If I had a pound for every person who’s told me they hate rice pudding, I would be a rich woman. It might be the most hated dessert in Britain, and we have our school system to blame for it. The rice pudding that is ubiquitous (and seemingly generation-crossing) in British schools is offensively bland, inexplicably metallic and unbelievably gelatinous. Made with milk powder and water, never introduced even in passing to actual milk, then poured into a quadrant of a battered plastic tray, it is many people’s first dalliance with rice pudding and, understandably, their last.
I’m not sure its original incarnation would do much to persuade the deniers, either: in The Forme of Cury , a collection of recipes dating back to 1380, rice pudding was a savoury dish made with bone broth. It’s not until the 15th century that it was sweetened, when honey and, later, sugar were introduced.
A proper rice pudding is a thing of joy. Soft and sweet, comforting in its milky warmth, it is the ultimate nursery food: not a grim school dinner but a pot sitting happily in a cooling oven, post-Sunday roast, the smell of spice gently wafting across the house.
Rice pudding is a global delicacy. The Greeks add richness with egg yolks, the French fragrant vanilla, the Spanish inject a boozy hit of sherry. The Danish version, risalamande, eaten at Christmas, is flavoured with almond and served with a warm cherry sauce. The Lebanese flavour their rice pudding with a rose or orange blossom-scented syrup and top it with chopped pistachios. The Turkish serve their cinnamon-laden rice pudding cold, in tiny tea-glasses.
But my favourite is the plain old common-or-garden English variety, baked in a single large dish and served, family-style, in the centre of the table. It should be cooked low and slow until the rice is tender, and the milk thick and creamy and pooling.