Riz au lait (French rice pudding)
Recently I was contacted by a film production company that was proposing to include me in a series. They were interested in what I do and mentioned they wanted to come over and film me in my office, along with all the people I work with. I hated to disappoint them, but I had to tell them that it’s just was me sitting in front of my computer, or hanging around my kitchen, wielding my camera while trying to balancing a spoon on the edge of a saucepan so it doesn’t fall in, or coaxing a quickly-melting scoop of ice cream into something that’ll look presentable when I publish the recipe for you.
I know there are people with food blogs that do have staff, studios, and so forth…talk about aspirations!…but I’m writing this at 6:45am while Romain is eating breakfast, watching the local news while I tap away at this Riz au lait post and recipe, occasionally looking over at me, probably wondering why he chose me rather than someone who leads une vie normale, a normal life. (And also, someone who doesn’t have to ask him if vie is masculine or feminine, so I can write it correctly here.)
One thing that makes me more French than him, though, is that I like Riz au lait, the French version of Rice Pudding, and he’s not much of a fan. To the French, sometimes things they had in school cafeterias weren’t exactly presented in their best light, shall we say. One friend made a face when describing plates of langue de bœuf (beef tongue) he had to eat as a kid, that were swimming in murky tomato sauce. When I interrupted Romain a few minutes ago to ask him to name his least-favorite dish, he said, “Tout n’était pas bon.” (Nothing was good.) He wasn’t a fan of the rice pudding at his school canteen then, and still isn’t much of one today.
On the flip side, another French friend likes Riz au lait so much that she eats a little pot of it, that comes from the supermarché (sold in little cups like yogurt), each morning for breakfast. I tasted one once, and they’re on the sweet side but certainly have their fans as there are several brands, and containers of it in different sizes. Me? I could eat Riz au lait for breakfast, but prefer the homemade version, which I mostly serve for dessert.
Short-grain and round rice (riz rond) are traditionally used for making rice pudding, which are starchy varieties of rice that give it that signature creamy texture. Arborio and carnaroli rice, used for risotto, fall into that category, and in the U.S., I noticed Carolina rice markets their round rice as “parboiled medium grain rice” which the label prominently says is “Perfect for making Paella, which I’ve used for rice pudding. (These two rice guides explain the different types of rice very well.) Bomba from Spain is another round rice you can use.
But you don’t need to hunt down extra-fancy rice to make rice pudding. There’s no need to complicate what’s meant to be a simple, basic, dessert. If the previous paragraph makes you hyperventilate and you can’t find round rice (in the U.S., you might want to stop in the Mexican or Spanish food aisle of the supermarket, rather than in the traditional rice aisle, to find round or short-grain rice) you’ll be happy to know that plain long- or medium-grain white rice works fine, too.
Some bistros in France will serve rice pudding from a big bowl, allowing guests to help themselves. It’s often accompanied by a caramel sauce, a standard one or a salted butter caramel. I went with salted candied almonds this time around, which are simple to make, and are one of my back-pocket hacks to add welcome crunch, color, and flavor to any dessert you shower them over.