Pudding warms the heart and stomach

What's Cooking

October 20, 2009 

There's something about rice pudding that says cozy.

As far as comfort items go, it's right up there with your softest blanket, oldest sweater and fuzziest slippers.

But to be truly comforting, it must be the right kind of rice pudding. No fancy rice, no coconut milk, certainly no bananas or chocolate.

Yes, it's true. People do put all these things and more into rice pudding. I ran across one recipe that even included lavender. That's a little too — uh — interesting for me.

I like my rice pudding plain, so I chose one of the simplest recipes I could find. It's from The Food Network, and while it is basic, it does include citrus zest and golden raisins — twists I thought would be yummy.

Shopping was easy. You should find everything you need at your regular grocery store if you don't have it in your pantry already.

Prep went smoothly. I cooked the rice the night before and brought it to room temperature while I made breakfast for the kids on a Sunday morning. Cook the rice mixture while you zest the lemon and orange — this will save a bit of time.

I have to admit I omitted the fennel. I'm not opposed to being an adventurous eater, but I can't see how this particular spice could ever complement rice pudding. Besides, I don't have a spice grinder, and the only fennel seeds I could find at the store came whole.

I cooked the pudding as directed, but after about a half an hour, a spoon wouldn't stand up in the mixture as the recipe indicated. Still, it seemed thick enough, so I served it.

It was everything I hoped for and more — creamy and comforting, with a touch of citrus zing. I especially liked the crunch from the slivered almonds.

This recipe is a keeper. Just like my fuzzy slippers.

Bee staff writer Kerry McCray can be reached at kmccray@modbee.com or 578-2358.

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What The Testers Had To Say

It makes a lot. Luckily, it is quite good. The recipe called for ground fennel seeds, which made me very dubious. It just didn't seem like it would be good, but I was surprised to find that it was very good. Since there was only ¼ teaspoon of ground fennel, it was nice and mild. I tried this out on quite a few friends. Everyone loved it, but some thought that the slivered almonds added an unusual and not necessarily welcome crunch. In the Swedish culture, there is rice pudding with an entire almond in it. Tradition says that whoever gets the almond will have a year of good luck.

I would definitely make this again but would only slightly cook (or not cook at all) the rice because it came out mushy from first being cooked and then being cooked another approximately 35 minutes. The seasonings were very good and in nice balance.

— Francia Stanton, Modesto

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Ahhh ... comfort food in dessert form. Rice pudding is welcome hot, warm or cold. Love it. This rice pudding was a good one except for all that stirring, which tells me that I will stick with my baked version. The creamy texture appeals to me, so I skipped the almonds and I soaked the raisins in warmed Southern Comfort instead of water, aside from that, I stuck to the recipe and it was well-received and we enjoyed the fennel twist.

— Carolyn Conser, Modesto

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The pudding took at least 10 more minutes to thicken than the recipe suggested and my spoon never did stand up. However, the pudding thickened plenty as it cooled. It's a very rich dessert with all the cream, but it is very good.

— Sandy Loya, Modesto

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This rice pudding is deliciously rich and creamy. The recipe was easy to follow, though it did take a while to grind the fennel seeds. I also strained the seeds after they were ground to be certain they were finely ground.

The cinnamon produced a distinct flavor. I thought the cinnamon would overpower the orange and lemon zests, but each of these flavors was evident. I served the pudding slightly warm and added the slivered almonds just before serving so that they would be crunchy. I think that serving this pudding slightly warm made evident the flavors of each spice and zest.

— Shirley Cantele, Modesto

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My first time with homemade rice pudding. Recipe cooking times were perfect. I used 2 percent milk with the whipping cream; not as heavy as I thought it would come out. It was very lightly sweet; I might add just a few tablespoons sugar next time. The mixture of vanilla with citrus peel and cinnamon was very good. The flavor of the fennel was not as obvious as I would have thought. Next time, I would suggest anise, as I enjoy the licorice flavor.

— Suzanne Abid, Modesto

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