Mark Bittman: Rice Pudding in the Oven



By Alaina Sullivan

Patience is a virtue with oven-cooked rice pudding. It takes some time for the rice and milk to warm up to each other, but when they finally do, the wait is rewarded. The foundation of rice pudding is incredibly simple -- rice, milk and sugar. From there, the possibilities are basically limitless. I tested three versions using three different grains and three different milks: 1) Brown basmati rice and almond milk, with lemon zest, honey and crushed almonds (I particularly like the brightness of the zest here); 2) Arborio rice and rice milk, with coconut flakes and vanilla (exotic, rich, and very sweet); 3) Brown jasmine and regular cow's milk, with nutmeg, cinnamon, and pistachios (warmly spiced with a more subtle sweetness).

The arborio version achieved the creamiest consistency, while the brown rice delivered a coarser-textured pudding with a nuttier fragrance. Brown rice takes longer to cook than white, but if you want to speed up the process and make the pudding creamier, pulse the brown grains in a food processor a few times before cooking. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

Rice Pudding in the Oven

The term comfort food is overused. But not here: There is nothing more soothing.

Time: About 2 hours, mostly unattended

Makes: At least 4 servings

1/3 cup any white rice

1/2 cup sugar

Pinch salt

4 cups milk

1. Heat the oven to 300°F. Combine the rice, sugar, salt, and milk in a large gratin dish that holds at least 6 cups. Stir a couple of times and put it in the oven, uncovered. Bake for 30 minutes, then stir. Bake for 30 minutes longer, then stir again; at this point the rice might be swelling up and the milk should begin to develop a bubbly skin (if so, stir it back into the mixture).

2. Cook until the rice plumps and starts to become a more noticeable part of the mixture and the skin becomes more visible and darker, about 30 minutes more. Now the pudding is getting close to done, so check on it every 10 minutes, stirring each time (it should reach the right texture in 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the kind of rice you used).

3. The pudding will be done before you think it's done. The rice should be really swollen and the milk thickened considerably but still pretty fluid (it will thicken more as it cools). Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.

Tips:

You've got to use white rice in this recipe, but you have some choices: Long-grain aromatic rice (like basmati or jasmine) will deliver the most delicate texture and fragrance. Short- or medium-grain white rice (like Arborio) will be more thick and chewy. Supermarket long-grain rices will be somewhere in between.

Variations:

5 Ways to Change the Flavor:

1. Substitute coconut, soy, rice, or nut milk for the milk.

2. Stir in a piece or two of whole spice (cinnamon sticks, cloves, or nutmeg) at the beginning of cooking.

3. Stir in a teaspoon of grated citrus zest at the beginning of cooking.

4. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract after cooking.

5. Add up to 1/2 cup chopped toasted nuts right before serving.

In How to Cook Everything: The Basics Mark Bittman reveals how truly easy it is to learn fundamental techniques and recipes. From dicing vegetables and roasting meat, to cooking building-block meals that include salads, soups, poultry, meats, fish, sides, and desserts, Bittman explains what every home cook, particularly novices, should know.