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Use a rice cooker to make the best rice pudding ever

By Wolfgang Puck

This article was published September 11, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.

You can vary this recipe with different fruits, such as peaches, and by adding other spices.

“Do you always make everything from scratch, the old-fashioned way?” That’s a question I’m asked often by people who love to cook.

My answer has two parts, just like the question itself. I begin by telling people that, yes, I make everything from scratch whenever possible — and within reason. At Spago, for example, we bake our own breads every day, and whisk up mayonnaise from egg yolks and oil, and simmer our own stocks. For the best quality at home, too, I prefer preparing my own mayonnaise, and I’ll keep a supply of homemade stock in the freezer, but we’ll usually eat bread from a good bakery rather than baking

it ourselves.

The second part of my answer, though, may be different than you might expect: The old-fashioned way isn’t always the best. Take making stock. Like many chefs, I’ve found that modern pressure cookers make the best stock. They dramatically cut cooking time while extracting maximum flavor. And the pressure prevents the bones from releasing impurities that can cloud stock. The result is beautifully clear and delicious.

I never mind using smart, efficient modern appliances that deliver great results. I’ve successfully used immersion blenders, for example, to make mayonnaise in seconds. And I’m devoted to my countertop electric panini maker, as many of you no doubt already know.

Another example of appliances I like is the countertop electric rice cooker. Add measured amounts of grain and liquid, plug it in, close the lid, press a button, and you get perfectly cooked rice every time.

I also like to extend the use of my rice cooker to make more than just that simple side. In the past, I’ve shared with you an easy recipe for delicious rice cooker macaroni and cheese. Today, I’d like to offer up my recipe for a great version of my grandmother’s custardy rice pudding, cooked in a rice cooker and then layered parfait-style with fresh fruit.

This recipe calls for short-grained Arborio rice, the kind used in classic risotto, but you could use other short or

medium-grained varieties. You can also make variations using different fruits, and by adding other spices such as ground cinnamon or ginger.

Since the recipe includes a custard mixture that’s combined with the rice to cook inside the rice cooker, it’s important to watch out for curdling, the formation of lumps as the yolk mixture thickens. If that happens, save the mixture simply by removing it immediately from the heat and whisking it briskly until smooth, as directed in the recipe.

Regardless, you’ll find this recipe surprisingly simple, and the results are outstanding. Nothing beats making a great dessert from scratch, using a newfangled appliance to make an old-fashioned recipe.

RICE PUDDING PARFAITS WITH FRESH FRUIT

Serves 6

Ingredients:

1/2 cup arborio rice

1 cup cold water

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups milk

Grated zest of 1 orange

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise in half, seeds scraped out and reserved

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup Grand Marnier

4 large cage-free egg yolks

1 cup each fresh organic blueberries, diced strawberries and raspberries

Directions:

Put the rice in a fine-meshed sieve, and rinse it thoroughly under cold running water. Drain well. Put the rice in an automatic rice cooker with the 1 cup cold water. Add the salt, and close the rice cooker. Plug in the cooker, and set it to “Cook.” (The “Keep Warm” light will turn on after about 15 minutes, but keep the cooker closed for 20.)

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine the milk, orange zest, vanilla bean and seeds, sugar and Grand

Marnier. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to steep for 15 minutes.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth. While whisking continuously, pour in 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture; continue whisking until thoroughly blended. While whisking continuously, gradually pour the milk-and-egg mixture into the pan containing the hot milk.

Hold a wire-meshed strainer over the rice in the rice cooker. Pour the milk-and-egg mixture from the pan through the strainer into the rice; discard the vanilla bean. With a heatproof rubber spatula, stir together the liquid and rice, using the spatula’s flexible blade to dislodge and incorporate all of the rice from the bottom of the cooker pot.

Turn the rice cooker back on to the “Cook” setting, and leaving the lid open, stir constantly with the spatula until the mixture begins to steam and thicken. Watch carefully that it doesn’t come to a boil.

As soon as thickening begins, switch the rice cooker to “Keep Warm,” and continue stirring over the lower heat for about 2 minutes longer. Then close the rice cooker lid, and leave the mixture to sit for 8 minutes, opening the cooker halfway through to stir it thoroughly but briefly. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice cubes and water, and rest a medium bowl in its middle.

Open the rice cooker, and carefully remove its pot. Scrape the rice pudding mixture into the bowl set in the ice bath. If you observe any curdling, briefly whisk the mixture until smooth. Leave the pudding to cool in the ice bath.

Use six tumblers, large martini glasses or wine glasses for assembling the parfaits. Divide one third of the cooked pudding among the 6 glasses, spreading it evenly on their bottoms. Top the rice with a layer of blueberries, dividing all of them evenly among the glasses. Spoon in another layer of about half of the remaining pudding, and top it with a layer of all the strawberries. Finally, add the remaining pudding, and arrange the raspberries on top.

Cover the glasses with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for several hours until thoroughly chilled. Serve cold.

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