To continue the theme of sugar – in part with my previous blog posts on baking and cake – I have been suppressing sweet-toothed dirty desires by staring at pictures of desserts on the internet. One particular dish keeps coming back to the top of my ‘to cook’ list yet I’ve never got round to it until now, content with just ogling it in a very voyeuristic manner. This dish is rice pudding and each time I see a picture of it I’ll carefully mark the page and tell myself, ‘one day that’s going to happen’, just like when you fancy an actor or singer and you fantasise about your wedding day.
Most people’s associations with rice pudding do not encourage it to be top of the treat list – thick, congealed gloop served lukewarm with a surface of papery skin – and usually the school lunch dud dessert compared with apple crumble or chocolate-glazed doughnuts. Nigel Slater refers to the school lunch horror show as ‘frogspawn’ but the real, sweet and milky pudding that has survived centuries in Britain as ‘soothing’. My first taste of rice pudding was not at school (a lucky escape) but from a tin of Ambrosia. Famous for its thick, egg-yolk yellow custard, Ambrosia are the gods of creamy tinned desserts made with Devonshire milk. If anyone knows the beguiling nectar with which they infuse their desserts please let me know as a tin of rice pudding, gently warmed then sprinkled with demerara sugar, is one of life’s great joys. Thanks to this delicious quick option to quell my sweet tooth, it seemed unnecessary to make my own rice pudding from scratch.
It’s only because of a spontaneous purchase of fellow sugar connoisseur, Annie Rigg’s cookbook, ‘Summer Berries and Autumn Fruits’, that I’ve finally told myself enough’s enough and finally make the rice pudding already. Annie serves her cardamom and orange-infused pudding alongside baked plums, sticky with ruby syrup. Mine is flavoured with simple vanilla – although that said vanilla can never be simple, its heady floral scent sweetening the rich fragrance of the milk. This creates a solid base for my chosen toppings.
Usually served with a blob of vivid jam like a gemstone of colour in the centre of soft milky rice, you can either stir it in or scrape away at slowly but surely, each mouthful of creamy pudding and small sweet hit of raspberry or blackcurrant. For the lack of jam you can simmer seasonal fruit into a compote or simply sprinkle with sugar. As I love to over-complicate my food, I’ve decided to cover my pudding in fruit. At this time of year there is no seasonal fruit around bar the rather frail forced rhubarb so I’ve settled for the year-round consistency that is banana. So, my sticky toffee banana rice pudding was born.
When a banana is cooked it transforms into something squidgy, fudgy and soft. Their sweetness intensifies with the heat and their buttery texture melts in your mouth. Combine all that with a wonderful caramel sauce, deeply amber and treacly to balance the sweet bananas, you have the best of both worlds, a sticky toffee banana rice pudding.
A bowl of this sweet stuff is all I need. My sugar addiction, woozy and fulfilled, is satisfied until next time.
Sticky toffee banana rice pudding
- 75 g short-grain rice I used Arborio, the fancy pudding rice
- 25 g + 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 325 ml full fat milk
- A pinch of salt
- 2 bananas
- 2 tsp butter
For the sticky toffee sauce
- 100 ml double cream
- 50 g butter
- 50 g brown sugar
- 1 tbsp golden syrup
- Place the rice and 175ml of cold water in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain and return to the pan with the sugar, milk, vanilla and salt.
- Bring to the boil slowly then simmer gently. Stir now and then until the rice is tender and the milk is absorbed, approximately 25 minutes.
- Slice one banana into rounds. Melt the 2 tsp of butter in a frying pan and add the 1 tsp sugar. Allow to dissolve and sizzle then add the banana slices. Cook for 5 minutes until soft and caramelised.
- Meanwhile, make the sticky toffee sauce. Put all the sauce ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Let the sugar dissolve, butter melt and all the ingredients combine, then bring to the boil. Cook for 5 minutes or so until it darkens to a delicious toffee colour. If the sauce separates, add a splash of water.
- Test the rice and if softly tender add the caramelised banana and half the toffee sauce. Chop the other banana and stir into the rice pudding.
- Dollop the pudding into two bowls and top with more sticky toffee sauce, a sprinkle of cinnamon and a splash of cream.