Pastry chefs amaze me. They are scientists, artists, and culinary masters in equal measure, capable of creating desserts that leave dinners in gastronomic and aesthetic ecstasy. Whether it’s a multi-tiered ganache-frosted cake, artfully arranged fruit tart, or spun-sugar sculpture, pastry chefs certainly know how to finish a meal.
I, however, am not a pasty chef. A far cry, really, having seized the chocolate in my most recent dessert recipe even after following the instructions precisely.
Which, perhaps, is why I like this recipe for coconut rice pudding so much. There are no tricks, no special techniques, and it is very forgiving. Stir it for one minute less or one minute more and you’ll still have a delicious dish…not a pan of “it tastes better than it looks” or “hey, I think I have enough ice cream in the freezer to be used as a back up plan.”
Rice pudding is also one of those recipes loved the world ’round. Nearly every country has their own take on this comforting dish, from the Algerian m’halbi laced with cinnamon and rosewater, to the Indian firni with cardamom and pistachio, to the sweet orange- and clove-tinged Peruvian arroz con leche, to the Norwegian Christmas specialty riskrem, or the German Milchreis with apples and cherries.
Serve a bowl of rice pudding and you’re taking your family and guests back to simpler times. Rice puddings have an almost child-like magic to them, able to convey both love and comfort in one bite, warm or chilled. Chocolate tortes may be awe-inspiring, but rice puddings are soul-inspiring.
Add to the whole emotional experience by getting the kids into the kitchen with you to make this dish. They will love measuring, mixing and stirring (but be careful around the stove!). You can get them even more interested by showing them the changes in the grains of rice as they cook, swelling and soaking in all the sweet coconutty goodness.
This particular recipe isn’t tied to any particular country but gets its inspiration from the Southeast Asian and South American versions of rice pudding that use coconut milk and grated coconut as flavorings. We kept this relatively simple, though you may choose to add things like raisins, orange peel, or cardamom pods to bring yet another dimension to your creation. We topped ours with chunks of fresh pineapple – delicious. But you could choose just about any fruit…think mango, or papaya, for a great pairing. Or pear-ing. Hmmmm.
I like this dish chilled — and, true to its dessert nature, it gets even thicker and stickier in the refrigerator — but my husband likes rice pudding warm. Oh so comforting. The Stout Sprouts had it both ways and I’m not sure they have a distinct preference…dishes were cleaned regardless of the temperature at which it was served. It’s up to you whether you want to serve it straight from the stove or chilled, but either way you’ll be bringing a little more love to the table…minus the genius of a pastry chef, but to just as many “oohs” and “aahs.”
Coconut Rice Pudding with Pineapple
2 cups water
Pinch of Kosher salt
1 cup Calrose or other medium-grain white rice
2 cups (1 13.5 ounce can) unsweetened light coconut milk
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup 2% milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon dark rum or rum extract (optional – if you do not use rum, increase amount of vanilla in this recipe to 2 teaspoons)
Freshly cut pineapple chunks
1/4 cup grated coconut (not sweetened), toasted, for serving (optional)
Bring the water and salt to a boil in a large stock pot and then carefully stir in the rice. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and allow to simmer for approximately 20 minutes with occasional stirring, until the water is nearly completely absorbed. Rice will be al dente, with a little firmness to each grain at this point.
Add the coconut milk, half-and-half, milk and sugar to the pot*. Increase the heat to medium and bring the mixture to a simmer. Stirring constantly (a slow, meditative stirring…I recommend reading a good book or getting your Facebook updates while you do this), allow the mixture to continue to simmer for another 25 – 30 minutes, or until it is quite thick. Reduce the heat to low and, for the next 10 – 15 minutes, allow the mixture to cook with occasional stirring while it gets even thicker. Do not allow the rice to stick to the bottom of the pan at any time during the whole cooking process or it may burn, and that will ruin the dish.
When the pudding has reached your desired consistency (creamy, but pudding-like and not too stiff), turn off the heat, add the vanilla and the rum, if using, and stir well.
Scoop portions of the rice pudding into individual bowls or glasses and serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled. If chilling, cover each portion so that it will not form a skin on the surface. Serve with pineapple chunks (or fruit of your choice) and a sprinkling of toasted grated coconut if desired.
Serves: 8 – 10
*If using additional flavorings like raisins, orange peel or cardamom pods, add them with the coconut milk, half-and-half, milk and sugar so that the flavors can meld into the pudding. Remove anything that is not edible (the orange peel or cardamom pods) before serving.
Kid rating: four stars. Daughter 1 was the biggest fan of this dessert, though neither she nor her sister wanted their portion with toasted coconut. We had this several nights in a row after dinner and it was just as popular warm as it was after a day or two in the refrigerator. It did get thicker as it cooled, so keep that in mind and adjust cooking times to get the thickness you desire.
Adult rating: three-and-a-half stars. The nice thing about this dessert is that it tastes like coconut! But, it’s pretty much a one-trick pony, which is why we added the fresh-cut pineapple. I would have loved some additional flavor elements too, which would have led to a four or four-and-a-half star rating. I also realized I like my rice pudding a bit more creamy vs. thick and will adjust accordingly next time. None the less, this dish is comforting and creamy, and if you’re a coconut lover, you’ll really enjoy this one!