My dad loved his rice pudding. Mother made it a lot, a very basic recipe with some raisins thrown in. She made custard much the same way, sans raisins. Nothing fussy, just quick and easy. Dad liked to take some softened butter, add brown sugar and cinnamon, mix it together and dump a heaping spoonful on top of his hot rice pudding. No cream, just the brown sugar/butter topping. It melted all over it; he loved that kind of stuff. His eating habits were really appalling when I think back on it, lots of butter, cream (he actually used sweetened condensed milk in his coffee), white bread and he liked his desserts. He kept one of those enormous chocolate bars in the refrigerator and broke off a piece every single evening of his life. He lived to be 94, was in good health (until prostate cancer hit at age 92), had all his teeth in spite of the chocolate, no cholesterol problems and still had a trim figure. What's up with that? Genes, you'll say, no doubt you're right.
One day I presented Dad with a different kind of rice pudding. A new recipe I had found called French Custard Rice Pudding and I wanted to try it out on him. He looked at it with dismay; he really didn't like change, but being a polite and also a kind father, he took a bite. After his first bite he smiled, looked up and said: "Is it rice pudding or custard?"
Well, both actually. And because he liked custard nearly as much, it was a success. He still wanted his brown sugar invention on top, even though I thought it was overkill. But then I'm not crazy about an overly sweet rice pudding. If you like a sweeter dessert, try a nice raspberry or apricot sauce (something made with melted jams, a bit of water and perhaps some rum or kirsch if you want to get fancy.); that would give the pudding a nice touch of color. Or you could make a crème anglaise. And there's always cream. Not appealing to me but there it is. Another wonderful thing about this pudding is it's just as good cold, if not better. But you sure can't melt your brown sugar topping on a dish of cold rice pudding. So Dad started to use maple syrup on it! Funny.
I've made it a lot since then. First for my parents, but also for my own family. Sometimes, if I don't have raisins, I've used whatever dried fruit I happened to have handy. But I must admit, I like raisins best. Talk about not liking change.
So... I give you double comfort food: rice pudding AND custard, all in one dish. I should also mention it's perfect to take to someone who's been housebound for one reason or another. Nearly everyone likes rice pudding and custard...pretty much from childhood on. Comforting. I think it's kind of neat to get two desserts in one.
French Custard Rice Pudding
From Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts
4 cups whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup uncooked rice ( not instant; I use Uncle Ben's converted rice)
3/4 cup raisins
4 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
In the top of a large double boiler, mix 3 cups of the milk (reserve the remaining 1 cup), sugar, salt and rice. Cook over direct heat until very hot. Then place over hot water in the bottom of the double boiler. Cover. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, for 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours or until rice is very tender and the milk is almost but not completely absorbed.
While the rice is cooking, pour boiling water over the raisins to cover. Let stand 5 minutes. Drain.
Place rack in the center of the oven, preheat it to 350°. Butter a 6 cup shallow casserole or baking dish.
Stir yolks with a whisk and add the last cup of milk along with the vanilla and almond extracts.
Gradually mix some of the hot rice mixture into the cold milk mixture and then mix the yolk mixture with the rest of the rice. Stir in the raisins. Pour into the prepared pan and sprinkle with nutmeg. Place into a larger pan, which must not be deeper than the baking dish. Pour hot water into the pan to about halfway up the baking dish.
Bake for 45 minutes or until a sharp knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
Remove pudding from the hot water and cool on a rack. Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled.
Makes 6-8 portions.