Nearly all of the desserts in Paris were extremely ornate, with pretty colors and artful boops to the nines. Eye candy was everywhere, and it was an essential part of the storybook fantasylandness that is Paris. The eclairs were tiny edible sculptures, the cream puffs were like oversized jewels, and many of the macarons were dusted with gold. The one dessert that left the biggest impression on me, however, was the ugliest: rice pudding! We had it for dessert at L’Ami Jean, where it was spooned into a large bowl over ice cream and crunchies, and then again the next night at Chez Georges, where it was loosey goosey and outstandingly velvety. On the second night, I just could not stop eating it.
Rice pudding grossed me out in my childhood. I loved standard chocolate and vanilla pudding cups so much, especially when they came in Lunchables, but every time I’d go to the store with my mom and make my pudding selection, I felt almost violated by the fact that rice pudding invaded my line of vision when I was just trying to look at the other pudding. The same way I currently feel if I ever have to go past the bananas on the way to the apples. It was all about the texture with rice pudding: why was it caviary and translucent? Why did it look like little eyeballs? Why did it have to be that way and what was wrong with regular pudding?
In my old age, I’ve come to appreciate the textural structure of rice in a pudding. I like chewing my pudding. It’s not scary anymore, it’s just rice, and it’s not like it’s cottage cheese or anything. The rice pudding in Paris wasn’t the first time I’ve had it and enjoyed it, but it was the first time I truly became inspired to make it. Not only was I enchanted by the texture and flavor, but I was also super into how appropriate it was for after a big dinner. Not too heavy, not too sweet, it was an A+ ending bite. And it kind of embodied that effortlessly classy and cool vibe that is basically every Parisian woman. I liked that it came in a big communal bowl without fanfare or garnish, it was a confident dessert.
When I got home I learned how easy it was to make and how it’s magic. You don’t need cornstarch or gelatin, it just thickens with the starch from the rice. At a minimum, you can make it simply by boiling rice in milk and adding sugar. I was inspired by the creaminess of the Chez Georges rice pudding to add a little heavy cream, and then by Jessica Battilana’s recipe to add richness via an egg yolk. To flavor it, I recommend vanilla bean, lemon zest, and either rosewater or a dusting of tonka bean, which gives it a beautiful flavor that’s a cross between cinnamon and vanilla. Tonka beans are illegal in the United States since you can die if you eat like dozens of them but you only ever use a few passes over the microplane at a time. Eating dozens of them would be like eating dozens of nutmeg seeds, ew. And they’re legal pretty much everywhere else, even Canada, so it’s silly that they’re illegal here. I’m not advocating you go and smuggle some into the country but if you bought some in Paris and accidentally forgot about them in your suitcase on the way home then use them for this.
Lastly, I am serving this pudding over Bonne Maman’s very special edition raspberry, strawberry, and elderflower preserves. I love it and its beautiful jar so much. Bonne Maman released it on the occasion of their pop-up boat party in Paris last month, so you can’t actually buy it… but… I'm giving away four jars this week on Instagram! So head over there to win one. Really you can’t go wrong with any preserves in this recipe here. Raspberry or strawberry would be perfect with rosewater rice pudding, or swap out the lemon zest for orange zest in the mixture and serve it over orange preserves. The world is your rice pudding oyster!
3 1/4 c whole milk
1/2 c (100g) arborio or medium grain white rice
1 vanilla bean
1/4 c heavy cream, plus more if desired
1 egg yolk
1/4 c (50g) sugar
1/4 tsp salt
A few passes of tonka bean, optional
1/4 tsp rosewater, optional
Zest of 1/2 lemon
Bonne Maman preserves, for serving
Pistachios, sprinkles, candied rose petals, optional, for serving
In a medium pot, combine milk, rice, and vanilla and bring to a simmer over medium high. Simmer, uncovered, stirring often, for 20-30 minutes, until rice is soft. Reduce heat if it creeps above a simmer. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolk and heavy cream. Drizzle in 1/2 cup of the hot rice mixture while whisking very quickly, then slowly drizzle this into the pot while whisking. Add sugar and continue to whisk and cook for 2 more minutes, or until the texture is porridge like. Remove from heat and stir in salt, tonka (if using), rosewater (if using), and lemon zest. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until cooled. Pudding will continue to thicken as it cools.
To serve, spoon preserves into the bottom of a glass and top with rice pudding and sprinkle things of choice. If you’d like your rice pudding on the looser side, you can stir in another splash of heavy cream.