I was sifting through my piles of cookbooks today, and was inspired to cook Mrs Beeton’s rice pudding.
I am not sure what the origin of English rice pudding is, although according to Wikipedia it dates to a Tudor food. I like to think of it as early Chinese fusion food, but whatever the inspiration it was middle class comfort food in the mid 19th century and a staple dish in the children’s nursery. Taiwanixfu Toddler loves rice, and loves milk, so I knew he would enjoy this simple dish. And he did.
Several years ago I was inspired to think about food writing after reading Kathryn Hughes’ biography ‘The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton‘. Isabella Beeton was a real person, who wrote a series of household management and fashion articles for her publisher husband before dying as a young woman — only 28 years of age — in 1865. Her most famous work, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, was inspired by other sources (i.e. probably ‘borrowed’) yet lives on as a classic. In fact, variations of the original are still in publication.
Many of Mrs Beeton’s recipes are heavy and traditional. They were designed to showcase the sort of meals that an aspiring middle class mistress of the house could serve to wow guests at a dinner party. A lot of meat, suet and fat.
Yet some of them have stood the test of time. I remember reading that Kathryn Hughes, the author of Mrs Beeton’s biography, acknowledged that she was not a fan of all the Beeton recipes but she quite liked the rice pudding. So I was curious to try it. The pudding is deceptively easy, but seriously good. Don’t even think about substituting leftover rice or shortening the cooking time. I have tried, and the result is just not the same. Some things have stood the test of time for a reason.
100g/4 oz short grain rice
1 litre/2 pints of milk
75g/3 oz sugar
butter for greasing
15g finely shredded suet or butter (optional)
grated nutmeg or ground sugar.
1. Soak the rice in milk for 3 to 4 hours. I was somewhat sceptical that such a small amount of rice was right for a litre of milk, but the rice will swell.
2. Grease a large baking dish (e.g. such as a pie dish) with butter. Mix the sugar into the milk mixture, and pour the whole lot into the baking dish.
3. Dot small pieces of the extra fat on top of the milk and rice mixture. Sprinkle with the grated nutmeg or ground cinnamon. (I actually didn’t add either of these. I was baking this for my kids, and Taiwanxifu Preschooler can be fussy about anything that is not plain. It still turned out fine.)
4. Bake at a very slow oven for around two an a half hours until the top is golden brown. My oven is fanforced and I find it is a fast oven. I had it on at 140C at first, but turned it down to around 110C.
I was a bit worried at first about the cooking method: should I cover the mixture, stir it from time to time, or do anything else? I opted to just follow the directions and leave it to bake. The top level of the milk will form a ‘skin’, which will turn golden brown and puff up to a nice mushroom dome. The resulting layer forms a nice contrast; it is not quite a crust, not quite crunchy, but it is chewy and to my mind the best bit. And it peels back to reveal a luscious, creamy layer of milky rice.