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Just like how every food culture has a version of meat-on-a-stick (kebabs, souflaki, brochettes, etc.), every food culture has a version of rice pudding. Why? Rice pudding is delicious, inexpensive, and uses ingredients that everybody has: rice, milk, sweetener, and flavouring. It can be savoury or sweet, though for the purpose of this blog I have chosen to neglect the savoury kind and indulge my sweet tooth for a week, and it’s really, very easy to make! Over the course of this week, I have eaten four servings of pudding, and have sampled nearly ten different flavours, giving me the knowledge and experience to share with you the ultimate in rice pudding.
For some research into flavours and a bit of inspiration I started at Riz en Folie (On Mackay, just south of Sherbrooke, for you Montrealers), a teeny restaurant that serves only rice pudding. Set up like an ice cream parlour, when you go inside, the different puddings are all displayed under glass and you get to sample each flavour before you make your decision. Riz en Folie uses short grain sushi rice and bakes their pudding. It has a super creamy texture with a sort of tapioca pudding vibe – lots of pudding, only a little rice. This past Tuesday, I went for lunch (sort of) with friends and between the five of us we sampled seven of ten flavours on display that day. Again, like an ice cream parlour, Riz en Folie does your standard vanilla and chocolate; “rough & tough”, a sort of rocky road flavour; and a mint-chocolate. Of these flavours, I tried the mint-chocolate. It tasted as weird as it looked:
While the flavour started out like its delicious, ice cream counterpart, its finish was unfortunately reminiscent of the “almost mint” flavour found in oral hygiene products, particularly floss. A rough start, but Riz en Folie did redeem themselves with some of their other flavours:
Original: It was sweet and creamy and hardly spiced, if at all. The girls who tried it found it light and described it as “nice” and “yummy.”
Sucre a la crème: This one was like the original, but more. It was more sweet, and more creamy, and heavier and denser. I asked about the flavours and the response was, “It’s not that it has different flavour… it’s just MORE. It’s better than the Original.”
Exotika Passion: “What does taste like?” “It tastes like passion fruit.” “…weird.”
Rose Water: The flavour was so light and delicate that it was almost bland – at least when tasted next to the other very sweet puddings. Rose water didn’t seem like it could stand alone as a flavour. The pudding was obviously missing something we thought.
Lemon: Straight up lemon curd. It was oh-so-delicious like lemon pie filling and was the one I chose to have a full serving of.
Carrot cake: This one was definitely the team favourite. It was very lightly spiced and the flavour was very fresh and carroty. It was more like a carrot ice cream or cheese cake. Very good!
I left with a different idea was what I expected from rice pudding. Though it’s obvious now, I never would have thought to do anything more to it then add cinnamon and sugar, never mind lemon or passion fruit. Since I had Friday off work, I did a little reading up on rice pudding recipes and picked a few to try out. I invited a couple friends over and with my roommate, my old roommate, and a coworker we binged on 3 rice puddings:
Black Rice Pudding
I got this one off Epicurious. Such a simple recipe, and it looked so cool in the photo, I decided I had to try it. It was probably the most basic recipe I found and the truest to the natural simplicity of the dessert:
1 cup black rice
3 cups water
1 can coconut milk (1 ½ cups for cooking and the rest for garnish)
A pinch of salt and sugar to taste
[Gourmet, December 2005]
Bring to boil rice, salt, and water in a large pot. Reduce to simmer and cover for 30 to 45 minutes, until the water is absorbed. Stir in a roughly a cup and a half of coconut milk and sugar to taste (I added about a half cup) and cook until creamy and pudding-like. Let it cool, or eat it warm and serve with coconut milk poured over top.
This pudding was a little chewier since black rice doesn’t get at gooey and mushy as white rice. It has a really nice nutty, sweet flavour and anyone without a big sweet tooth would probably appreciate this one for it more subtle flavour.
Soooo, it didn’t really work. This recipe was dictated to me by one of the kitchen staff at work (I chose the flavours and he gave me portions of each ingredient), but I must have missed an instruction. It tasted great! But, there obviously was not enough liquid and the rice ended up not so pudding-y and a lot like… rice. This one was done in the oven, and I don’t know if it’s because I didn’t precook the rice or that I needed more cream, but the texture didn’t work out at all. I’m planning on trying this again, as aniseed and banana and coconut milk were meant to be together, but this time maybe they can mingle on the stove top where I’m clearly more apt. If you wanted to try it, combine your rice of choice, cream, coconut milk, mashed ripe banana, LOTS of aniseed (we’re talking at least a couple teaspoons), and sugar to taste and bake covered at 350F for 45 minutes to an hour. I’ll leave it to you to portion out the ratios though so perhaps you have more luck than I did!
Rose Water-Cardamom Pudding
AAH, SO GOOD. The rose water rice pudding at Riz en Folie was lacking, but it has the potential to be amazing! More rose water, some cardamom, and some vanilla make for the favourite rice pudding. On epicurious I found a recipe for a guideline. The amount of sugar in this recipe was waaay too much. I cut it in half to 3/4 cup and it was still quite sweet. Here is what I did:
½ cup Arborio rice
3 cups cream
½ to ¾ cups sugar
Some cornstarch (optional, maybe?)
1 tablespoon Rose Water
Some cardamom (I write my recipes more like mum every day. By “some” I guess I mean to taste.)
Bring to boil one cup of water, add rice, reduce to simmer and let the water absorb. Add 3 cups of cream (I used 10%), cornstarch, sugar, rose water, cardamom, and vanilla, stir it all up thoroughly and bring to boil again. Watch that pot or else it will boil over and make a pretty awful mess on your stove top. Reduce to a simmer and cover partly. Stir periodically and cook until it has the pudding consistency that you want. This will fit into 4 ramekins. Allow it to cool. It might make a skin/film on top, but if you give a good stir before you serve it, it will look and taste just fine. I dyed mine pink and sprinkled it with pistachios for a garnish. It looked quite cute I think.
This one is my favourite rice pudding now! After extensive research, this is the best in Rice pudding. It was creamy, but the rice was still present. The flavour was very rosy and spiced and sweet and just wonderful. From these 3 recipes, I have made a sort of criteria for my ultimate pudding: done with Arborio rice and on the stove top. The Arborio made for a really fantastic texture and the stove top gives you more control; you see if you need more liquid or taste if you need more sugar or spice.
The Greek men at the cafe-bar I worked at during world cup say that Efes, the Turkish bakery across the street, makes the best rice pudding – “it’s better than my mom’s.” I haven’t tried it yet, but it might be worth the trek out to Parc-Ex to see if my number one can be beat.
Also, Happy Birthday Dad!
[Ed.: Adam was entrusted with blogging for us for National Lager Day. Luckily he wasn't overcome with The Drink before he could send us this update.]
So it’s lager day! Huzzah! I had so much fun doing the American Beer week I jumped at the chance to do Lager day, even though my personal tastes tend to run to ales.
First I think it is important to discuss the difference between ale and lager. Lager uses a bottom fermenting yeast, and ale uses a top fermenting one. Also, lager tends to need to be fermented and matured or “laagered” at lower temperatures and for a longer time. Hence the name.
As far as brewing beer goes lager is a relative newcomer. While ale dates back to the times of the Pharaohs, lager developed in the middle ages in Germany when some enterprising brewers realized their beer tended to be more stable when laagered in cold alpine caves. Lagers really only came into their own, however, in the last couple of hundred years with the development of refrigeration. Since then, lager has largely taken over the beer market due to its greater stability and its tendency towards lighter, more accessible flavours.
I invited my friend Tim to join me via Skype to assist me in this tasting as he is a fellow beer nut. Choosing beers to taste proved to be a difficult task. The problem is this: Tim and I tend to enjoy locally produced micro-brewed beers, with a lot of flavour and character. Micro-breweries tend to stay away from lager styles as they require special equipment and take more time to produce than ales. Besides which, lagers have acquired a bit of a bad reputation due to the preponderance of horrible watered down “lager beer” produced by the large North American breweries. The availability-of-good-lager-problem was further complicated by Tim’s insistence that he wants to live in Siberia (or some such remote, inhospitable place) where good beer is difficult to find (Sibeeria?). Nevertheless, we pushed on (brave souls that we are) and produced a solid list of beers, including both local and European lagers.
The first up was Peroni, an Italian pale lager that I particularly like for the summer/patio season. The colour is a surprisingly light pale straw colour, but we found it to have a richer flavour profile than this would normally mean. It was lightly malted on the front end but finished with a nice full hoppy/bitter finish. The mouth feel was fairly light, but still present. All around this is a nice patio beer that we feel has a somewhat extended season as it is not overly carbonated.
The next up was Steam Whistle pilsner. It’s brewed out of Toronto so I had to set aside my natural West coast distrust of anything that comes from the Big Smoke. Steam Whistle was a slightly darker pale straw colour. The smell was citrus and malty. The taste had a bigger mouth feel than Peroni, but a lot smaller hop profile. Tim said the flavour was “malt forward”. Frankly this was a nice surprise, and one I’ll add to the summer repertoire.
Next up was a particular favourite of mine, Efes. Efes is a Turkish pilsner I discovered while in Istanbul. I was surprised to find such a nice pilsner in Turkey (one of many culinary surprises that trip) and equally surprised to find it available in good old BC at only $11.53 for a 6 pack. Efes is a straw coloured lager with a taste of orange, citrus apricot and honey in the mouth. Fruitier than Peroni it had a surprisingly creamy mouth feel, though very little hop character. Tim was so impressed with Efes he said it may be a replacement for Stella at his next barbeque.
Next up is Czeckvar/Budvar/Budweiser. No, not that Budweiser (shudder). This is the original, brewed in Budweis in the Czech Republic about 100 years before the North American Budweiser started brewing “beer”. Sadly, because Anheuser-Busch has had the trademark for the name Budweiser in North America since 1878, the original Budweiser is not able to use their name and has to sell under their Czeckvar or Budvar brands here. Silly trademark issues aside, Czeckvar is a fantastic beer. It has an initial hit of floral hoppiness and a nice weighty mouthfeel. All around this is a well balanced and tasty beverage.
The final taster I had was the Albino Python White Lager from Shmaltz Brewing. Unfortunately Tim could not join me in this drink due to the aforementioned living in Siberia problem. Incidentally I was heartened to see that the good folks at Shmaltz are bucking the microbrew trend by producing a whole line of craft brewed lagers. Good idea, guys; now we just need to get some more samples on this side of the continent. The Python is a cloudy gold colour with a strong smell of ginger and wheat to it. The taste is all ginger. In fact that is the one thing you carry away from this beer: ginger. I have to give it to the guys at Shmaltz for getting experimental with this one as it’s definitely not to you average lager drinker’s tastes, possibly not even to the average white-beer drinker’s taste. I found it very full bodied for a lager, which was pleasant, but have to admit that I’m not sure about the spicing. I really don’t know if it’s to my tastes, but I’m interested in drinking more to find out… That’s the dedication I have to this blog.
~Adam and Tim