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Fanny Farmer's Baked Rice Pudding

It’s snowing today. Big, wet flakes coming down like slurpee. Family drama and a mess of deadlines. A rice pudding sort of day if ever there was one. I just slid a batch into the oven – it took less time to make than a pot of coffee.

There is perhaps no food as universally comforting as rice pudding. It has always been curious to me why oatmeal is considered quintessential breakfast food while rice pudding is not. It can’t be the sugar content – not only is oatmeal typically sweetened, Danish, muffins and Pop Tarts make the cut. I vote for rice pud. Made with brown rice, if you can. (This photo isn’t pretty, I know. But it was delicious.)

Short grain rice makes the best pudding on account of its starchiness – you want the grains to be creamy and soft, not separate – what you aim for when making traditional steamed rice. Marion Cunningham didn’t specify in The Fanny Farmer Cookbook.

I made this recipe out of curiosity as much as anything; flipping through an old copy of the 865-page book (reading cookbooks is something I tend to do when stressed/overwhelmed/tired), my eye caught the ingredient list of this baked rice pudding – 3 tablespoons of rice to 4 cups of milk was called for. Typo, I thought. It couldn’t possibly work. But the intro claimed otherwise; “the little bit of rice to a quart of milk is correct,” it reads. Huh. That was all the convincing I needed.

It certainly was the simplest rice pudding I’ve ever made. I stirred the tiny amount of rice into the milk, added sugar, and slid it into the oven. I did not have high hopes. I stirred once or twice, to keep the rice from settling. It was like stirring milk soup. An hour in it looked the same. Two hours in it looked the same. I took a peek whenever I happened to pass through the kitchen. I couldn’t imagine it somehow morphing into pudding.

But. You know how when you make rice pudding and it’s perfect and then you put it in the fridge overnight it thickens so much it doesn’t much resemble pudding anymore? It worked to our advantage this time. When I took it out it was still more than loose – it was runny, with a thin crusty skin on top. I stuck it in the fridge. The next day I pulled it out and peeled off the pudding skin. And it did resemble rice pudding, albeit a loose, creamy one. I tossed in a handful of red flame raisins and took a bite. The milk had thickened to the consistency of thick cream, but it was still soupy. It was ice cold, sweet and addicting. I stood at the countertop and shoveled in bite after bite. The next day I craved it. And now I have another batch – to which I added more rice, less sugar and salt – that should be finished and warm by lunchtime, chilled when the boys arrive home hungry.

Baked Rice Pudding

adapted from The Fanny Farmer Cookbook, by Marion Cunningham

4 cups milk
1/4 cup sugar or honey, or to taste
a pinch of salt
1/4 cup rice
1/2 cup raisins (optional – I stirred these in later)

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Put all the ingredients into a buttered baking dish and stir. Bake for 3 hours, stirring three times during the first hour of baking so that the rice doesn’t settle. Eat warm, or chill first.

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