I have a day off today and approached it with gleeful anticipation of writing a blog post with diligence and discipline, but instead I had a terrible sleep last night (the kind where you just wake up at irritatingly regular intervals for no good reason) and I’m assuming it’s that which has left me staring listlessly at the screen unable to think of anything cool to say about this rice pudding.
So then I had a break and spontaneously danced around the lounge, free-limbed and embarrassingly passionate! I leapt and did high kicks and sank into the splits and twirled! And now I’m back on the couch sitting under my laptop and I’m still tired and uninspired but like, dancing was fun, I guess. But if doing enthusiastic self-flinging to Inside Out by Eve Six and Problems by ASAP Rocky and Honey to the Bee by Billie Piper can’t help inspire one to talk about rice pudding, then, well. What is there.
But now that I think about it, having worn holes in my socks from pirouetting on carpet and exhausted my lung capacity from doing powerful leaps, this rice pudding was really, really good. I don’t even consider myself someone who considers rice pudding…at all. But I had some at a cafe recently and was, upon eating it, filled with profound thoughts like “This is so exemplary, I might make my own damn rice pudding some time.”
The rice pudding I’ve made is part of a mighty enough English tradition of milk-based puddings, with this being rice cooked slowly in said milk till it has swollenly absorbed the lot and turned all creamy and soft and comforting. Numerous cultures worldwide have their own similar version, presumably with everyone coming to the same culinary conclusion around the same time many years ago. It can be utterly vile, and worse, boring, but when made right it’s pretty brilliant. Rice has its own subtle flavour and texture which suits the aggressive creaminess, and as a prop for other flavours – in this case, sesame-tinted caramel sauce and sugary blackberries – it’s excellent.
I was determined to avoid any troubling blandness here so used a mixture of full cream milk and water plus milk powder, which seems counter-intuitive for the sake of it, but if there’s one thing I enjoy, it’s seeming counter-intuitive for the sake of it. But also I do like the vanilla-salt-kick that milk powder gives, and have this vague and unfounded scientific feeling that a mixture of milk and water makes for better liquid absorption. The rice itself releases its starches slowly, making it stupidly creamy all on its own, and then you can pour over as much actual cream as you like once it’s cooked. The sesame seeds aren’t super necessary but their warm toasty nutty flavour makes things more compelling, and works oddly well with the particular tartness of the berries. And when you’re making a pudding that you’re not entirely sure you’re even that enthused about the concept of in the first place, “oddly well” is a highly respectable result.
rice pudding with blackberries and sesame caramel sauce
a recipe by myself. Serves four, although I ate the lot entirely alone (in two sittings, not that I’m entirely concerned what you think about my portion-related decisions) This makes honestly about seventeen times more caramel sauce than you need but it’s nice to wake up the next morning and drink the remainders of it while standing in front of the fridge. I’m assuming you’ve got frozen blackberries here, but by all means use freshly picked ones if you’ve got them, you princess of the meadow.
three cups full fat milk
two cups water
four tablespoons full fat milk powder
two tablespoons sugar
a pinch of salt
three quarters of a cup of arborio rice
one cup of frozen blackberries
one tablespoon caster sugar
one teaspoon vanilla extract
one tablespoon of sesame seeds
half a cup of brown sugar
half a cup of cream
a small pinch of salt
Place the blackberries, sugar, and vanilla in a bowl and leave to sit while you make the rice.
In a large pot, bring the milk, water, milk powder, sugar, and pinch of salt gently to the boil. Pour in the rice and stir it, lowering the heat to a simmer. Allow to simmer, stirring often, for around thirty minutes or until the rice is swollen and soft. You may need to add extra water if it’s looking like this will never happen. I did. There was totally a point where I was like, ‘wow, I guess I’m never going to have rice pudding ever’, because the rice just would not soften entirely. You just have to keep stirring and tasting (don’t bother tasting till most of the liquid is absorbed though) and eventually it honestly will be cooked.
Let it sit while you make the caramel sauce – toast the sesame seeds in a small pan till they’re browned, then quickly tip them into a bowl (quickly, because they will burn swiftly if left unattended) and in the same pan, melt the butter and brown sugar together. Once it’s bubbling, tip in the cream and stir vigorously, then remove from the heat. It might look all weird and separated but stirring will bring it together! Tip the sesame seeds back in along with the salt and stir them through.
The blackberries by now should have defrosted into the sugar and be all glossy and syrupy. Spatula the rice into a serving dish, fling the berries and some of their syrup over the top and then spoon over as much caramel sauce as you like. Serve with more cream and caramel sauce for pouring over. Should you have leftovers, it’s worth knowing that the rice near the berries will turn an unpromising blue colour, it’s all good and all still plenty edible.
Describing rice pudding as comforting might seem a bit obvious, but sometimes things are obvious for a reason. It is just so soft, and creamy, and mildly sweet, and warm, like eating that particular feeling where you pull a pile of laundry out of the dryer and then lie down and pile it all on top of yourself like a cosy mountain. The caramel sauce pierces all the plainness with its dark sugary salty toffee vibes, and the blackberries bring some pure fruity sweetness which feels necessary in the face of all that milk and starch.
And importantly, the berries also look so pretty against the snowy white rice.