For the last several months I’ve been stuck in dental purgatory — or is it hell? I’m not sure, but wherever I’ve been, it has included a root canal, a serious infection and two oral surgeries along with an untold number of x-rays and a couple of fillings. Getting a tooth pulled and two crown replacements are in the queue. (Believe it or not, I take very good care of my teeth; age, a year of chemotherapy and British genes are the likely culprits.)
Unless you have a crush on the dentist and hope multiple tortuous visits will somehow make the feeling mutual, spending time at the dentist is not high on anyone’s good times list. And while I’m grateful that they’re saving all of my teeth except one sad molar, the amount of time and money this has cost is almost as painful as the procedures. Which brings me to the subject of pudding in general and rice pudding in particular.
Many of us were served puddings and custards made by our doting mothers or grandmothers but my memory bank on this subject is a blank slate. My mother went on a flan spree for a while; my brother and I referred to it as flop. And I vaguely remember her once making baked custard, about which we were even less enthusiastic. But no tapioca, no rice pudding, no Blanc Mange made from a recipe on the back of the cornstarch box or even from a mix. Didn’t she know that’s what mothers do?
I did. I made a killer rice pudding (literally — pure fat and carbs) by making a stove top custard, adding in freshly cooked rice, letting it cool, then adding lots of vanilla and whipped cream. It was pure pleasure and my daughter and her friends adored it, especially when I served it as part of breakfast (I did use brown rice).
Now that I’m older, I still love that version of rice pudding but it also incites an enormous amount of guilt. Cholesterol, fat, calories. The scale teeter-totters back and forth wildly. Pleasure/Guilt — Guilt/Pleasure.
At work a couple of weeks ago I decided to serve Kozy Shack rice pudding. It was a chilly late afternoon and Kozy Shack products were on sale. When I tasted it I was reminded of the coziness (cozy/Kozy — smart branding) of rice and tapioca puddings and that I should make it as my reward for enduring oral surgery. So I did.
However, what should have been a straight-forward just-make-rice-pudding turned into an absurd, angst-driven event. Would it be better to use Basmati rice or Arborio rice? Is it better with a vanilla bean or vanilla paste? Milk or coconut milk? Rice cooked in milk or pre-cooked and added to stove-top custard? Only an idiot or a food professional (that may be an oxymoron) would get this engrossed in something as straight forward as pudding for crying out loud.
Ultimately I used Arborio rice cooked separately and organic milk, whole eggs , agave and vanilla paste made into a thin custard. It was very good but I made way too much rice. To “thin it,” I broke down and whipped cream. Delicious, of course, but back on the teeter-totter. Also, I used vanilla paste, which gave it a lovely flavor but turned it a dismal shade of grey. The whipped cream helped some but not enough. It didn’t look even remotely like the perky Kozy Shack rice pudding. But then, Kozy Shack doesn’t use pure vanilla — they use “natural flavors,” which means vanillin from paper pulp or rice bran extract.
I decided to try a different recipe, this time using coconut milk, which is really good as long as you like coconut, which I do. I used Arborio rice again, which I cooked in the coconut milk, and used a vanilla bean, a cinnamon stick and agave for sweetening. I cut way back on the rice and ended up with a soupy finish, so I cooked more rice and tossed it in.
Overall, it was good though I’d use half coconut milk and half dairy as it was a little too much coconut. I also missed the custard texture. The vanilla bean and cinnamon were lovely but didn’t impart quite enough flavor. I added a little extract and Ceylon cinnamon.
My third attempt was the charm; just the way I wanted it. I cooked the Arborio rice separately in water. I made a stovetop custard with an extra egg yolk, which made it thicker and gave it a nice healthy custard color. I used vanilla sugar and added a touch of extract at the end. When I added the rice the end result was a perfect balance of custard-to-rice. There was no need for whipped cream. And, oddly enough, it was like Kozy Shack but much, much tastier. Here’s the final recipe.
You can use part or all coconut milk if you like. If you do, I strongly recommend Native Forest brand as it’s not only superior in quality, it has a BPA-free lining, especially important with coconut milk.
Hopefully you won’t wait to make this until you have oral surgery or your appendix removed. It’s a guilty pleasure that should be enjoyed just like chocolate. However, if you do wait, I can assure you that you will feel much, much better.