- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Rice pudding is so rich and satisfying that it’s no wonder it’s a favorite of children and adults. This classic is also the celebrated dessert among chefs who embrace comfort food.

One of its virtues is that it delivers immediate gratification.

Rice pudding doesn’t demand that you appreciate a nuance of flavors as you might in, say, a fruit tart or tropical fruit sauce. Just dig into the silken custard studded with tender rice and have a blissful experience.

If you abandoned rice pudding as a child’s food, perhaps it’s time to rediscover it.

Rice pudding tastes as delicious today as it did when you were 5 years old. In fact, the only thing that may have changed is the number of options for preparing the dish.

You can make rice pudding on the stove top or in the oven or by a combination of the two. You can also choose from several different varieties of rice. Your mom may have used long-grain rice, but you can switch to jasmine or arborio rice and give the pudding a different taste and texture.

During recent kitchen experiments, I made rice pudding using the plump-grain Italian arborio rice and another with long-grain rice, trying out different cooking techniques at the same time. It was an assault to the arteries but a worthwhile project for my taste buds.

As you might guess if you’ve ever made risotto, arborio rice results in a creamy pudding with a somewhat firm center. Although you can continue cooking, the gentle resistance at the center of each grain of rice is a pleasant counterpoint to the smooth custard surrounding it.

The pudding of my childhood, which may form your memories as well, calls for milk, eggs, sugar and cooked rice, all baked in a dish until firm. The pudding is dense, which some people like.

A firm pudding isn’t my preference, so I suggest stirring the mixture a couple of times during baking to transform the rice into a lighter pudding. Choose the version that stirs your fondest memories.

Risotto rice pudding

1 tablespoon butter

½ cup arborio rice

1/4 cup dried cherries

Pinch of salt

1/4 cup sugar

½ cup whipping cream, heated, divided

3½ to 4½ cups milk, heated, divided

½ teaspoon almond extract or 1 tablespoon cherry eau de vie

Melt butter in large, heavy-bottomed skillet. Stir in rice and cook for 1 minute over medium heat.

Reduce heat to low. Stir in dried cherries, salt and sugar.

Add 1/4 cup whipping cream. Simmer for 3 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates, stirring frequently. Stir in ½ cup milk and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes, or until liquid almost evaporates, stirring frequently. Stir in another ½ cup milk and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes, or until liquid almost evaporates, stirring frequently.

Repeat this process 5 more times until you’ve used a total of 3½ cups of milk. Stir in remaining 1/4 cup of cream and simmer for 3 minutes. Taste the rice. It should be tender with the slightest resistance at the core. It should not be hard.

The milk should be thick like pancake batter and creamy.

If the rice is too firm, stir in more milk, ½ cup at a time, and simmer for 5 to 7 more minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in almond extract or eau de vie. Immediately spoon into 2 large bowls and serve.

Makes 2 servings.

Baked rice pudding

1 cup milk

½ cup whipping cream

1/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/4 cup dried cherries

1/4 teaspoon salt

½ cup cooked rice

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Butter for greasing baking dish

Combine milk, cream and sugar in a small pot. Bring to a simmer, stirring to melt sugar. Beat eggs in a small heatproof bowl.

Gradually stir ½ cup milk mixture into the eggs to heat, stirring constantly. Pour egg mixture back into pot. Add cherries and salt. Simmer, stirring constantly for 2 minutes to plump up cherries.

Remove from heat. Stir in cooked rice and almond extract.

Spoon rice mixture into well-buttered 1-quart baking dish. Bake in preheated 325-degree oven for 10 minutes. Remove and stir. Return to oven and bake for 10 more minutes. Remove and stir. Bake a final 10 minutes. Remove and serve.

Makes 2 servings.


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