Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site

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Rice Pudding, an Ancient Treat and Wonderful Winter Food







(Grazie you for the lovely message in the guest-book that mentions this page as a "history of rice pudding since Eve offered some to Adam with steamed apple, no doubt".  Candida)

Quick links for this page's recipes:


Easy Rice Pudding Recipe - Made with Cooked Rice


Italian Rice Desserts

The Earliest Humans Ate Pudding

The earliest hunter-gathers collected grains and boiled them up to make a pap or pudding or gruel, sweetened with honey.  It was a nutritious, warming food that was very easy on the stomach, which is why it’s still a baby’s first food and given to invalids.

The earliest settled humans cultivated grains and made pap, bread and alcoholic drinks from them.  Later humans traded for grains with neighbors, and eventually adopted their neighbors’ plants, cultivating them where their climate and soil permitted.


Rice and Rice Pudding Came from Asia

Through trade, rice traveled from Asia, where it was originally a native grain, to all around the globe.  Eventually, however, rice came to be grown around the globe.  And on every step along the way, rice was made into rice pudding. 

As rice moved from cuisine to cuisine, the rice pap was:

  • sweetened and flavored,
  • shaped or baked,
  • ingredients added or subtracted to suit local ingredients and tastes. 

But the results, no matter what the culture, were always the same:  a nutritious, easy to digest, energy-rich, rice treat.  Our bodies break down the carbohydrates in rice very quickly, releasing the energy for near-immediate use.  That’s why it’s considered a wonderful warming winter food.  And rice contains almost no fat.


I Believe Firmly that Good Food Does NOT Require Hard Work! 

With that in mind, below is my recipe for a wonderful, warming, wintry Rice Pudding that’s ready in minutes.  I offer some variations you can use to adjust it to your tastes or dietary requirements, so you can continue in the traditions of the earliest humans.

JUST A NOTE:  This recipe is for cooked rice.  I try to make extra rice whenever I cook some, then freeze 2 cup portions for when the Rice Pudding craving hits.  It’s easy to thaw it out in the microwave.  Or if you’re ordering take-away food from a place that serves rice, order some plain rice, too.  You can use any leftover rice immediately for Rice Pudding, or freeze it for later.


Easy Rice Pudding

Mix together in a saucepan:

1 ½ cups sugar

6 tablespoons flour

( ½ - 1 teaspoon salt if the cooked rice is unsalted)


Set the pan over a high heat and add while stirring:

2 cups whole milk

2 cups cream


When the mixture is hot, add stirring:

2 cups cooked rice

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Keep stirring as it comes to a boil, then reduce the heat slightly to keep a rolling boil, and stir for 3 minutes.  Then remove it from the heat and let it cool.  It thickens more as it cools. 

You can serve it warm, room temperature or cold, garnished to your taste:  whipped cream, chocolate shavings, cinnamon, fruit, nuts…. 


Some Variations (inspired by World Recipes)

Ingredient substitution:

  • Substitute for the whole milk and cream:  Soya milk, rice milk (or oat, almond, goat, sheep’s milk…), coconut milk, condensed milk, skim milk, butter milk (butter milk is the milk left after churning butter, it’s skim milk with milk cultures, and delicious in Rice Pudding).
  • Instead of using white sugar, you can use:  brown sugar, caramel syrup, treacle, honey, a mixture of sugars, any sugar with the addition of a few tablespoons of molasses, reduced sugar or diabetic sugar (in which case you must increase the flour to aid the thickening of the pudding).
  • Replace the white (wheat) flour with:  rice flour, whole grain flour, gluten free flour.
  • Replace white rice with brown rice which is much more nutritious!
  • Replace the vanilla extract with:  a sweet wine, a liqueur, a liquor, rose water, lemon zest, lime zest, cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, saffron.

Cooking variations:

  • Add:  raisons or currents (soaked until plump in hot water first), crushed almonds or other nuts, diced dried fruit, grated coconut, chocolate chips (after pudding cools).
  • Add 3 eggs to the mixture, separated, the whites whipped, and bake in the oven with brown sugar or caramel syrup on top, either in a crust or in a greased dish.  You can also add sugar to the whipped egg whites for a meringue on top of the cooked pudding.
  • Add 3 eggs to the mixture, separated, the whites whipped, and some extra flour (roughly ½ cup to make a more cake-like dough), and fry by spoonfuls in deep hot fat to make Rice Fritters.  Cool on absorbent paper, then sprinkle with sugar.


Rice in an Ancient English Cookbook

The Forme of Cury is a medieval cooking guide from the year 1390 that was compiled by the mastercooks of England’s King Richard II.  It includes roughly 196 recipes, which were called formulas back then, as cookery was considered a branch of medicine.  In fact, in many Romance Languages, the word for a drug prescription is the same word that became the English word ‘recipe’. 

Rice was imported from the Near and Far East during that time, so it was expensive and definitely a food fit for a King!  In the Forme, which is written in Late Middle English, rice is spelled 'res' or ‘ryse’ or ‘rys’.  There are recipes for a rice pap (resmolle) and for a saffron risotto (Potage of Rys). 

Late Middle English is just readable by us today if you read the text aloud.  It sounds like English even if the spellings are different.  For example, the instructions for cooking rice begin:

Take Ryse and waishe hem clene  (Translation:  Take rice and wash him clean…)

But it just goes to show how rice and rice dishes passed from one culture to another, usually starting from the top of society.  This was because only the wealthy could afford the early imported rice and the spices needed to flavor it.  (For those who are interested, here's a link to an on-line PDF copy of The Forme of Cury.)

When rice began to be cultivated in Italy’s Po Valley, the price came down and it’s use in European cuisine increased, especially in Italian cuisine.


Italian Rice Pudding (Budino di riso), Rice Fritters (Frittelle di riso), Rice Tart (Crostata di riso)

Each of these three Italian rice desserts uses the same basic recipe, the difference is in how they are cooked.

  • Budino di riso - Rice Pudding, is baked in the oven for 20 minutes in a greased oven dish.
  • Frittelle di riso - Rice Fritters are deep-fat-fried in hot oil, drained on paper, and sugared.
  • Crostata di riso - Rice Tart means the rice pudding is cooked in the oven for 20 minutes in a cookie-like crust (Pasta Frolla).

Simple Basic Recipe for Italian Rice Desserts

Use my Easy Rice Pudding recipe from above, then add the following to the completed Rice Pudding.

  • 4 tablespoons of butter
  • 1/2 cup of raisons, first soaked until plump in hot water
  • 1/4 cup sweet wine like Vin Santo or Marsala wine
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind (see my tip for easy grating if this is a problem for you)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 whipped egg whites folded in

Use the resulting batter for each of the three types of Italian rice desserts listed above:  Budino di riso, Frittelle di riso, Crostata di riso (it's enough for 2 tarts).  Here's the Crostata crust recipe. 

Crostata Crust - One Tart Crust - Pasta Frolla

½ cup flour

½ cup melted butter

¼ cup sugar

2 egg yolks

1 tsp grated lemon rind

1 tsp sweet dessert wine (such as Marsala or Vin Santo)


Mix the butter with the flour.  Add the sugar, egg yolks, wine, and the lemon rind and work it quickly into a dough.  Form the dough into a ball, wrap it in waxed paper and place it in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.  Remove, roll out, and fit into the tart pan.  Use all the dough, folding the sides in to make a thick edge to the thick crust.  (Alternately, you can fit it in the pan immediately, then set the pan in the freezer for 15 minutes.)  


Some World Cuisine Rice Puddings

If you’re interested in making one of the world’s many Rice Puddings, type their names in any search engine with the word ‘recipe’, and lots of recipe-links appear.

  • Kheer (or Payasam or Payas) is Indian Rice Pudding seasoned with cardamom, almonds, raisons, saffron and sometimes rose water.
  • Eight Treasure Rice Pudding is Chinese Rice Pudding served on special occasions, which uses dates, sweet red bean paste and syrup to sweeten it.  A simpler version uses cinnamon and clove to spice it up.
  • Bibingka is the Philippines’ Rice Pudding that’s made with coconut milk, condensed milk and brown sugar then baked in the oven.  Then it’s cooled and sliced into squares and eaten like a candy bar.  In some areas of the Philippines, a similar mixture is wrapped in palm leaves and steamed (like Tamales) and sold as a sweet treat from kiosks.
  • Mennonite Rice Pudding uses rice cooked in milk, then adds eggs, raisons, butter, flavorings (vanilla or nutmeg or cinnamon), and then bakes it in the oven.
  • Shir-Berenj is a Persian Rice Pudding that is sweetened after it’s served by each person to taste using sugar or jam. 
  • Sholeh-Zard is a baked Persian Rice Pudding topped with pistachio nuts and almonds with cinnamon (the combination makes my mouth water!).

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Rice Pudding and variations found around the world, Wikipedia has lots of interesting trivia on their Rice Pudding Page. 

So stay warm in winter with an ancient dish as old as humankind, and very easy to make:  Rice Pudding!


Visit all my Summer Sweets Pages:

Creme - Custards

Granita - Water Ices

Dolci al cucchiaio - Spoon-Breads

Sweet Salami


Rice Pudding