Rice Pudding with a Caramel Topping
While there are a great variety of sweet things in Spanish cooking, few are meant as puddings to have after a meal; they are more to have with a cup of café con leche, mid-morning. On the whole, after a meal they prefer fresh fruit and nuts or ice cream, but rice pudding and flan are the desserts eaten with any regularity, in the home and in restaurants. Asturias claims to be home for this pudding, the region being famous for its milk. Instead of baking the rice and milk as we do in Britain, they are simmered together on top of the stove, flavoured with lemon and cinnamon, then left to cool to room temperature and served finished with a crunchy layer of caramel on top. You can get a half-decent topping by sliding the rice pudding under your grill, but it’s better to use a blowtorch or a quemador, a thick cast-iron disc attached to a long handle. You heat this in a gas flame until extremely hot, then lower it onto the surface of the sugar, which caramelizes in a matter of seconds. Don’t, like me, buy a cheap aluminium one though. It’s got to be cast-iron, or you’ll end up with a pool of molten aluminium on top of your stove.
- 1 l full-cream milk
- 1 10cm cinnamon stick
- Pared zest of 1 lemon
- 125 g short-grain pudding rice
- 100 g caster sugar, plus extra for the tops
- 30 g unsalted butter
- Pinch of salt
Bring the milk, cinnamon stick, lemon zest and rice to the boil in a large saucepan, stirring frequently to loosen the rice sticking to the base of the pan. Lower the heat and leave to simmer for 30–35 minutes, stirring regularly, until the rice is tender and the mixture is creamy and thick.
Remove and discard the cinnamon stick and pieces of lemon zest, stir in the sugar and simmer for a further 10 minutes, continuing to stir regularly.
Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the butter and a small pinch of salt, then spoon the mixture into 4 small, shallow ovenproof dishes. Level the tops and leave to cool but do not refrigerate.
Just before serving, finish the tops. Sprinkle a generous tablespoon of sugar in a thick layer on each pudding and, holding the blowtorch about 5cm away, caramelize it. Allow to cool for just a moment, then serve, while the topping is still brittle.