Food and Drink

An old-school classic, and a versatile canvas: Here’s how to reach rice pudding nirvana

Old-school rice pudding, dotted with raisins (or not) and a dash of cinnamon, is easy enough to make by following just a few simple guidelines re: rice shape, dairy, and tempering the egg. Longer grain rice varieties, such as jasmine and basmati, while very fragrant, create a looser pudding. Generally, the shorter the grain, the more starch is released, which helps thicken and create a creamy pudding, so seek out varieties such as risotto rice, i.e. Arborio and carnaroli. Brown rice requires more liquid, so note that this recipe calls for a ratio of short grain white rice to liquid.

As to the milk, whole or any dairy with higher fat content is best for a creamy texture. Nut milk is an option, although be careful of coconut, which can tend to overpower other flavors. Dress it up (with fresh fruit and/or a sprinkle of sugar before hitting it with a kitchen torch for a creme brulee-style version) or down (use just a grating of fresh nutmeg and some cinnamon). A tumble of fresh, seasonal fruit pairs well. Or, make a quick compote of fresh rhubarb to add brightness and color; any leftovers jazz up yogurt, pancakes, duck and pork. Serve warm or chilled. For summer gatherings, make individual servings with a selection of fresh and dried fruit, spices and nuts, and let everyone create their own rice pudding nirvana. — Kim Sunée

Rice pudding

Makes 4 servings

3 1/2 cups whole milk (see note above)

1/2 cup short-grain white rice, such as Arborio or sushi rice

Pinch salt

Pinch saffron threads (optional)


1 large egg, whisked

1/4 cup brown sugar, preferably dark

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Golden raisins (optional)

For the rhubarb-apricot compote: In a medium saucepan, combined 1 pound total chopped fruit (rhubarb plus chopped apricot, peaches or raspberries); 1/3 cup sugar; 1/2 of a vanilla bean, split and scraped (or add vanilla extract at end); and 3 tablespoons water. Allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes or until rhubarb starts to break down and is tender but not completely pureed. Allow to cool before serving. Compote can be made ahead and stored, in an airtight container, in the fridge up to five days.

Note: The whisked egg at the end yields a creamy, silky texture and is worth the minimal effort, but this can be made sans egg as well; just reduce the amount of milk by 1/4 cup and add more, as needed, once the pudding begins to cool and thicken.

• In a medium heavy-bottomed pot, add milk, rice, salt and saffron, if using. Bring to a low boil over medium-high heat; lower heat and let simmer, partially covered, stirring frequently to prevent rice from sticking to bottom of pot, until rice is tender, 20-25 minutes.

• Combine egg and brown sugar in a small heat-proof bowl, and whisk lightly to combine. Important: Carefully measure out 1/2 cup of hot cooked rice and milk mixture and very slowly add, about 1 tablespoon at a time, to the brown sugar-egg mixture, whisking vigorously. Add egg-rice-milk mixture back into pot of rice and stir; turn heat to very low and stir just until thickened — about 1 minute. An instant-read thermometer will read 160 degrees when ready. Note: Be careful not to bring mixture to a boil at this point, or it will curdle and you’ll have breakfast rice instead. Stir in raisins, cinnamon, vanilla and other preferred flavorings. Remove pot from heat. The pudding will continue to thicken as it cools. Serve warm or chilled (it will be much thicker once chilled) with rhubarb-apricot compote, if desired.

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Kim Sunée

Kim Sunée is a bestselling author ("Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home," "A Mouthful of Stars," "Everyday Korean: Fresh, Modern Recipes for Home Cooks") and a former magazine food editor. She's based in Anchorage. For more food and travel, visit