For the longest time, I was blissfully ignorant of the intricacies of rice pudding.
“It’s vanilla pudding with rice in it, how complicated can it be?”
my naive younger self (version 1.2) crowed. You see, the hubby, despite all his cycling, intellectualizing, and environmental convictions is an addict. A creamy, starchy, vanilla-mainlining junkie. For a while there I was safe cuz he had his own
dealer cache at Trader Joe’s but as often happens, the supply lines got cut off/backorders/things get discontinued [eep!]. And so Cam v1.2 offered to make homemade rice pudding for her detoxing, in sickness or in health, addict. The problem? While rice pudding is ubiquitous, having incarnations in India (Kheer with pistachios, anyone?), Denmark (Cuz cinnamon sugar risengrød makes the dark, cold nights of winter go just that much faster.), and Mexico (Arroz con leche? Please, you had me at rum-soaked raisins.) to name a few, it’s gotten a bum rap here in the States being considered bland baby food for the Depends-sporting set to the requisite Dickensian gruel jokes. And truthfully, some of the recipes were gruel-worthy. Watery, anemic, treacly sweet examples of culinary punishment. Others were so rich that a mere spoonful could sustain a family of hibernating bears. Luckily, Gourmet or more specifically, New York firefighter Steve “Gonzo” Gonzales, came to the rescue cuz besides saving kittens and putting NYC back together after a devastating terrorist attack, making delectable rice pudding that makes you think all is right (and tasty) in the world is just part of a regular working day for these guys. What makes this rice pudding so amazing that I’m embarrassed to serve it in front of guests? It has the trifecta of lots of vanilla flavor, a luscious velvety texture that’s not too thick or thin, and just the right balance of sweet and creamy that won’t have you fantasizing about a post-prandial nap. Sounds pretty good, huh? So why am I embarrassed to serve it to guests? The junkie hubby sounds like a crazed truffle pig rooting around in his bowl while trying to lick every particle off of it. Needless to say, while the Trader Joe’s rice pudding crisis has long since resolved, there’s no going back from homemade. It’s good to be appreciated? Sigh.
Tinkering is my middle name…
1) For a richer, more decadent version (and more quality bonding time with your rowing machine) switch out the whole milk for half & half and use low-fat milk for the heavy cream. It seems like a wash but the end result is very velvety and creamy. Trust me 🙂
2) Why just the one vanilla bean plus vanilla extract? While the vanilla bean really ups the vanilla flavor, I’ve found that using more than one bean makes the pudding texture gritty from the seeds so you need the extract too to give you enough vanilla flavor without making it feel like you’re eating vanilla-flavored sand. [shudder.] And while vanilla and vanilla beans aren’t cheap, I figure if I’m going to eat that many calories it should taste amazing. If you can’t get a hold of vanilla beans or they’re cost prohibitive (strangely, Costco sells 3-4 beans for less than the cost of one dry and wimpy looking one at Safeway) you can just increase the extract amount to 5 tsp total.
3) Why sushi rice? Short grain rice like those used for sushi, risotto (arborio), and paella (calasparra or bomba) are meant to absorb liquid allowing them to not only plump up with flavor but also release their starchy proteins creating a sticky velvety rice pudding rather than a thinner liquidy pudding like with kheer which is usually made with long grain rice like jasmine or basmati.
2 quarts whole milk
1 c heavy cream
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 c sugar
1/4 tsp sea salt or 1/8 tsp regular salt
1 c short grain rice like sushi or arborio
1 vanilla bean
1 tbsp (yes, tablespoon) vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/4 – 1/2 tsp cinnamon
With a sharp knife, slit vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out seeds. Set aside.
In a large ~5 quart pot bring milk, cream, butter, sugar, salt, and rice to a brisk simmer. Stir frequently to prevent the rice from clumping. Lower heat to keep pudding at a low simmer. Add vanilla bean seeds and vanilla extract to pudding and smooth out any vanilla bean clumps by smushing them against the side of the pot with your spoon. Reduce liquid till the milk mixture thickly coats the back of a spoon or your (relatively) non-stick silicone spatula ~20-30 minutes. Turn off heat.
In a small bowl whisk eggs till beaten but not frothy. Temper eggs by adding 1 tbsp of hot pudding mixture to them and stirring well. Add another 2-3 tbsp (1 tbsp at a time) to the egg mixture, stirring between each addition. Pour tempered egg mixture into the pot and combine well with pudding. Stir in cinnamon. Pour pudding into individual bowls or large casserole and place in refrigerator without a lid to cool otherwise the steam will condense on the lid and drip down into your pudding making it watery. Makes 16 half-cup servings. Safer world and slightly fatter denizens compliments of Gonzo 🙂