Patience is a virtue with oven-cooked rice pudding. A caveat: you will spend several hours peeking in the oven at thirty-minute intervals, stirring, waiting, watching (and wishing) for any sign of rice plumping. All the while the scent of simmering sweet milk teases your nostrils. It takes some time for the rice and milk to warm up to each other, but when they finally do, the wait is rewarded with creamy comfort like no other.
The foundation of rice pudding is incredibly simple -- rice, milk and sugar -- but from there, the possibilities are basically limitless. I tested three versions of Mark Bittman's recipe from The Basics using three different grains and three different milks: 1) Brown basmati rice and almond milk, with lemon zest, honey and crushed almonds (I particularly like the brightness of the zest here); 2) Arborio rice and rice milk, with coconut flakes and vanilla (exotic, rich, and very sweet); 3) Brown jasmine and regular cow's milk, with nutmeg, cinnamon, and pistachios (warmly spiced with a more subtle sweetness).
The arborio version achieved the creamiest consistency, while the brown rice delivered a coarser-textured pudding with a nuttier fragrance. Brown rice takes longer to cook than white, but if you want to speed up the process and make the pudding creamier, pulse the brown grains in a food processor a few times before cooking.
RICE PUDDING IN THE OVEN
[Adapted from How to Cook Everything: The Basics]
1/3 cup any rice
1/3 cup sugar
4 cups milk (nut, rice, regular or coconut)
2 tsp lemon zest (add in Step 1)
Honey (stir in to taste after cooking)
Roasted almonds, chopped as garnish
1/2 cup coconut flakes (add in Step 1)
1 tsp vanilla (stir in after cooking)
Ground nutmeg (add in Step 1)
1 cinnamon stick (add in Step 1)
Toasted pistachios, chopped as garnish
2. Bake for 30 minutes, then stir. Bake for 30 minutes longer, then stir again; at this point the rice might be swelling up and the milk should begin to develop a bubbly skin (if so, stir it back into the mixture).
3. Cook until the rice plumps and starts to become a more noticeable part of the mixture and the skin becomes more visible and darker, about 30 minutes more. Now the pudding is getting close to done, so check on it every 10 minutes, stirring each time (it should reach the right texture in 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the kind of rice you used, but brown varieties may take longer).
4. The pudding will be done before you think it’s done. The rice should be really swollen and the milk thickened considerably but still pretty fluid (it will thicken more as it cools). Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.