Big Little Recipes

Creamy, Comforting Rice Pudding That Just Happens to Be Dairy-Free

December 17, 2019

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst—we don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we're making rice pudding with two pantry staples.

Photo by Bobbi Lin. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog.

There’s a lot to disagree about when it comes to rice pudding. Short-grain or long? Raisins or nah? Baked or stovetop? Super sweet or barely so? Any spices? And what about eggs? I bet you and I have a different answer or three.

Luckily, there’s something we can all agree on: Rice pudding should be creamy. Otherwise, what’s the point?

This creaminess can come from many places—but the default is dairy. In The Joy of Cooking (did you know there’s a brand-new edition for the first time over a decade?), the main recipe calls for whole milk, though the authors note that “you may substitute soy, almond, cashew, or beverage-style coconut milk for the dairy milk.” Similarly, in How to Cook Everything, the recipe also calls for milk, but the headnote says you can “use coconut, hazelnut, or almond milk instead of cow’s milk for a nice twist.”

Photo by Bobbi Lin. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog.

This Big Little Recipe doesn’t use dairy milk (or half-and-half or cream). Nor does it use any of the options above: soy, almond, cashew, coconut, or hazelnut milk. Instead, it uses rice milk—and homemade rice milk at that.

Stay with me.

Maybe you’re thinking this sounds fussy? It’s not. If you can make a smoothie—and hi, hello, you can make a smoothie—then you can make rice milk. You toss rice in a blender, pulse it to pieces, add hot water, let it hang out, then blend until smooth. At this point, you sweeten with brown sugar (which has a caramelier vibe than granulated) and perk things up with salt.

There are a lot of benefits here: First, we eliminated a perishable ingredient (store-bought milk), and now the whole list comes from your pantry. If you have rice and sugar, which I always do, then you can have rice pudding whenever the heck you want.

Second, we amplified the rice flavor, like hitting the volume button up, up, up, up on your computer until you’re chair-dancing at your desk and you don’t care what people think because this is such a great song! Like that. Because this is the riciest rice pudding out there.

Finally, we nailed a silky, creamy consistency to rival the silkiest, creamiest risotto. As you cook the rice milk, its starches thicken, taking its texture from thin and drinkable to plush and spoonable, like custard.

Now, a couple notes about the rice itself: I love using brown. It’s what I keep in my kitchen and not just because it’s a whole-grain (though that’s nice, too). It’s because brown rice has more flavor, period—and in a dessert especially, that earns us a lot.

You’ll also notice that we’re combining already cooked rice with the rice milk, versus cooking the rice in the rice milk. This is a game-changing trick I learned from Hillary Reeves’ rice pudding guide. According to her, “The key to good rice pudding is cooked rice.” It puts you in the driver’s seat when it comes to cooking. Instead of trying to coordinate the rice’s tenderness with the rice milk’s thickness, as soon as the rice milk is just right, you’re good to go.

What to top this with depends on the season or night or mood. Maybe you want lots of juicy citrus and honey. Or dried dates and tahini. Or chocolate chunks and maple syrup. Or nothing at all. You tell me.

Do you know a recipe with a little ingredient list and big impact? Emma is always on the hunt for bright ideas, nifty tricks, and then some. Do share in the comments below.
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  • Savory
  • Emma Laperruque
    Emma Laperruque
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Savory December 26, 2019
Grinding raw rice in a blender is genius. Vastly easier than cooking rice in milk for hours, which was how I'd always made rice pudding, and was why I only made it on special occasions.

I've made it richer/creamier by heating the ground brown rice in milk instead of water, stirring till it reaches boiling, then covering. That works as long as I don't have a vegan guest. I also add more milk to the whole rice and cook it till the rice is softer than usual for a side dish.

Everyone has their own seasoning preferences: mine is for cinnamon and cardamon with the zest of a lemon.
Emma L. December 28, 2019
Thanks! Cinnamon, cardamom, and lemon sounds wonderful.