My mother hated rice pudding. As a young teenager, she was evacuated during the war from a bombed-out Birmingham to the relative peace of the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. The family who took her in had their own cow, so there was plenty of milk, and a good cheap way to fill up young stomachs during war-time rationing was with rice pudding (it still amazes me how a tiny amount of rice can end up filling an entire pudding dish, thanks to all the milk!). But my mother couldn’t stand rice pudding. Apparently it was served up several times a week, and she was made to eat the thick brown skin – which she hated – and to add insult to injury, the oldest son would scrape the enamel pan with a metal spoon, making an ear-screeching noise, in order to get the last spoonfuls.
As a result, we rarely ever had rice pudding as children, but if my mother did make it, the stories of her time as an evacuee would be told and re-told over the supper table. Happily, she was later re-housed with a lovely family in another village nearby, and she remained in contact with them for over forty years. For her – a city child from a council house and with a somewhat unloving family – her days in the Forest were amongst the happiest of her childhood.
“Growing up a few years earlier than Fiona, rice pudding was a staple dessert in our Essex household. My grandmother having never quite adjusted to eggs being freely and cheaply available after the war, wasn’t going to waste them on a children’s pudding. But it was always being made with ‘gold top’ full fat milk, as the milk was from Guernsey cows, my father’s home island. The rich brown crust was considered a delicacy to be fought over, as was scraping the crusty remains from the earthenware bowl afterwards.” – Judi
Unlike my mother, I have always loved rice pudding, and when I left home to go to Oxford University, I made do with that great staple of British pantries – Ambrosia Creamed Rice. It became my comfort food, eaten hot or cold and, sometimes, with a splodge of raspberry jam if my student budget allowed it. It got me through the ups and downs of boyfriends, the stress of studying for exams and, most memorably, helped me survive a very dismal 21st birthday, spent all on my own in a damp basement flat (it’s a long story – don’t ask). To celebrate I bought myself two cans of Ambrosia creamed rice pudding!
Years later, when I became fascinated with the history of British food and cooking, I treated myself to a facsimile edition of Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery for Private Families, first printed in 1845, and I discovered her recipe which involved adding eggs along with cream – resulting in a wonderfully rich pudding.
There are hundreds of variations on rice pudding recipes, and many different methods. Some, like the Danish version, risengrod, are cooked on the hob and use water to fluff up the rice first; other versions leave out the eggs and cream; and there is a host of variations on the spices and flavourings – nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, sultanas, almonds, lemon zest, orange zest, sherry, brandy, rum… ad infinitum. There’s even a cold version, given to me by a Norwegian friend, where you cook it on the hob and froth it up with whisked egg white at the last moment before chilling – a recipe I used in Spain when I had no oven.
My own version is probably an amalgam of all the recipes I have tried, but with constant variations, depending on my mood and the available ingredients.
A Rich Rice Pudding, serves 6, preparation time, 30 minutes (plus a bit at the end), cooking time 2 hours.
100 grams round pudding rice
100 grams caster sugar
50 grams butter (plus extra to grease the dish)
1 litre full cream milk (I had to use semi-skimmed so compensated with cream)
3 eggs, separated
150 ml double cream (plus extra to serve with)
¼ tsp cinnamon
Freshly ground nutmeg (to taste)
½ vanilla pod, cut open
2 bay leaves
Preheat the oven to 140C and grease a flameproof pie dish (1 litre capacity).
In a non-stick pan, melt the butter, then add the rice and gently stir until it’s coated. Now pour in all the milk and heat up, stirring frequently to avoid the rice sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, bay leaves, and vanilla pod, and when the milk is fairly warm, stir in the sugar. Slowly bring this all to a simmer, stirring occasionally. In the meantime, separate the eggs, putting the yolks in a small bowl, and the whites in a large bowl – and in the fridge to chill.
Just before the milk/rice mixture starts to simmer, take a ladle-full of hot milk and mix with the yolks (this makes it easier to add the egg yolks to the pan). Now stir the egg mixture into the pudding and bring to the simmer, stir for a few more minutes and then pour into the dish.
Bake the pudding in the oven for about 1 hour. Now remove the pudding from the oven, and with a metal tablespoon, stir the crust of the pudding into the mix before adding half the cream. Then whisk the chilled egg whites – I use a balloon whisk and aim for a creamy frothy mix rather than a stiff meringue-type mix. Fold in the frothy egg whites with the metal spoon, making sure the whites are fully mixed in. Reduce the oven temperature to 130C and put back in the oven for a further 15 minutes.
Almost there! This time, take it out of the oven one more time, mix in the last of the cream, and this time add a final sprinkling of nutmeg and a fine sprinkling of caster sugar onto the surface. Return to the oven for the last 15 minutes.
“As to why I ‘stir in’ twice, if you add the egg yolks and the whites separately, there is a risk they will separate out and form a ‘custard’ on the surface with a denser rice mixture beneath. I promise it’s worth the extra effort!” Fiona
Depending on your oven, if you want a slightly more golden crust, you can put it under the grill for a few minutes. I prefer this approach as it keeps the pudding creamier than if you raise the temperature.
Leave it to cool for at least 15 minutes before serving – with more cream.