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April 20, 2015

Raisin rice pudding

Davros: ”We shall become all p...”
The Doctor (interrupting): ”Powerful! Crush the lesser races! Conquer the galaxy! Unimaginable power! Unlimited rice pudding!”
Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks (Part IV)

A recent houseguest, upon hearing we were having rice pudding for dessert, informed me that his father, and his father's father before him, were proprietors of an extremely successful Greek diner in New York City; as such he believed himself to be somewhat of a expert on the dish. Upon tasting this pudding, he sat for several minutes in meditative silence, looked me in the eye and said, ”I don't understand - this has so much flavor! How is it possible for rice pudding to have so much flavor?”

Rice pudding, while firmly established as an indulgent treat in the desserts category, is surprisingly healthy. A generous serving has less than one glass of whole milk and a just a few teaspoons of rice and sugar. The pudding's luscious, creamy texture results not from butter or cream but rather from amylopectin, one of the two components of starch (the other is amylose). As the rice cooks, it absorbs the milk, each grain increasing in size several times. At the same time, the grains release starch that acts as a thickening agent. To achieve the correct texture, it is important to select the right rice.

This recipe calls for short-grain rice, which has a very high amylopectin content. Short-grain is a classification, not a specific variety; Arborio (or any generic risotto) rice or sushi rice would work well. There is no need to look for a specific brand - the required rice grain, under any name, should be a stubby oval instead of a long, thin grain. Medium-grain rice (indeed, some classify risotto rices as medium rather than short-grain) could be used as well - its lower amylopectin content will simply produce a softer and more relaxed pudding.

Look for rice with grains similar to those on the left (on the right is Basmati rice, a long-grain variety, for comparison). Rather than paying a premium for fancy risotto rice, look for the right rice in a Middle Eastern grocery - rice pudding is a popular dish throughout the region, and the prices tend to be more than reasonable.

Raisin rice pudding
Inspired by the baked rice pudding from Marion Cunningham's The Breakfast Book.

              2-3 Servings               4-6 Servings
  • 2½ Cups whole milk
  • 2 Tablespoons short-grain rice
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ vanilla bean
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 3 Tablespoons raisins
  • 5 Cups whole milk
  • 4 Tablespoons (¼ Cup) short-grain rice
  • 6 Tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 5-6 cardamom pods
  • 1-2 cinnamon sticks
  • ½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 6 Tablespoons raisins
Preheat the oven to 150°C / 300°F.
N.B. If using a convection oven, reduce the temperature to 135°C/275°F.

Cut the vanilla bean 1 in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with the back of the knife blade.

Place vanilla seeds and empty pod into an oven-safe, heavy-bottomed dish, add all the remaining ingredients except raisins and stir well.

N. B. This recipe works equally well with coconut milk, diluted with water in a 1:1 ratio.

Cover and bake, stirring after the initial 20, 40 and 60 minutes. After a total of 2½ to 3 hours for the smaller batch (3½ - 4 hours for the larger one), remove from the oven, stir in the raisins, cover again and let rest for at least 15 minutes. The moisture and heat from the pudding will plump and soften the raisins.
N.B. The total cooking time needed will vary depending on the baking vessel. A wide, shallow dish promotes evaporation, and the pudding will reach the right consistency faster than if cooked in a narrow, tall pot.

The result is dense and rich, heady with bold, exotic flavors of cardamom and cinnamon. For a gentler, more mellow flavor, omit all spices except the nutmeg. For a softer texture, thin the pudding with some warm milk before serving or use a medium-grain rice such as Calrose. Adjust the sugar level to your liking, increase the amount of raisins or leave them out entirely.

The pudding should keep in the refrigerator for up to five days; it never seems to last more than two.

1 A quick note on vanilla beans. Purchasing vanilla beans at the last minute in the local supermarket tends to be expensive and often offers only a solitary, dessicated bean. As a sporadic baker, I do not use a lot of vanilla beans, although I do buy them in bulk when a good price/quality ratio is on offer. Theoretically, high-quality vanilla will keep almost indefinitely in a cool, dark place; however, even when properly stored the beans do tend to dry out over time. Macerating the beans in alcohol keeps them plump and has the added benefit of producing an excellent vanilla extract, something even a casual baker will find useful.

Start with a clean, resealable, watertight container; add vanilla beans, and enough good quality vodka (nothing that comes in a one-gallon plastic jug, please) to completely submerge the beans. Minimum recommended ratio is 5-6 vanilla beans for every 1 Cup/250ml of alcohol (at least 70 proof). Seal the container and leave in a cool, dark place. Shake occasionally; after 4-6 weeks the extract will be ready for use. As the liquid level drops, top off with more vodka and add vanilla beans as they are purchased. When a recipe calls for a vanilla bean rather than extract, pull one out of the jar and cut off the end - the seeds will pour out, no scraping necessary.


  1. Looks Yummy. And I think I remember your recommending vanilla beans (in a lovely glass tube) at La Grande Epicerie in Paris. Laura

  2. I actually get them at G. Detou, the professional baking shop near Les Halles - 7 euros for 8 beans!