I suppose we had a milk pudding at least twice a week through my childhood, at home or at school. Rice pudding has now come back into favour but other milk puddings remain forgotten. Many who remember them will not regret their demise. The arrival of tapioca (footballs), sago (frogspawn) and semolina (my memory fails me here) at the school dining table were divisive moments: greedy little chaps like me would lick their lips, others would recoil with horror.
These odd starches are indeed a little obscure. While semolina is only wheat, sago is extracted from tropical palms and tapioca is derived from manioc, or cassava. The texture of these starches is a little slippery. That is why odd people like me like them and most people don’t.
But a milk pudding made with rice – and a little cream – has always been my favourite, even on the occasion when my mother forgot to put the rice in her pudding. I make mine simply, sprinkling the rice into the milk and letting the oven do the work. Modern chefs tend to cook the rice on the stove and then fold in cream and egg yolks. Even my chum Simon Hopkinson (in his book The Good Cook) cooks the rice with the sugar and butter before baking his pudding.
A rice pudding is dandy but a little something with it helps. Strawberry jam or a few poached prunes are excellent. On this occasion I have baked some figs. I just hope our cleaner will forgive the deployment of last year’s Christmas present – Grzaniec Galicyjski, basically a sweet mulled wine – in the cooking process. In the event of your being unable to source this product, or indeed pronounce it, the judicious simmering of some red wine with cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar will produce a similar effect.
The small amount of rice will seem totally inadequate for the volume of milk and cream. Have faith. Serves eight.
1 vanilla pod (or a few drops of extract)
150g pudding rice
8 fresh figs
150ml red wine
30g caster sugar
● Preheat the oven to 160C. Combine milk and cream in a saucepan and add the sugar, a vanilla pod split in half with the seeds scraped into the mix and a few strips of lemon peel. Bring this mixture to the boil and, once the sugar is dissolved, pour it into an ovenproof dish at least 10cm deep. Wash the rice in a sieve with cold running water and then sprinkle into the milk and cream mixture and stir well with a fork.
● Place the dish on a tray in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
● Stir the pudding again to ensure the rice is well distributed. Then close the oven door and do nothing for one hour, apart from peeking occasionally to make sure it is not cooking too quickly or burning on top. Once a beautiful golden brown skin has formed on the surface, turn the oven down to 150C and cover loosely with a sheet of foil to protect it. The pudding should be cooked, ie the milk set, within a further half hour and when a little shake of the dish will produce just a slight wobble in the centre of the pudding. It is best served warm but not “piping” hot.
● For the figs, bring the wine and sugar to a simmer with a pinch or grating of cinnamon and nutmeg. Wash the figs and place upright in a baking dish and pour the hot mixture over them. Bake in a medium oven for 20-30 minutes until they are soft and plump. Allow to cool a little before serving.
Rowley’s drinking choice
The rice pudding will enjoy any sweet white wine but the fig accompaniment suggests a sweet red such as Banyuls or Maury or even a seasonal glass of Tawny port.
Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais