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There are a few foods that I’m convinced will never be Instagram-worthy. In fact, I’ll posit that there’s an inverse relationship between how good something tastes and how tricky it is to photograph. One such food: the humble, lumpy, beige rice pudding.
That said, it doesn’t really matter: Served with any variety of toppings and mix-ins, rice pudding is an uncomplicated snack you want nearby.
To start, you need cooked rice:
The key to good rice pudding is cooked rice. Any kind of rice will work. Some folks swear by long grain rice, while others insist you need something like Arborio, which will yield a risotto-like creaminess. Each will mean different textures. I say, use whatever you have in the pantry or fridge. You can use leftover rice from dinner, or you can begin your rice pudding process by cooking rice according to the package directions. If you’re using the rice from last night’s Chinese takeout, reheat rice in a few tablespoons of water in a medium saucepan. By using already cooked rice, you can ensure that the grains are tender. And it frees you up to focus on the flavors. You could also use other grains, like quinoa or barley, to make “rice” pudding.
Then, add something creamy.
With your cooked rice in a medium pot, add more liquid, ideally something creamy and rich. I like to use a combination of half-and-half and whole milk, but you can substitute any kind of milk you like—1%, soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, or any combo you’d like. Pour in enough so that your rice is completely covered—and then some. More liquid means a looser pudding, so add quite a bit more if that’s what you’re after. (And if you don’t know what kind of rice pudding you like, you can always add in more milk later if it’s thicker than you decide you want.)
Bring the rice and milk mixture to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Toss in a pinch of salt while you’re at it. Give it a stir now and then and make sure nothing’s sticking to the bottom of your pan.
Add your sweet and your first round of flavorings.
Moving forward, everything is up to your preference! Cook your pudding at a simmer as you add in some sweetener, to taste, and stir to combine. You can use white sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, chocolate sauce, or whatever sweetener you might have on-hand. You can also stir in flavorings as you wish. A splash of vanilla extract is pretty standard, but a splash of rum could work just as nicely.
Cook the mixture.
Continue to cook until you reach your desired pudding consistency. Add in more milk if you want to loosen the mixture. I like to temper an egg and add that to my pot to get a pudding with some added richness.
Once you feel like you’re close to done with cooking your pudding (you’ll probably be stirring and keeping an eye on it for about 20 minutes), decide on final mix-ins and add those while the mixture is still warm. Go crazy; anything from dried fruits, citrus rind, spices (cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, ginger), chocolate pieces, coconut flakes, chopped nuts, and/or a big spoonful or two of Nutella will taste great. Fresh fruits can work too: a mashed banana or fresh berries taste great as long as it’s eaten sooner rather than later. For a firmer fruit, like apples, perhaps soften chopped fruit over medium heat with some butter and brown sugar. Play with what you can dig out of your pantry and fridge. I’ve made a tasty matcha rice pudding and other times have steeped some spare herbal tea bags in the milk as I cook mine.
And if you do snap a pic of your final product before it’s all gone that’s Instagram-worthy, you know I want to see it.
Photos by Bobbi Lin, James Ransom, and fiveandspice.