Friday, January 31, 2014

Chai Rice Pudding

It seems like a week that calls out for the quiet satisfaction of comfort food.  Extreme weather conditions are delivering a bitter cold in so many parts of the country.  This is a dessert designed to take the edge off a blizzard.  

If you find yourself snowed in, you probably have rice on hand since it's a staple in cupboards throughout the world and an integral part of meals in just about every culture.  Rice pudding has the benefit of being relatively inexpensive as desserts go and it delivers a soothing pleasure for times like these.

My rice pudding errs on the side of being cushy and creamy.  Pre-cooking the rice for a few minutes shortens the simmering for quicker preparation.  I choose long grain rice, which is less starchy than short grain.  And for a low simmer, I use milk because it reduces more evenly than cream, which can leave the pudding with a fatty and dense chewiness.  You can always add cream at the end of the cooking if you want more richness.

I love the aromatic spices found in a steaming hot cup of Indian masala chai, so I add them to this mixture for more flavor and warmth.  And since chai is personal to the maker, you can add or subtract spices to your own taste.

Bundle up and share a hearty bowl of warm rice pudding.  Stay safe out there.

Bench notes:
- Traditionally, chai is made from Assam tea but any good black tea will do.  Tea bags are definitely convenient but there is a difference in quality with loose leaf tea, which tends to have a brighter taste.  Tea bags contain much of the fannings, the smallest pieces of broken tea with essential oils that are dimished.
- If you don't have a vanilla bean, add about 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract at the end when you've taken it off the heat.
- Rice pudding doesn't require much sugar in order to taste sweet but add or subtract to your own taste.
- Cook the rice pudding at a very low simmer to keep it from boiling. Your goal is to tenderize the rice and reduce the milk.  Stir gently to prevent the grains from breaking.
- The pudding will look soupy but resist the urge to cook it longer or it may become too gloppy and thick.
- Salt is very important in dairy desserts.  If the pudding has a flat taste, keep adding a few more grains of salt until the flavor pops.
- Rice pudding tightens a lot as it cools, especially if refrigerated.  Add a splash of warm milk or cream to loosen it up.
- For added richness and a more custardy texture, once the pudding is finished cooking, place about a cup of it in a bowl and thoroughly whisk in 2 egg yolks.  Pour this back into the pan and cook very gently on low heat, stirring constantly to prevent scrambling, for 2 additional minutes.

Chai Rice Pudding
Makes 6 servings

3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) long grain rice
1 cup + 2 tablespoons (9 oz) water
4 cups (1 quart) milk
2 teaspoons or 2 bags black tea
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (2 3/4 oz) sugar, to taste
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 vanilla bean, split and seeded
4 cardamom pods
1/2 cinnamon stick
2 whole cloves
4 whole peppercorns
1/2 star anise
2 quarter-sized slices fresh ginger
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
zest of 1/2 orange

Place the rice and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Lower heat to a bare simmer, cover the pan and cook the rice for 8 minutes.

Warm the milk on medium low heat just until bubbles form around the edges.  Remove from the heat and add the tea.  Steep for 8 - 10 minutes, depending on the quality of your tea.  Strain out the loose tea or remove the tea bags and add the remaining ingredients, stirring to combine.

Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat.  Cook at a very low simmer for 20 - 25 minutes until the rice is tender.  Stir frequently to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan, especially toward the end of the cooking time.  The pudding should be a bit soupy.  It will firm up more as it cools.

Take off the heat and remove the spices.  Taste and adjust for salt, if necessary.  Serve warm.


Lily said...

You've hit a weak spot. I have an un undying love for chai tea, unfortunately I'm the only in my family that adores rice pudding. Oh well, more for me!

pastry studio said...

Hello, Lily - we all need our pleasures! I hope you enjoy this pudding.

Beth said...

I made a coconut milk and lemon zest version this week. I guess it was a comfort-food week for a lot of us. Have you tried brown rice in your rice pudding, would it work?

pastry studio said...

Hello, Beth, and thanks for your question. Your coconut milk & lemon zest pudding sounds fabulous.

I have tried other rices but haven't tried brown rice, which would provide more nutrients and more texture. My only caution is that it would take a bit longer to cook, which might cause the milk to break and curdle. Some recipes call for equal parts evaporated milk and cream to get around this. So you might want to go with my method here and pre-cook the rice a bit. The great thing about rice pudding is that it is so versatile. So many flavorings and spices, different sweeteners and add-ins. You just need to know about the rice starches and how the dairy acts with prolonged simmering. I would encourage you to try a small batch of pudding with your own ideal ingredients. Keep your eye on the process and you should have a really delicious pudding. Let me know if you try!

M said...

I am looking forward to making this. What are your thoughts on using basmati rice and almond milk?

thank you for your advice.

pastry studio said...

Hello, M, and thanks for your very good question. I love basmati rice for its aromatic properties and I think your delicious idea would work fine. I haven't tried it myself, so I recommend you keep a close eye on it throughout the process.

Here is Bittman's take on baking rice pudding where he includes your idea. Take a look at his liquid to rice ratio. You may want to consider trying his recipe. Please let me know if you do it!

pastry studio said...

Ooops, forgot the link to Bittman's recipe:

Notice he has less rice and more sugar.

M said...

Thank you for your response. I will try it. I have made a sweet rice dish (not a pudding) where I use one cup of rice and one-third cup of sugar to one and a half cups of water. I also add a little saffron, cardamon, and almonds. Some may prefer one-fourth cup of sugar. This turns out very good.

pastry studio said...

Wow, your rice dish sounds incredible. So you could easily make your pudding with the addition of almond milk and a slow reduction method.


Beth said...

Hi again, I tried using brown rice yesterday. I did the parboiling method but upped the time to 12 minutes thinking that brown rice always takes a little longer. I used a combination of coconut milk and milk (as I usually do). And slow cooked it for a very long time.

The pudding is delicious, the rice is slightly chewy with a nutty undertone. It is a little looser than it usually is when I use white rice, even after very slowly cooking for an hour. Don't get me wrong, it is still utterly delicious, just more soupy and less pudding-y. Definitely worth continuing to experiment with brown rice (darn, more pudding for me).

pastry studio said...

Beth, one word: YUM.

Thanks for writing back. I'm guessing you used short-grain brown rice? Love the nutty undertone, which makes me want to top with candied and spiced chopped hazelnuts. Hmmmm…...

Beth said...

Actually, long grain basmati. It didn't last long in the fridge. ;)

pastry studio said...