Monday, April 12, 2010

The Great Search for the Greatest Rice Pudding

If any of you grew up in a Jewish neighborhood, you probably remember the  local dairy restaurant.  It was what today could be called a vegetarian restaurant, but with an Eastern European flavor.  You would walk in, go past a number of tables, and in the very back was the counter where you order your food, served up immediately from metal trays and containers (like a mini-cafeteria).  The food was plopped onto plates or into bowls onto a tray, you paid, then you carried your own tray back to an unoccupied table.   The original fast food, except more nutritious.

My mother would always always order this vile-looking (to me) eggplant mush, where after we sat down she would add oil and vinegar.  I can't really remember what entree I would get, but I always always had to have the rice pudding for dessert.  It was cut into squares, about 4 inches tall, and served warm with cherry sauce.  The top was brownish-black, yet not really burned.  Underneath was a thick layer of custard, and underneath that was the rice, studded with raisins.  Pure heaven!

There were no Top Secret Recipe books nor internet clone sites back then.  My mother and I must have spent years trying to recreate the recipe at home.    After quite a while, this recipe is the closest I could get to the real thing.  My worn copy doesn't mention the original source, so I did a quick troll of the intertubes, and found something close to my version (you might need a Google account to access it).  My version is older, but I don't know when the Honey Board first came up with it. Don't bother going to its web site to find it because there are other versions there instead.

Do not omit the salt.  The little bit required enhances the sweetness.

If you really want to be authentic, add a 1/4 cup raisins.  I omit them when I bake this since the rest of the family doesn't care for them.  You can use low-fat milk if you prefer, but whole milk creates the wonderful layer of custard.  And if you prefer heart attack on a plate (we were all the Butterton's back then), use some or all heavy cream in place of the milk.

Dairy Restaurant Rice Pudding with Cherry Sauce
Yield: 8 servings

2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups whole milk, heated until hot, but not boiling
2 cups cooked white rice
Kettle of boiling hot water
Ground cinnamon (optional)

1 can (15oz) bing cherries, in heavy syrup, undrained
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbs. cornstarch
1 Tbs. water

Preheat oven to 350F.

Make rice pudding:  In a medium bowl, combine eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt.  Gradually stir in hot milk.  Stir in rice.

Pour into a 2-quart casserole dish.  Place casserole into a larger pan with plenty of space around the casserole.  Place the whole thing on the center rack of the oven, THEN carefully pour the boiling water into the outer pan about one inch deep.

While rice pudding is baking, prepare cherry sauce:  In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine cherries, syrup and sugar.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.  In a cup or small bowl mix together the corn starch and water.  Whisk in the cornstarch mixture into the cherries and continue whisking until the sauce thickens.  Remove from heat, cover and keep warm.

Bake for 45 minutes, then quickly sprinkle cinnamon lightly over top.  Continue baking another 15 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.   Serve warm with Cherry Sauce.

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