Don’t fuss too much over the ratios here; there’s nothing precise about rice pudding. If you can’t find cherries, use strawberries. If it’s too cold for strawberries, stew apples. Practically any rice you have will work, and the same goes for liquid. Rice pudding is at its roots, a thrifty dish to make; infinitely adaptable to what’s on hand, and a practical trick to have up your sleeve when cupboards are bereft. You could eat this warm or cold, but I think it’s nicest chilled, when all ingredients have had the chance to become properly acquainted.
Start with one cup of rice; I like mine with short grain brown rice (you could also use white rice, though it won’t be as nutty), and throw it in a pot.
To said pot add one litre of milk, and one litre of water. All strains of nut milk are apt choices here; my picks being almond, hazelnut or macadamia. Almond and cherry make for excellent bedfellows (anyone who has eaten a Danish can verify this), and I love hazelnut milk to the point that I would classify drinking it as a hobby. Macadamia milk, whilst paradoxically extravagant to rice pudding’s frugal undertones, is astonishingly buttery and tastes like melted vanilla ice-cream. If you live in a subtropical climate or are very rich, use it. Otherwise, hazelnut milk or almond milk will do the trick.
Next, throw in a good pinch of salt (don’t skip this), plus one cinnamon stick, one cardamom pod and a vanilla bean, sliced cleanly down the middle with the seeds scraped and added too. If you have none of these (because who ever does, really?), use ground cinnamon, ground cardamom, and a dash of vanilla extract, but add it at the end.
To sweeten, add a third of a cup of sugar. This could be white sugar, or brown sugar, or raw sugar, I don’t really care. This could also definitely be coconut sugar, which I fake-hate for its trendiness, but respect for it’s butterscotchiness. Other good options are honey, maple syrup, date syrup or, to a far lesser extent, brown rice syrup. If you plan on reducing the sugar then please don’t tell me about it, and if you plan contaminating everything with stevia then frankly I am baffled but this is your journey.
Those who plan on omitting the sweetener altogether probably shouldn’t be making rice pudding in the first place and, if you’re really scratching at the back of the pantry, evaporated cane juice or chopped dates or even applesauce, will do in a pinch. The important thing is that you’re sweetening it somewhat. There’s a fine line between being thrifty and being a Victorian orphan, but I digress.
Bring the whole thing to the boil, then lower the heat to gentle simmer. You want it on the stove for about an hour, stirring every now and then. It’s not as needy as risotto – but a good mix here and there will ensure that it doesn’t stick to the bottom and the vanilla distributes fairly, and the rice melds properly with the milk. When it’s tender and creamy (taste to check), adjust levels of salt, sugar and spice, then turn off the heat.
Allow to cool, then transfer to the fridge to chill. If the whole thing happens to look parched and tragic, add a splash more milk. Champions will stir through a spoonful of butter prior to the cooling bit.
The cherry compote, which you will make while the rice is cooking, calls for two cups of cherries. These are understandably a pain to pit but frustratingly worth the effort; frozen cherries work and dodge the pitting ordeal entirely. You want two cups of them, in a smaller pot with the juice and zest of an orange, as well as 1/4 cup of honey, or sugar. Bring to the boil, then turn down and simmer for about ten minutes. Remove the cherries with a slotted spoon and set aside. Simmer the juices until they are thickened and glossy – maybe ten minutes more max – then remove from heat. Reintegrate the exiled cherries. Serve over cold bowls of rice pudding.