After you all egged me on to make rice pudding the other day, I found myself compelled to give it a try. The difficulty was, my evil, chocolate-loving side wanted to make a completely decadent rice pudding with chocolate and coconut milk and raspberries (why yes, I *am* fond of that particular flavour combination), but my Christopher Robin purist side was fairly sure that rice pudding is supposed to be fairly plain and full of plump raisins. And, while I demonstrate very little common-sense when it comes to culinary experimentation, it did seem to me that it might be a good idea to start with a traditional version when making a pudding that I’ve never cooked or even eaten before.
This recipe is taken from The Women’s Weekly’s Sweet Old-Fashioned Favourites cookbook, and modified quite a bit, because it sounded way too rich. The baked rhubarb is, I think, initially a Nigella thing, though I’m no longer following a recipe for it – rice pudding seemed to demand stewed fruit, and with the oven on already, I wanted something I could pop in to cook above the pudding and forget about.
And what was it like? To my surprise, it tasted absolutely and exactly the way my imagination had pictured it – hot, mushy, creamy, full of plumped-up raisins and sultanas, and a hint of spice, and with the rhubarb providing a sharp tartness that made the creaminess manageable. I don’t think I’d want it for dinner it every day – I’m just not that fond of rice – but for a hot, comforting, winter dessert when you aren’t feeling well and don’t want to spend more than five minutes in the kitchen, it would be hard to do better.
(Oh, and if you are wondering why I am going on and on about Christopher Robin etc, this is why)
Your Shopping List1/2 cup arborio rice 1/4 cup brown sugar 1 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla essence 2 tbsp (40ml) raisins 2 tbsp sultanas 2 cups milk (I used a low-fat, but not a no-fat, milk) 1/2 cup water (you can use all milk, but this sounded really rich to me) 20g butter nutmeg, 1/2 a cinnamon stick 1 bunch rhubarb (approx. 700g) 175g vanilla sugar, or plain caster sugar 2 tbsp caster sugar (optional) marmalade or orange jam, to serve
Now what will you do with it?
Lightly butter a 4-cup capacity baking dish. Rinse the rice well, and put into the dish with the sugar, vanilla, raisins and sultanas, and mix up a bit. Pour in the milk and water, and stir around a little more. It’s going to look very, very liquid at this point.
Dot the butter (it will float on the milk in a very dodgy-looking fashion) and sprinkle with nutmeg and cinnamon, or float half a cinnamon stick in the middle. Bake slowly for 2-3 hours. My recipe said 2 hours at 160°C, but I think it lied, because at the end of 2 hours, it was still soup. This might be because I also cooked dinner in the oven during this time. I gave it another 45 minutes at 180°C, which did the trick – what you are looking for is for the rice to have absorbed the milk and swollen up to the top of where the milk was, and for a crust to have formed.
While the rice pudding is cooking, prepare the rhubarb. Wash it, and cut it into lengths of around 1 1/2 – 2 inches. Put it into a baking dish with the vanilla sugar, and stir to coat. If you don’t have vanilla sugar, use castor sugar and either cut a vanilla bean lengthways and put it in with the rhubarb, or add vanilla paste or essence during the cooking. Or leave it plain. Don’t add water – the rhubarb will produce plenty of liquid like this.
Cover the rhubarb with foil, and put in the oven when the rice pudding has been baking for about an hour. It should be soft and juicy by the time the rice pudding is done.
If you feel like it, you can make a sort of rice pudding brulee by sprinkling the extra 2 tbsp of sugar over it at the end of the cooking time, and putting under the grill for a couple of minutes. This is also a good trick if you broke up your crust by stirring everything part-way through when it wasn’t done yet.
Serve the pudding with a spoonful of marmalade or jam stirred through each portion and the rhubarb on top. You have no idea how ugly this is once served – the jam you stir through breaks up the crust and it all looks deeply dubious, especially once the rhubarb juices hit the creamy rice and it all curdles. But it tastes really good and strangely comforting (despite the fact that it was never one of my childhood foods), especially when you have a cold.
This makes enough for four people.
I don’t have the energy for really interesting variations right now, but I don’t see how you could go wrong replacing the dairy milk with coconut milk, though one might then be tempted to change some of the other flavourings. Soy milk would probably be a non-controversial and non-flavour-changing choice. Rice milk would be incredibly pointless, I think. And it has been pointed out to me that black or purple sticky rice could make this rather wild. Johanna over at Green Gourmet Giraffe has an amazing vegan variation with chocolate and wattleseed which I certainly intend to try sometime.
But it seems to me that you, O my readers, are far more knowledgeable in the art of chocolate pudding than I am. So tell me – what’s your favourite variation?