Sunday, June 08, 2008

Creamy Rice Pudding

I didn't understand it for a long time. The wonderful rice pudding, creamy and white and dusted with cinnamon, that I got when my Aunt Alice took me to the Automat up in Middletown was so different from the rice pudding my mother made, with rice in a baked custard studded with raisins. Mum's pudding was good in its own right, but it wasn't anything like the rich creamy one I liked so much. No matter what recipes I tried, and stirring during baking, I only could produce something like my mother's.

Later I learned that the Automat was run by a Greek family. And then I had creamy rice pudding made by Lebanese -- though that was bathed with a luscious syrup fragrant with spices and orange blossoms. So the rice pudding I had loved as a kid was an eastern Mediterranean one, and simmered on top of the stove, not baked.

It took a while to get the technique down, a lot of trial and error. One of the recurring errors was getting a golden brown crust on the bottom of the pan, which then stained the pudding. One breakthrough was using short-grained rice, which is creamier than the long-grained rice I usually cooked with. Then I discovered that Japanese rice, the kind you use for sushi, gives the best texture, at least of the types of rice we can find locally.

Here then is the fruit of a lot of labor, a really luscious, creamy, rice pudding. It has the subtle seasoning of both the Greek and the Lebanese rice puddings that I enjoyed. The recipe will serve six. Make the pudding ahead and allow it to chill before serving.

Creamy Rice Pudding Tim

1 cup short-grained rice, Japanese sushi style preferred
2 cups water
2-1/2 cups whole milk
1 thin whole cinnamon stick
2 whole cardamom pods (small), or 3 whole cloves
2-inch strip peeled from an orange (scrub and rub orange dry)
7 tablespoons (8 if you like it sweeter) sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Ground cinnamon for serving

Rinse the rice and drain. Bring it to a boil in a heavy-bottomed pot with 2 cups water. As soon as it boils, turn the heat down to the lowest, cover and simmer 20 minutes without opening the lid.

Add the milk, whole spices, and orange peel, and simmer, uncovered, over low heat, stirring frequently with a wooden paddle or spoon and scraping the bottom of the pot to prevent sticking. After about 20 minutes, add the sugar and salt. Continue to simmer with frequent stirring until the pudding is creamy, 10 minutes or so. Remove from the heat. Stir in the vanilla. Stir occasionally as the pudding cools so no crust forms, removing the spices and orange peel when you see them. Transfer pudding into a serving dish. Dust with a little ground cinnamon. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and chill before serving.

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