Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Vanilla Rice Pudding with Raspberry Sauce

[ Rice pudding with raspberry sauce. ]

Christmas may be over, but I just have to share the recipe for a creamy, vanilla-infused, raspberry-topped dessert that my family eats every Christmas Eve. I promise it will still be just as good at your New Year's Eve dinner party tomorrow... or even another special night in the new year that calls for an out-of-the-ordinary treat. Because I understand if you just can't cook another. single. thing. But you're going to want to give this light-but-decadent dish a try eventually, if just for the raspberry sauce. (Light and decadent, you ask? How is that possible? I'm not sure, but it is certainly true with this airy and rich rice pudding.)

As evidenced by my (naturally) blonde (usually) hair, blue eyes and ultra pale skin, I am half-Danish, on my mother's side, and many of the holiday traditions I grew up with stem from those Scandinavian branches of the family tree. One tradition I have come to hold dear is having rice pudding for dessert on Christmas. Which is funny, because I actually didn't like it much as a kid. I only would eat it (or pretend to eat it) to play the game. Dessert with a game? Oh yeah. We Danes know how to party.

See, in Denmark, where the dessert is called Risalamande (French for rice with almonds), a whole blanched almond is dropped into the rice pudding and mixed in before the dessert is portioned out. Whoever finds the almond in their bowl wins a prize. In Denmark, the "almond present" is a marzipan pig but in my family the prize has always been chocolate, in one form or another. It's a fun game but we Danes, adults and kids alike, can get competitive (if memories from my childhood are correct). And if the almond splitswatch out! You might have two people fighting over the present.

[ Individual rice puddings, a chocolate snowman prize and G's snickerdoodles. ]

I can't remember even one time that I won the prize, but over the years, as my palate matured, I started enjoying the dessert more and more. Thought it is not very sweet at all, it is the type of thing I only need a few bites of, it's so creamy and rich. My dad and brother on the other hand, they generously fill up their bowls and pour the beautiful red raspberry sauce on thick.

Being far from home for the holidays this year, I found myself looking forward to the rice pudding even more than usual, if just for the nostalgia's sake. So I asked my mom to email me the recipe, her mother's recipe. Initially I assumed I'd just be making it for myself and the hubs, but I ended up being able to share this close-to-my-heart traditional Danish dessert with friends on Christmas Day. They absolutely loved the raspberry sauce, and I think they got a kick out of learning about a new-to-them cultural tradition, complete with silly game and almost-too-cute-to-eat chocolate snowman, serving as the almond present.

A quick note: My mom's mom's recipe suggested rinsing the rice and tossing any off-color (black) rice, but that is not necessary nowadays with most types of rice, including arborio rice, which is what I used. The pearl-like, high-starch Italian white rice is the kind employed to make creamy risottos, so it seemed perfect for this rice pudding, even though my grandmother's recipe called for MJB (now Farmhouse) regular rice, a long-grain white rice. I'm confident most any white rice will do.

Creamy Vanilla Rice Pudding with Raspberry Sauce
A traditional Danish Christmas dessert | Servings: 10 to 12

Rice Pudding
1 cup arborio rice (or other short-grained white rice; not instant)
1 to 1 1/2 quarts whole milk
1 tablespoon sugar
2 whole vanilla beans (alternatively, 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract)
1 to 2 pints heavy whipping cream

Raspberry Sauce
2 bags frozen raspberries
1 cup sugar

Sliced almonds, toasted, for garnish
One whole blanched almond, to play game

For rice pudding: Put rice in a large heavy pot and add water to about 1 inch above the rice. Bring to a boil. Add 1 quart of milk and turn heat to low. Stir rice. Put lid on and cook for at least 30 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent rice from sticking to the bottom and burning. If rice is stuck, try not to scrape it upyou don't want ugly burnt bits mucking up your pristine white rice pudding! (Note: I used 1 1/2 quarts of milk and it took almost an hour and a half for the rice to absorb all that milk. One quart should be plenty, and the rice will be done quicker.) Cook rice until it is the consistency of thick oatmeal. The rice should be soft and not look like rice. It should have exploded, it is so full of creamy goodness. Give it a taste—careful, it's hot!—to make sure the rice is not hard. You do not want al dente rice pudding.

Move pot off heat. Stir in the sugar. Scrape the "caviar" or seeds from the vanilla bean pods (click link for tutorial) and stir in, making sure those lovely black dots distribute evenly. Let rice cool completely.

Once rice is cool, fluff with a fork and add a little milk if it appears too sticky. Using a hand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip heavy whipping cream until firm peaks form. (Feel free to add a little sugar, to taste, since the rice pudding isn't very sweet.) Carefully fold whipped cream into rice, making sure not to deflate all that light airiness you just whipped in. Add whipped cream in batches, to desired consistency. (I needed just 1 cup heavy whipping cream.)

Keep rice pudding covered in fridge until ready to serve.

For raspberry sauce: Pour frozen raspberries (no need to thaw) in medium pot. Add about 2 cups of water and sugar to taste. (I started with half a cup and added a few tablespoons more.) Cook over medium-high heat until raspberries fall apart. 

In a small bowl, mix equal parts cornstarch and cold water to make a slurry. Stir slurry into simmering sauce to thicken. (A slurry virgin, I had to do this several times; I used about 4 tablespoons of cornstarch total.) Continue to simmer sauce to cook out cornstarch taste but once the sauce reaches desired consistency, take off heat as cooking too long can undo the slurry's power.

To serve: Scoop rice pudding into bowls or individual ramekins. Top with raspberry sauce, which can be served warm or at room temperature. Optional: Garnish with toasted sliced almonds.

-Do-ahead: Rice pudding can be made a day in advance and stored in the fridge. For best results, fold in whipping cream just before you are ready to serve. The raspberry sauce also keeps well when stored in an air-tight container in the fridge. Use leftovers on ice cream or even your morning yogurt.

-Blanching the almond: To remove brown skin, soak raw almond in very hot water for a minute or two. Remove and rub with fingers or paper towel. Skin should peel right off.

If you try this recipe, I'd love to hear how you like it! Also, do you have any holiday food traditions?

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