The holidays are all about nostalgia – the smell of your childhood home and the family recipes that never fail, that favorite Christmas song that seems to always play right at the perfect time, or the way your family and friends light up when everyone walks in the door. Bottom line – the holidays make us happy (no wonder everyone loves them. And no, it’s not all just from the bottomless egg nog!).
So, speaking of nostalgia and things that make me happy, it’s no wonder that around the holidays, aside from my family’s tried and true recipes, I usually turn to my trusty, timeless recipes from Ballymaloe, for easy, yet traditional treats that comfort my soul and my sweet cravings.
I will never forget the very first dessert recipe we learned at Ballymaloe was good old “Rice Pudding.” I remember thinking, “I came all the way here to learn rice pudding?!” I was a professional culinary school after all! When I realized the recipe consisted of tossing a cup or so of rice into a baking dish with sugar, a little knob of butter and some simmered milk (you literally don’t even stir!), I thought I had spent entirely too much money to learn these types of basic, “fool proof” recipes.
It wasn’t until about an hour later, when the rice had absorbed the rich, sweet milk, plumping up into a thick, comforting, pudding-like texture, that I understood the importance of learning the lost art of simple, pure, GOOD cooking. The hot milk had developed the most enticing, slightly browned “skin” on top – a by-product of the cooking process that soon became a luxurious component that I now always look forward to when I make this. A few pantry ingredients of the highest quality (good whole milk, short grain rice, grassfed butter, and organic sugar) can make the most comforting winter treat that you will dream about during those chilly nights at home for years to come.
Aside from having it’s roots in pantry staples, ready for you to whip together for a last minute dinner party or for a late-night craving – I promise you this rice pudding will literally be the easiest recipe you will ever make. I told you, not even a stir! Just throw in the oven, and top with a little brown sugar for some added sweetness! You can even simmer the milk with a little bourbon or egg nog to create different flavors – I love taking a simple, basic recipe like this and playing with flavor and garnish additions, so go ahead and get creative! It certainly won’t complicate the prep and, hell, if you mess up, this one is probably the easiest recipe to start again!
For this time of year, I like to add a little extra elegance to this usually ordinary pudding with a sprinkle of jewel-like pomegranate seeds. They look lovely and festive, but also add a nice texture and flavor as they pop with each rich, creamy bite. The brown sugar adds a nice sweetness that melts into the hot pudding…so comforting, yet so simple too.
To make this traditional peasant dish a little more special, I like to serve in pretty vintage champagne coupes (even if it’s just for me, cozy in bed with a good movie!). You could also take the extra step to stir the mixture so ingredient ratios are correct, and then spoon into individual ramekins before baking to create mini versions of the fully baked dish.
For a dinner party, have the rice, sugar and butter already measured and tossed in the baking dish before your guests arrive. Measure the milk and have in a saucepan on the stove as well (not lit). Depending on your courses and dinner schedule (it takes about an hour or so to bake, and then you have to plate!), I would begin simmering the milk to bring to a boil just as the cocktail hour is ending – that way you can pour over and put in the oven prior to having to worry about your first course or entree prep.
If the Rice Pudding finishes up slightly before the meal is finished, keep in a very low oven (200-250F) covered with foil until ready to serve (not too long – it can definitely dry out quickly, and then it is not worth serving!). If it takes a little longer to cook, have some chocolate and sweets on a pretty silver plate that you can pass directly after dinner with an after-dinner drink or dessert wine as you talk up the much-anticipated treat! Remember – the hostess directs the evening and guests take their cue from you!
TRADITIONAL WINTER RICE PUDDING
Serves 6-8 | Recipe adapted from Ballymaloe Cookery School
Alas, the simplest recipe in your ever-expanding repertoire…now go get cozy in those PJ’s, put on a good flick and whip up this oldie but goodie – you’ll thank me later!