boil. Stir well, lower the heat
to very low and simmer for 45 to 50 minutes, until the rice is very soft,
stirring occasionally to prevent sticking and to break up any lumps. Remove the
(The recipe can be prepared several hours ahead to this
point and set aside until 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Bring the rice just
to a simmer before proceeding.) Stir in the butter, then the sugar and salt.
Continue cooking, stirring, for another 5 minutes.
Transfer to a serving
bowl or to individual dessert bowls. Serve warm or, our preference, let cool to
room temperature. Just before serving, sprinkle on a touch of cinnamon.