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The first time I invited friends over for an authentic, ambitious Turkish dinner, I set my roommate’s potholders on fire. I made a hummus that was far too tahini-rich, and had to use a knife instead of a corkscrew to pry open a bottle of wine that someone had brought over. Moreover, my beef kofte fell apart upon contact with the frying pan, and I learned that I had used the wrong setting on my food processor to grind up carrots for the yogurt mezze dish I wanted to make. (My friends were polite enough to actually eat everything, emphasizing lesson number one of novice dinner party hosing: Have hungry friends.)
The single silver lining of the night, however, was this rose-infused rice pudding. (In Turkish, we call this sutlac.) Almost every pastane (bakery) will display sutlac in its vitrines, and I think it’s safe to call it a dessert that all Turks feel some kind of affinity towards. Real pros like my mother and grandmother usually take the recipe I used a step further and turn it into firinda sutlac, which literally translates to “rice pudding in the oven.” Think of this as the lovechild of a perfectly torched crème brûlée and rice pudding. The crispy top is achieved by placing the pudding ramekins in a tray filled with a few inches of cold water, which is then placed in an oven and baked. In winter months, it’s especially satisfying to take the baking route, but in the summer—when turning on the oven feels especially oppressive—I’d recommend taking my no-bake approach.
Many Turkish grocery stores sell rice pudding mixes that eliminate the trickier steps, and take considerably less time than making the pudding from scratch. Of course, those options are considerably less tasty than this recipe, and won’t give you the same bragging rights. You choose.
The best way to describe this pudding is to think of all the comforts of a really good bowl of white rice, doused in vanilla, sugar, and milk—plus rose flavoring, which gives the traditionally white pudding a pinkish tint. (You can tell if you’ve gone overboard with the rose if things start to turn purple.) Edible flowers also make for a beautiful topping, instead of or in addition to cinnamon.
I went to an Armenian grocery store to pick up a glass bottle of rose water that was specifically marked for baking and cooking. (Read: Do not use the cosmetic rosewater toners available at Whole Foods, as those are mixed with witch hazel.) You’ll likely have luck at many Middle Eastern grocery stores. Also, If you don’t have short grain rice, regular jasmine will work in a pinch, but it does impact the texture and cook time, so pay attention to the rice's cooking instructions (and taste as you go!). This recipe doesn’t have a ton of ingredients, but it does require constant vigilance with a wooden spoon—otherwise, you’ll risk the mixture clumping up at various stages, instead of turning into a smooth pudding.
- 1 3/4 cups water
- 7 tablespoons uncooked short-grain rice
- 1 quart milk
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup rice flour
- 2 tablespoons rosewater
- Cinnamon, to taste
Any dinner party hits? (Or misses?) Let us know in the comments!