I used to live in Florence, Italy, where every morning I looked forward to getting up and going to my favorite pasticceria to have a little budino di riso for breakfast. Budino di riso, or rice pudding, is what everyone in Florence calls it, but it is actually a dense little oval cake with powdered sugar on top, that when still warm from the oven, reveals a deliciously moist rice pudding center. It became such a love of mine that to this day whenever I go to Florence the first thing I must do when I arrive in the city is have a budino di riso.
Missing my little budino, one day I decided to try and make one back here in the U.S. I scoured cookbooks in English and Italian for recipes, even going back to an Italian copy of the famous 19th century cookbook by Artusi, The Science of Cooking and The Art of Eating Well. But the only thing I could find was the popular torta di riso or crostata di riso, which is more of a simple pastry shell with rice pudding in the center. There seemed to be no "official" recipe for this treat.
I turned to the Internet. It seemed my little obsession was also shared by many Italians, for whom the recipe also proved to be just as elusive. This idiosyncratic oval budino seemed to be a lost art, giving way to the fast-paced, flat and round world of the crostata. I found chat rooms of desperate appeals, failed attempts, and heated debate. Getting the cake "crust" right was a quandary, as was the consistency of the rice pudding. Do you cook the rice first and then add the other ingredients? Or do you do it all at once? Do you add pastry cream? There were several schools of thought. And no one could find those little oval molds.
I finally landed on a creative exchange between Evellino (in Turin), Titty (in Naples), Candy (in Pisa) and Evellino's mom in Florence who served as the judge. Here is my take, with meyer lemon, cardamom and anisette replacing the vanilla bean and rum liqueur flavoring found in those recipes. In the best tradition of Italian cooking, where the "official" recipes are passed on from friend to friend, and mother to daughter, I pass this on to you. —trufflesnyc
1 1/4 cups
flour (Italian 00)
rice (might as well go all the way and find Italian "originario" short grain rice for this)
grated meyer (if available) lemon peel
meyer (if available) lemon peel
In This Recipe
Combine the butter with the sugar, then add the egg yolks and flour. Work into a dough that barely holds together, adding a bit more butter if necessary.
Wrap in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Cook the rice: Bring 1 1/2 cups of the milk to a boil with the cardamom pods. Add the rice, 1/4 cup of the sugar, butter and salt. Simmer for 30-40 minutes until almost all of the milk is absorbed and the rice is soft but slightly toothy. Take it off the heat, remove the cardamom pods, and add the grated meyer lemon peel and anisette liqueur.
Make the pasty cream while the rice is cooking. In a separate pan, bring the remaining 1 1/2 cups of milk to a boil with the whole meyer lemon peel, then take it off the heat and let it rest for 10 minutes. Remove the peel. In another bowl, mix the flour, remaining 1/2 cup of sugar, and egg until smooth. Add some warm milk from the pan into the bowl to liquefy it a bit further and mix. Reheat the milk in the pan at a low heat, and while mixing, slowly add the contents of the bowl. Continue to keep it on heat, mixing gently to avoid clumps forming, until it thickens to a cream the consistency of yogurt. Take it off the heat and let cool.
Add the pastry cream to the rice until well combined. (try not to eat this by itself!)
Remove the cake crust from the refrigerator. With a rolling pin, roll the dough flat to a thickness of 1-2 mm.
Take a small muffin pan of 3" diameter. (I found a silicone small rectangular mold that also works well). Line the molds with the cake crust. The dough is delicate to work with so do the best you can, fudge if you need to. It's ok if it's not perfect as it will settle once baking. Once in the mold, puncture the dough with a fork a few times.
Fill the molds to the top with the rice pudding/cream filling. Bake in the oven at 375 degrees F for 25-35 minutes, or until the cake crust starts to turn golden.
Remove the molds from the oven. When they have cooled down, remove the "budini" from the molds and serve warm or at room temperature with some powdered sugar sprinkled on top. I try and save mine for the morning after, for breakfast.