I love rice pudding – immensely! As a small child, I was quite fussy when it came to food and didn’t really eat it then, but I did get through bowlfuls of the stuff when I was in my teens. It got me through GCSEs, A levels, two degrees, heartbreak and hunger pains – especially when I couldn’t be bothered to cook. Unfortunately, I was hopeless at trying to make it myself; my one attempt was a bit of a disaster so I stuck mainly with Ambrosia’s tinned rice pudding. Or Marks and Spencer’s if I wanted to push the boat out! And the shop bought stuff is still as equally delightful as the home made variety.
And then I don’t know why but rice pudding just disappeared from my life! I mean I still indulged in the odd tin of Ambrosia but it wasn’t like before when I really guzzled the stuff. I can’t quite remember what happened to my rice pudding addiction. I can only assume it was because my sweet tooth which is in serious danger of overdosing on sugar was tempted away from this simple and humble pudding by more fanciful desserts. It just didn’t stand a chance in a world of salted caramel and tropical fruit flavours!
It took Les Dennis’ appearance on Celebrity Masterchef to remind me of how much I’d once loved rice pudding. I wondered if it was still as delicious as I remembered it to be. I mentioned it to Hubby who couldn’t remember ever tasting a rice pudding even once. This comes as no surprise as he’s a fussier eater than I ever was!
Only one way to find out. So the next day I took myself off to M&S and bought a large tub of it for myself. Forty minutes after taking it out of the oven, I dug in. It was like nutmeg-laced, creamy heaven on a spoon! It was delicious, warm and comforting… everything a rice pudding should be. They don’t call it comfort food for nothing and it really hit the spot. I wondered why and how I’d gone so long without it. And this classic nursery pud is perfect now that the cold, dark nights of winter are drawing closer.
Everyone remembers rice pudding from their school days. Bland milky slop with a blob of strawberry jam in the middle. the best thing about it was stirring the jam into the rice pudding so that it turned pink. Even then I don’t think I took more than a few mouthfuls before confining the lot to the slop bucket. I’m sure this memory has stayed with many people over the years which explains why it may not be everyone’s favourite. Rice pudding has been around since Victorian times but even then it was considered economical, bland, ordinary fare served to infants and invalids. Another common dislike about rice pudding especially baked rice pudding, is the lovely skin that forms on top. Definitely not a firm favourite with me but I know that for some people, it’s considered to be the best bit.
However, skin or no skin, rice pudding these days is anything but bland and boring and has come a long way. Cooks are very inventive these days when it comes to rice pudding. Different varieties of rice can be used instead of the classic pudding rice. It can be cooked on a hob or baked in the oven. Egg yolks can be added to give it a more custard-like flavour and consistency. And then there are the million and one ways in which you can flavour your rice pudding. The traditionalists may prefer to stick to nutmeg although vanilla seems to be quite common as well. Bay leaves, lemon zest, cinnamon, dried fruit, candied peel and brandy are also becoming quite popular. In fact I came across a recipe which contained brandy-soaked raisins and was then topped with a meringue before being baked. Definitely sounds like my kind of rice pudding! And I absolutely love Les Dennis’ idea of using mascarpone which is something I’d never heard of but it sounds delicious. All these different ways of cooking rice pudding means that no two puddings are the same and should help eradicate the image of gloopy school-dinner rice pudding.
And let’s not forget that rice pudding is virtually universal with so many countries having their own version of this dish. My favourite comes from Malaysia and is known as pulut hitam. It is made using a purple variety of rice. It is flavoured with coconut and a fragrant leaf called pandan. Truly scrumptious. I like the fact that countries around the world are very adventurous with their flavourings using rosewater, saffron, pistachios, ginger, anise and date syrup. It all sounds very exotic and inspiring in giving us new ideas for flavourings.
I’m so glad I’ve become reacquainted with rice pudding. Now as we’re having cold, wet weather, I like nothing more than curling up in front of a telly with a good movie and a bowl of yummy, hot rice pudding. I think it has something of the cornflake factor – you really do forget how great they taste! So here’s a recipe for rice pudding which sounds scrummy: spiced orange rice pudding. With Christmas fast approaching, I thought it sounded very appropriate. Hopefully after trying this you’ll never suffer the trauma of another school dinner nightmare again!
Spiced Orange Rice Pudding
- 150g basmati rice
- 1 litre skimmed milk
- 250ml single cream
- 75g caster sugar
- grated zest and juice of 1 orange
- 2 tbsp. vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 4 cardamom pods, crushed
- You will need a lightly buttered oven-proof dish.
Pre-heat your oven to 160C/gas mark 3.
Pop the milk, cream, caster sugar, orange juice and vanilla into a saucepan and gently bring to the boil over a low heat.
Meanwhile pour the rice into the buttered oven dish along with the nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom and orange zest, fold the spices into the rice.
Pour the hot sweet milky mixture over the rice, cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon after 20 minutes.
Remove the foil and continue to cook for a further 20 minutes until most of the liquid has absorbed into the rice.
Leave to cool slightly and serve with a dollop of your favourite preserve. If you like a crispy skin on your rice pudding you can always pop the pudding under a hot grill with a little dusting of icing sugar until it browns.
Serve with your favourite preserve. Enjoy!