Though she’s published many cookbooks (and has more up her sleeve), Andrea Chesman is still perfecting her recipe for rice pudding.
When I was about five years old, my family took a trip to New York City to have dinner with buddy of my father’s from his army days. It was well before GPS or Google Maps, and my father — refusing to stop and ask for directions — got lost in Brooklyn. By the time we got to the restaurant, I was starving.
My mother ordered lamb chops for me, normally a favorite. But at this Greek restaurant, they arrived smothered in a spinach sauce. I wept. I wailed. I was inconsolable. A waiter came by, removed the offending chops, and replaced them with a soup bowl filled with rice pudding. Heavenly!
Rice pudding has been my favorite dessert — no, my favorite food — since then. Should I ever knowingly have a last meal, it would be included on the menu. Many times, I have chosen it over cake as my birthday dessert. I frequently make it to sell at the coffee house concert series my husband and I run in the Ripton, Vermont, town hall. And in nearly every cookbook I have written, I have tried to slip in rice pudding, just so I could enjoy re-testing the recipe.
No, it isn’t in my pickle book, nor is it in any of my other vegetable books. But in 366 Delicious Ways to Cook Rice, Beans, and Grains, I have eight different rice pudding recipes. In 250 Treasured Country Desserts, I have six. One is made with vanilla yogurt instead of the custard; another, with coconut milk as a replacement for the traditional cow’s milk. There’s even one made with black rice rather than the traditional short-grain rice. Baked rice puddings have never met my standards — they’re too dry and not creamy enough — but I’ve included baked iterations in my cookbooks, too (meeting those number requirements is tough!).
Of the rice pudding recipes in 250 Treasured Country Desserts, my favorite is the Creamy Rice Pudding, which calls for cooking short-grain rice in milk, then folding in a stirred custard made with three eggs. A more economical version of that recipe, designed to use up leftover cooked rice, excess eggs, and perhaps, milk, appears in The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How. That one requires four egg yolks and is everything I could ask of a rice pudding: creamy, delicious, and as comforting as the bowl I had in the Greek restaurant when I was five.
But something about that recipe nags me still, perfect though it tastes. It’s those egg whites. I hate to waste them. So the last few times I’ve made this recipe, I’ve beaten the egg whites with sugar and folded them into the pudding. Cloud-like perfection!
Now the question is how to incorporate this revised recipe into the book I’m currently writing, on cooking with animal fats. I may garnish the pudding with apples caramelized in duck fat. Doesn’t that seem like a great idea?
In the meantime, here’s the recipe in its current state, with egg whites folded in and free of embellishments (I’m still tweaking those apples).
Creamy Rice Pudding
- 2 cups leftover cooked rice
- 4 cups whole milk
- ½ teaspoon salt (if rice was cooked without salt)
- 4 eggs, separated
- ⅔ cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Combine the rice, milk, and salt in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Slowly bring the milk almost to a boil, stirring frequently to prevent scorching.
- In between stirring the milk, combine the egg yolks and ⅓ cup sugar in a bowl and whisk until well blended.
- Test a grain of rice. If it is pudding soft, then continue. Otherwise continue to stir over medium heat until the rice is fully softened. Slowly add about 2 cups of the milk and rice mixture to the egg yolk mixture, stirring constantly, to temper the egg yolks and prevent the eggs from curdling. Pour the tempered eggs into the pot with the milk and bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until the mixture has thickened and coats the back of the spoon. You’ll know it’s ready when running your finger through the velvety coating on the back of the spoon leaves a distinct trail, which happens at about 170°F, if you have an instant-read thermometer.
- Stir in the vanilla. Transfer to a bowl and lay a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the pudding’s surface to prevent a skin from forming. Chill for at least 1 hour, until the mixture is no longer warm.
- In a stand mixer fitted with a whip, beat the egg whites, gradually adding the remaining ⅓ cup sugar. Continue to beat until soft peaks form. Stir one-third of egg whites into the pudding to lighten it. Then gently fold in the remaining egg whites until no white streaks remain but take care not to overmix. Serve at room temperature, or chilled.