Food: Ambrosial delights

Rice puddings are delicious hot or cold, and the best can be as good as what comes out of a tin. Photograph by Jason Lowe

When I was a child, TV ads filled me with a near-obsessive desire for whatever food was being flaunted - from Toast Toppers to the latest Mr Kipling fancy. Eschewing my mother's rice pudding, I decided there was only one worth eating, and that was tinned Ambrosia. Even now when I make creamed rice at home, the benchmark is a brightly coloured tin with Devon cows on it.

It took a painfully long period of trial and error to achieve a rice pudding that came up to scratch, where the grains are surrounded by a liquid halfway between whipped cream and custard. There is a big difference between a rice pudding that is nice eaten cold and one that is nice eaten hot. Baked rice pudding is perfect for eating 30 minutes out of the oven - having cooled enough to be able to taste the vanilla, and with its pool of limpid ivory-coloured cream beneath the skin. Chilled, though, it turns to stodge. Nice stodge, but of the kind that seems most attractive at midnight.

Ambrosial cold rice is harder to achieve. I eventually settled on a three- stage affair: first, the rice is cooked with milk and sugar in a very low oven. When cooled, it is combined with an egg custard, then, finally, lightly whipped cream is stirred in. I prefer using risotto rice, which is bred to hold its shape at the same time as oozing its creamy starch into the milk. I have also just tasted a new selection of Indian puddings from Waitrose, two of which are made with basmati rice. The cold creamed rice, or kheer, is flavoured with cardamom, saffron and nutmeg and scattered with almonds and pistachios, and is pretty good. I would also recommend the phirni - a pale orange pap of ground rice and mango puree that slips down a treat.

Normandy markets do a roaring trade in baked rice puddings, laid out with teaspoons for tasting and displayed next to snippets of bread spread with rillettes. The first one I tasted was sold as a cooked-for-two-hours pudding, with a fine golden skin concealing a loose creamy rice underneath. Another slipped up to two-and-a-half hours, and on from this there was a row of bowls tightly sealed with a film of plastic that I almost passed by. According to the vendor, its secret was rice, sugar, milk, cinnamon, "et cuit pour sept heures" (cooked for seven hours) - during which time the skin had wrinkled and folded in on itself after a nighttime of rising and falling like a tent side in high winds.

It was more a matter of curiosity that led me to lug a leaden bowlful of it around for the rest of the morning, turning out as it did to be disappointingly solid and sticky. On a romantic level it's comforting to think that Normandy dairy farmers, having exceeded their quota, can put a few seven-hour rice puddings on to bake and wake up to a profit in the morning. More realistically, perfection arrives in about three- and-a-half hours - if you take Ambrosia creamed rice as your benchmark.

Normandy Rice Pudding, serves 4

It is something of a marvel that this contains only rice, vanilla, milk and sugar. Some like an added spoonful of jam while others prize the skin. I like a little whipped cream on mine. You do need to use a really rich milk. If in doubt substitute a cupful of double cream for an equal quantity of milk.

1 vanilla pod, slit

90g pudding rice

90g golden caster sugar

1 litre full-cream milk

Heat the oven to 250F/130C/gas mark 1/2. Open out the vanilla pod and run a knife along its length to scrape out the seeds. Place these together with the rice, sugar and a little milk in a smallish casserole, and mess them up to distribute the seeds. Add the rest of the milk and stir, place the vanilla pod in the centre and cook in the oven for three- and-a-half to four hours, by which time it should be sealed with a thin golden skin. Underneath, it should be slightly runny, but after 30 minutes this will have settled and, stirred up with the rice at the bottom, it should be the right consistency. It's perfectly nice eaten cold, but avoid chilling it.

Ambrosial Creamed Rice, serves 4-6

This is cold, creamy and rather austere, which is what I like about it. At this time of year, it would be nice with a salad of fresh oranges in a syrup made from Seville oranges.

Rice

140g risotto rice

450ml milk

25g unsalted butter

50g caster sugar

15 cardamom pods

Custard

3 medium egg yolks

70g caster sugar

300ml milk

150ml double cream

Heat the oven to 400F/200C/gas mark 6. Bring a small pan of water to the boil, add the rice and boil it for five minutes, then drain. Bring the milk, butter and sugar to the boil in a small flameproof casserole on top of the stove. Add the cardamom and the rice. Bring the milk back to a simmer, cover the casserole with a circle of buttered paper parchment, and put on the lid. Place the rice in the preheated oven and immediately turn it down to 275F/140C/gas mark 1. Cook for 40 minutes, by which time the milk should have been absorbed. Carefully pick out and discard the cardamom pods and leave the rice to cool.

In the meantime, make the custard. Beat the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl until the mixture is pale. Bring the milk to the boil in a small saucepan, whisk it onto the egg yolks and return the mixture to the saucepan. Heat the custard very gently until it just thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Do not allow it to boil. Strain it into a jug or a bowl, cover the surface with film and leave to cool. Once both the custard and the rice are cool, combine them. Lightly whip the cream and fold this in. Chill the mixture for several hours or overnight.

Baked Couscous Pudding with Raisins, serves 6

Not in fact a rice pudding, but if you happen to be in a compulsive mood of a Sunday, it can achieve in just half-an-hour what its languorous cousins will take several hours to do. And its texture is heart-stoppingly good. If you like, add a vanilla pod or a cinnamon stick to the pudding while it bakes.

70g couscous

100g caster sugar

600ml milk

300ml double cream

50g raisins

freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 325F/170C/ gas mark 3. Place the couscous, sugar and milk in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the cream and raisins (and a pinch of salt if you like), bring back to the boil and then transfer to a gratin or other ovenproof dish. Grate lots and lots of fresh nutmeg over the surface and bake for 35 minutes until the pudding is thick and creamy underneath its golden skin. I like it best about 30 minutes out of the oven - it's still good cold but it firms up as it cools

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

    £7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

    Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

    £27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

    Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

    £16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

    Day In a Page

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate