I never really liked rice pudding as a child. Something about the texture turned me off. And hello, rice was a side dish. To be eaten only with soy sauce. Not touching anything else on the plate.
I look back at my food tastes as a child and almost laugh. Children are such particular beings – little food critics that require imaginative reasons for eating certain things. I remember when my brother was little, we had to call broccoli “tree stars,” because the dinosaurs in The Land Before Time movie ate tree stars and enjoyed them to boot. As a result, my brother could not get enough broccoli. Mission accomplished, I suppose.
Many of the foods that I hated as a child have become some of my favorites as an adult. There is not a single vegetable I don’t enjoy nowadays, and salmon is no longer a stinky, disgusting main dish (but rather one of my very favorite things). And I hated rice pudding, or so I thought, until a couple of years ago when one of my coworkers started chowing down on rice pudding from the hospital cafeteria as a post-lunch dessert. Yes, I just said hospital cafeteria.
Fear not, it was a prepackaged rice pudding, not something made on site. She raved about it and ate it so often that my curiosity got the best of me, and I grabbed one for myself one day. Now, the rice pudding was certainly not rave-worthy, but it was enough to shift my feelings about rice pudding from grotesque to tolerable. It also gave me some encouragement to try making it myself. If a packaged rice pudding could taste good, the chance of homemade rice pudding knocking my socks off became a bit more likely.
Eventually, I gave a few recipes a try, but nothing really blew my taste buds away. I tried baked rice pudding, but became a little skeeved out by the eggs that seemed to do their own thing and create a scrambled egg-like custard alongside the rice. I tried a couple of stovetop recipes, but they always glommed together like play-doh once the pudding had cooled. Rice pudding failure.
And then one day, I was feeling sorry for myself and decided to treat myself to a cooking magazine while at the grocery store. Even pity parties require refreshments. I grabbed a copy of Fine Cooking, leafed through it quickly, saw a few interesting recipes, and threw it into my basket. It wasn’t until a day later when I was flipping through the magazine with a little more care that I came upon this recipe. “Best-Ever Rice Pudding” it said. Now, if you’re going to call something “best-ever,” you had better be able to deliver. And this creamy, sweet, rich pudding certainly does that.
Make this rice pudding. Whether you love rice pudding already, or are a skeptic like I was. It’s so worth it. The blue photos were taken right after the pudding came off the stove, and it was incredible when still warm, all on its own. The red photos were taken the next day, when the pudding was cold out of the fridge. It was amazing with fresh raspberries, and I imagine that any fresh fruit would be delicious company for this creamy treat. Or throw in some raisins if you want to be more traditional. I found myself going back to the fridge over and over, standing in the open door, eating it spoonful by spoonful. Best. Ever. Indeed.
Best-Ever Rice Pudding (slightly adapted from Fine Cooking magazine, June/July 2011)
4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup arborio rice*
5 TBSP. granulated sugar (add another TBSP. or two if you want it to be sweeter)
1 vanilla bean
2 cinnamon sticks
2 large egg yolks
In a medium saucepan, combine the milk with the rice and sugar. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Add them to the saucepan, along with the scraped vanilla bean and the cinnamon sticks. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to the point where the mixture can continue to simmer, and cook until the rice is tender, about 25 minutes. Stir frequently during this time. Remove the pan from the heat.
In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth and pale yellow. Whisk about 1 cup of the hot rice mixture into the yolks, then put the egg mixture back into the pan. The eggs need to be tempered, to avoid that scrambled egg effect. Scrambled eggs for breakfast = super-duper. Scrambled eggs in rice pudding = blech. Stir until well blended, and put the mixture back over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture just starts to boil, about 2 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean and cinnamon sticks.
If you’re going to enjoy the pudding right away, spoon into bowls or ramekins and get eating. If you’d prefer to eat the pudding cold, transfer the pudding into a bowl or container and refrigerate for a couple of hours. Try to stay away from the fridge.
*You can use other varieties of rice (ie. long grain, basmati, jasmine), but arborio rice really helps to create a creamy and sticky texture.