Truly great rice pudding is as creamy as can be, which is why so many recipes turn to whole milk, half-and-half, or heavy cream. Non-dairy versions often use coconut milk or cream—but this recipe takes another route: homemade rice milk. If this sounds fussy to you, it’s anything but. Just add raw rice to a blender, pulse it until floury, pour hot water on top, and wait. Blending this mixture with brown sugar (which has a caramelier flavor than its granulated counterpart) yields the dreamiest liquid for the creamiest rice pudding. As the rice milk cooks with cooked rice (using cooked rice gives you more control and flexibility, compared to cooking raw rice in a creamy liquid), the starchy rice milk thickens in a matter of minutes. A few notes about the ingredients: You can use short- or medium-grain rice, but I liked long-grain best. The decision to use brown rice isn’t about nutrition (though the fact that it’s a whole grain is a nice bonus)—it’s about flavor. Since one of the two ingredients in this rice pudding is rice, using a less processed variety goes a long way in adding complex, nutty flavor. And if you already have leftover rice in the fridge, great. Instead of cooking the rice from scratch, as directed below in step one, just swap in 2 cups cooked rice. When it comes to toppings, you could skip them altogether, or you could go wild: golden raisins, dried dates, fresh citrus, roasted walnuts, salted pistachios, ground cinnamon, honey, maple syrup, oh, I could go on forever. —Emma Laperruque
Cook the rice: Combine the ⅔ cup rice and 1 ½ cups water in a medium saucepan. Stir to combine and set over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, cover with a lid, then reduce the heat to low. Cook for about 40 minutes, or until all the water is gone and the rice is tender. Fluff with a fork and let cool uncovered. You can also refrigerate the rice in an airtight container until you’re ready to make the pudding.
Make the sweetened rice milk: Add the ¼ cup rice to a blender. Blend until finely processed, almost like cornmeal. Add the hot water and stir. Cover with the lid, but leave the keyhole open so steam can escape. Let the rice soak for at least 2 hours or up to 4 hours. Now add the brown sugar and salt, and blend on high until as smooth as possible. You should end up with about 2 ½ cups sweetened rice milk. (Psst: As it sits, it will naturally separate. Just blend again for a second or two, or stir vigorously, to bring it back together as needed.)
Add 2 cups of sweetened rice milk to the medium saucepan with the cooked rice. (If you want a looser rice pudding, you can add the extra rice milk toward the end, after it thickens up.) Set the saucepan over medium-low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for 7 to 9 minutes, until the liquid is simmering and rice milk is thick and creamy. Taste carefully (it will be very hot!) and adjust the sugar and salt to taste. Add the extra milk if you want a looser pudding (or reserve if you want to refrigerate any leftovers and reheat later on). This is best hot or warm.
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.