Rice pudding is widely accepted as a comfort dish. To be honest, I haven't paid it much attention because it has such a homely reputation. Who has time for a plain bowl of sloppy sweet rice in milk? I’ve always chased the more exciting desserts like flaky danish braids, caramelized kouign amann, and homemade marshmallows dipped in dark chocolate. And what a shame that was. I’ve been bratty and judgmental and, as a result, have deprived myself of the deliciousness that is stovetop rice pudding for almost 30 years. When I finally came around and made it for the first time, I couldn’t stop sampling the pot. I finally just poured myself a “trial bowl” of hot, soupy rice pudding so I could get back to cooking it (granted, I was very pregnant at the time, but that’s no excuse). I think what I love is the simplicity of it, which, ironically, is what gives it the grandma vibe to begin with. But I really love high-quality ingredients and simple, well-done food, and that’s what this rice pudding is all about. The chewy rice is suspended in a creamy, silken pudding and perfumed by rich notes of vanilla and cardamom. It’s sweet but not cloying, and it’s rich but not overly decadent. It’s a soothing and unpretentious dessert, with an elegant fragrance that is made for cold nights and simple meals. And for peat’s sake, don’t follow my lead and go 30 years without making it.
notes on the stovetop rice pudding:
this rice pudding is simple and relatively quick to make, but it does need to be stirred and watched almost constantly to prevent burning
like any good dessert, this one needs salt to bring out the flavors and make it taste truly delicious. Start with 1/2 tsp and readjust after cooking the yolks and sugar, just before taking it off the heat.
the rice pudding will seem thin and soupy when it’s done, but don’t worry! As it cools, the starches will gel and thicken the mixture to a rich pudding consistency.
the type of rice to use in rice pudding is a hotly debated topic, but in general, here's what you can expect:
short grain rice (sushi, arborio) has a lot of starch to release which will make a creamier pudding, but it may be too chewy for some (arborio is my preference)
medium grain rice (spanish bomba) has enough starch to produce a creamy texture and will cook to a tender consistency without falling apart (recommended by Fine Cooking)
long grain rice (jasmine, basmati) has the least amount of starch and will produce a less creamy pudding, and the grains are more likely to break down to a mushy consistency
stovetop cardamom rice pudding
serves 4 | recipe adapted from Fine Cooking
4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup raw Arborio rice (or medium grain if you prefer more tender pudding)
3/4 tsp ground cardamom
1 vanilla bean, split, or 1-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
2 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
salted pistachios, chopped, for garnish
golden raisins, for garnish
Dump the milk, rice, salt, and cardamom into a large, heavy saucepan. Scrape out the seeds of the vanilla bean and stir the seeds and empty bean into the milk (if you’re using vanilla extract, don’t add it yet). Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.
Uncover and continue simmering, stirring frequently, until the rice is tender and the pudding is reduced to about 3-1/2 cups, about 8- 15 minutes (but it depends on the type of rice you use!). It’s important to let the pudding simmer gently, not boil, and you’ll need to stir constantly toward the end of cooking to prevent scorching.
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla extract (if using). Slowly add the cooked rice mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan, making sure to scrape the bowl. Set the pan over medium-low heat and cook, stirring and scraping the sides and bottom of the pan constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture has thickened and coats the back of the spoon, about 1 minute. Taste and add a pinch or two of salt, if needed for the flavors to pop.
Remove the pan from the heat. Transfer the pudding to a bowl or serving dish and lay a sheet of plastic wrap right on the pudding’s surface to prevent a skin from forming. If you’ve used a vanilla bean, fish it out when the pudding has cooled and discard the empty bean. Serve hot, warm or cold, plain or with chopped salted pistachios and/or golden raisins.