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I came from a family that liked puddings and, to this day, so do I.
I have mentioned that my mother was not much for cooking, whether savory or sweet. By the time I knew what food was all about, I wasn’t much of an eater, either. Before I was ready for kindergarten, my mother was working in our family’s store six days a week. I went home for lunch every day and our housekeeper, whom I adored, made my lunch. This was in middle school, which we called junior high. Except for a very exciting trip with my father to the Automat, I had never been to a cafeteria until high school. We had dinner every single night and ate together in the dining room. By that time, my father had an ulcer, so our dinner was plain—beef, chicken, lamb, potatoes, and canned vegetables. I found dinner boring and often asked for a Hebrew National bologna sandwich instead.
I don’t remember having dessert, unless it was Jell-O or pudding. To this day, I can’t look at Jell-O, but pudding, plural, are still my favorite. Foodie friends of mine call it nursery food, but I disagree. After all, flan, crème caramel, crème brulee, parfaits, and trifles are, to me, puddings.
I still have a copy of the Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts, and there are nearly two dozen pudding recipes in it. I lived in Ithaca, New York, for some years, but left before Moosewood Collective opened its mostly vegetarian restaurant and the group began to write incredible cookbooks. If you can get a copy of this book, all these recipes are wonderful. This pudding is one of my favorites.
Lee White of Old Lyme has been a food editor and restaurant reviewer for more than 25 years. You can email her at email@example.com.
Creamy Rice Pudding
From the Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts (Clarkson Potter, New York, 1997)
Yield: serves 6 to 8
½ cup white Basmati rice
8 cups milk (2 percent is fine)
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
3 cinnamon sticks
1 cup raisins or currants (or any chopped dried fruit, instead)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
½ teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a baking dish.
In the prepared baking dish, stir together the rice, milk, sugar, salt, and cinnamon sticks. Place the dish in the oven and bake for 1 ½ hours, stirring every 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the raisins or currants, vanilla, and spices (see Note) and set aside. When the rice has baked for 90 minutes, remove it from the oven and stir in the raisins mixture.
Return the pudding to the oven and bake for 30 minutes more. Don’t be tempted to bake it longer even if it still looks slightly soupy. The rice will continue to absorb the milk and will produce a much thicker pudding upon cooling. Remove from the oven and let cool at room temperature for at least an hour, stirring occasionally to speed the cooling process.
Serve warm or chilled. Store covered and refrigerated. I love the pudding with a puddle of chocolate syrup.
Note: If you choose not to add any spices except cinnamon, 1 or 2 teaspoons of freshly grated lemon or orange peel will add a lovely fragrant touch.
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