Winter Comfort Food: Baked Rice Pudding

When we were kids, the CFO and I would rejoice if we woke up on a December morning to find that the street had been coated in a blanket of snow while we’d slept.  We’d squeal with delight (after the high-fives) knowing that we’d most likely be snowed in for the day (and have a reprieve from school).  Looking out at the the trees and bushes dredged in soft, white powder, our imaginations transformed the front yard into the setting for any number of outdoor games, from “Living-in-an-igloo” to “I’m-going-to-infiltrate-your-fort” to “My-snow-angel-is-prettier-than-your-snow-angel.” We couldn’t help but feel elated as we wriggled into our snowsuits, boots and mittens before our mother wrapped our heads, mummy-style, in multicolor striped scarves, smeared a swath of Vaseline across our cheeks and noses, then ushered us out the door into the cold.

While we perceived snow as a novel backdrop to hours of carefree games, my mother, I realize now, wasn’t so keen.  To her, snow was another hurdle in an already-harried existence, one that added time and effort to her ten-block walk to the grocery store and back (she never did learn to drive a car): a cold, wet, unwelcome crystalline substance that, packed into balls at the hands of snotty little Peter Piacek next door, could be hurled in her direction as she attempted to maneuver her way home amid the snowdrifts that settled in the tops of her anke-high boots; the erratic ruts carved out along the sidewalks (threatening to topple her along with the grocery bags); or the slush that soaked through to her toes and left grey splotches on her pantyhose once she finally got back into the house.

This morning, I woke up to discover that our street had been entirely blanketed in snow while we slept.  The white stuff floated gently from the heavens, settling like the dust after a skyscraper demolition on the sidewalks and driveway.  No, I did not squeal with delight.  No, there were no high-fives.  I blinked a few times in disbelief before a little sob caught in my throat. I couldn’t deny it any longer:  winter has arrived.

I need to move to a place that has no winter.

True, there was a cute little twitter exchange among a few of us in the GTA this morning about snow and how it is, indeed, very beautiful–for the first twenty minutes or so.  After that, it’s simply a collosal pain.

When the weather turns frigid, white, and bone-chilling like this, I want to hunker down. I want to curl up and squeeze myself into a very small space.  (“Actually, Mum, that’s rather relaxing–I think you’d like it!  You should come join me under the bed once in a while.” ) I want to be anywhere but here.

And so, I seek out comfort.  Sure, I could ask the HH for a hug (and sometimes, I do).  And that would comfort me–for a few seconds, at least.  Comfort food, on the other hand, will remain with you for hours after the fact (or, depending on where it eventually settles, years!).  And rice pudding, my friends, is the ultimate comfort food.

My mother used to make a particular style of rice pudding in the winter.   First, it was baked rather than cooked on the stovetop; and second, it contained eggs and milk, which, when baked, formed a custard layer on top of the rice.  I suppose the custard was meant to be stirred into the grains to form a creamy coating that blended throughout the pudding; but in our house, my mom simply cut the dessert into big blocks and placed them on plates, like pieces of cake.  I used to scrape off the custard and leave the densely packed rice behind (no, that didn’t go over too well with Mom.  I think she was already in a foul mood because of those snowballs).

I decided to try my hand at a vegan version of Mom’s pudding.  After all, I’d made custards with silken tofu before, right?  I cooked up some rice, topped it with the blended custard mixture, and baked it.  The result was almost identical to my mom’s pudding–well, the bottom, brick-hard layer, that is.  Somehow, the tofu mixture dissolved into the rice, leaving no custard behind.  Undaunted, I opted for custardless pudding instead.  In fact, I went for a fairly non-creamy pudding entirely, switching from custard to fruit. Equally comforting, if not equally rich.

This pudding is similar to a baked oatmeal, using rice instead of oats.  I grate the apple rather than cut it in chunks so that it becomes part of the pudding base, adding sweetness to the entire dish rather than offering small diced bits studded here and there.  The result is a slightly less sweet, definitely less creamy version of a rice pudding, but one that is immensely comforting in its rustic wholesomeness.  You’ll taste a hint of apple throughout, but I wouldn’t call this an apple-flavored pudding; rice is definitely the main attraction.  I topped mine with some vegan whipped topping for richness and creaminess, which worked perfectly when stirred into the pudding base.

Earlier today, I stood before the window of my office and watched the snow continue to flutter from the sky as it filled our driveway with a thick, deep layer of silver that glimmered in the early afternoon light. It showed no sign of abating, and I knew I had perhaps an hour or more of heavy shovelling in my future if I wanted to get the car out of the driveway (or if the HH wanted to get his car back in after work).

But there was rice pudding in the refrigerator.  I served up another bowlful and enjoyed it as the snow continued to accost the streets below.  May as well build up my strength for the inevitable.


Last Year at this Time: Anti-Candida Update: Holiday Edition

Two Years Ago: Raw Imitation “Fried Rice”

Three Years Ago: Dog Day: How Elsie Got Named

© Ricki Heller

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  1. I love rice pudding so much. The first time I made it I used a recipe from one of my mother’s classic cookbooks that called for a very small amount of rice — it was either two tablespoons or 1/2 cup — and a quart of milk. It baked in the oven for several hours. There was so much liquid I never thought it would turn into rice pudding, but it did, and was fabulous.

    • I’d love that recipe, Andrea–I bet it’s close to my all-time favorite rice pudding, which was made by a friend’s mother when I was younger. Do you still have it?

      • No, sorry to say I don’t. I don’t know what became of my mother’s cookbooks and recipes, but she may have disposed of them when she and my father moved to Florida. I’d love to have access to them now, as there are other recipes I wish I had. It might be in The Settlement Cookbook.

  2. I used to dream of waking up with snow blanketing my world – but if you want to move somewhere with never a snowflake, then Melbourne is your place – I was so excited to finally see snow as a child.

    I did have rice pudding as a child though and agree it is great comfort food any time of day – find your experiments sound interesting – baked apple is also comfort food so I am not surprised it helped you out here

    • Well, you *know* how much I’d love to move to Melbourne! (just have to get over my fear of those pesky funnel webs. . . or else purchase a portable syringe of anti-venom). 😉 The baked apple here makes it taste much more substantial and like a meal rather than a dessert–just what I wanted yesterday.

  3. When I was vegetarian (not vegan) my favorite, favorite, favorite dessert was rice pudding at Indian restaurants. And when I was in India, I ate it whenever I came across it. I’ve yet to taste a delicious vegan version — this looks like it may be the winner! Can’t wait to try it!

  4. Oh Ricki…I’m SO with you on disliking the winter! I live in Wisconsin and we got out first snow last week. The first five minutes were pretty, but now I’m counting down the days to spring!

    Your pudding looks wonderful. Just the bowl of comfort I needed. 🙂

  5. Snow. Snow. 🙁 Oh it’s frigid down here! And while I’ve never loved rice pudding, the promise of comfort & warmth is just what I need!

  6. That has to be the most beautiful rice pudding ever, Ricki! And, I love the ingredients. 🙂 Such a simple, but wonderfully executed concoction. You constantly amaze me with your recipes and your imagery. I could see the snotty kid next door and your mom giving you the look for only eating the custard part. Is there a sunny location in your future? I mean it’s about 6 mos of cold weather where you live, right? 😉

    Hugs and warm rice pudding to you,

  7. Move here! 😀 We have a less severe winter than most places.

  8. If you can get over the flight, come here! No snow, today was 15°c, tomorrow it will be 19°c. And sunny.
    Your mother would be so proud of you! This pudding I’m sure does her proud! Sending love to you ma grande soeur!

  9. Oh my, I’m now very hungry! How do you think it would come out in a slow cooker?

  10. I’ll trade you my Florida sun for your Canadian health care and weather in a heart beat. (No kidding.) Thanks for the breakfast suggestion, we are in need of some new morning recipes around here, and that looks delicious!

  11. Made this today and enjoyed it – substituted arrowroot for the cornstarch and then added more vanilla almond milk to my serving bowl with the pudding. Thanks for the recipe!

  12. Looks delicious. Making me hungry again and I just ate dinner a little bit ago 😉

  13. this would definitely get me up in the morning! and comfort me all day 🙂

  14. Excellent! I made this for our family Christmas gathering, to have a gluten-free vegan option, and the whole group loved it. I will definitely make this again. Thanks, and happy holidays!

  15. This looks delicious and comforting. Rice puddings were something I used to stay away from but they’ve really grown on me! I’m so jealous of all the snow you get over there!

  16. Baked apple rice pudding! I love the sound of this. Rice pudding is one of my favorite treats and this recipe sounds fantastic. Can’t wait to try it out. Thanks!

  17. Hi Ricki,
    Looking forward to making this in the colder months. Is there a substitute for corn starch?


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