When you have lemons, make lemonade. When you have beautiful, fresh-off-the-farm, golden yolked eggs with gorgeous, naturally hued, make…rice pudding. The eggs were a gift from my friend and cooking teacher Sue Sell, and they were so pretty that it was difficult to find the resolve to crack them open. (Check out the photo to see how the yolks contributed to the yellow color in the finished dessert…and yes, that is a feather.) But why rice pudding?
In our household, both Patrick and I have an aversion to eggs. We like them when they are highly flavored (as in omelets and frittata), but run screaming from egg salad, hard-boiled eggs, stuffed eggs, soft-boiled eggs…pretty much anything that looks or tastes like an unadulterated egg. Without spending too much time on a psychiatrist’s couch, we think it can be attributed to the mountains of eggs we were fed in our childhoods by well-meaning relatives who used eggs to get a quick meal on the table. Note that we were not allowed to say “I don’t like that” as children, but we do now that we are grownups. We often joke that one of the secrets to the longevity of our relationship (don’t ask how long…but it is longer than 25 years) is our mutual distain for eggs. So when I have a lot of eggs, this rice pudding recipe gets pulled out of the virtual recipe box. You may think, “I don’t need a recipe for rice pudding!” But trust me, you do!
This is the same rice pudding that both Patrick’s Great Aunt Beulah and my Grandma Edith made, although they lived across the country from each other. That’s because they were taught the easy baked custard formula of two eggs, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1 cup milk with a little vanilla. With that ratio at hand, you can whip up cup custards, or add leftover rice from the night’s dinner for a pudding. This was back when rice was long grain and plain with a little butter. Nowadays, you might have wild rice, brown rice, red rice, black rice, basmati, jasmine, sushi rice, or sticky rice cooked in coconut milk…but good old white rice—not so much. Leftover rice from take-out Chinese? Maybe. And as long as any of the above are plainly cooked and not seasoned with spices, garlic, and the like, they all make great rice pudding.
I had to cook a fresh batch of for this pudding. I used Arborio, which proves my point about the variety found in today’s kitchen cupboards. A medium-grain rice, it cooks to a tender, creamy consistency that is perfect for desserts because the starches in rice tend to harden when chilled. I didn’t mess around with Beulah/Grandma’s recipe, as this exercise is about nostalgia more than it is about adding vanilla beans, rosewater, or citrus peels. The adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” applies to most family recipes, and this one is no exception.
Oven temperature is an important key to baking custards. If eggs are overheated by high temperatures over 325ºF, they curdle and get watery. Some people use a (messy and potentially dangerous) water bath to hold the baking dish of pudding. This setup is a headache, but it works. The hot water insulates the dish, and you’ll notice you’ll notice that even if the oven temperature is 350ºF, the water does not reach the boiling point of 212ºF. For such a simple homey dessert, I don’t want to fuss with the water bath (also called a bain marie). So, I just cook the pudding at 325ºF, which also effectively works to keep curdling at bay.
And now—a rice pudding recipe that may remind you of your family’s equivalent of Aunt Beulah and Grandma Rodgers’ dessert. (And thank you, Sue, for the eggs!)
Old-Fashioned Rice Pudding
Makes 4 to 6 servings
Softened unsalted butter, for the dish
4 large eggs
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
2 cups whole milk, half-and-half, or 1¾ cups milk and ¼ cup heavy cream
1 cup cooked rice, plain or seasoned with nothing more than butter and/or salt
½ cup seedless raisins
A few pinches of ground cinnamon, for sprinkling
Heavy cream, for serving (optional)
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325ºF. Lightly butter an 8-inch-square baking dish.
2. Whisk the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt together in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk in the milk. Scatter the rice and raisins in the baking dish, and pour in the custard. Sprinkle the cinnamon on top.
3. Bake until the pudding jiggles as a unit when gently shaken and a dinner knife inserted about 1 inch from the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes and serve warm. Or, cool completely, cover with plastic wrap refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours. Serve chilled, with a drizzle of heavy cream on top, if desired.
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