Rice Pudding with Strawberry Compote : Vanilla and Orange Blossom

Rice puddings have a bad rep. Bland, boring, cafeteria fare are some of the less than complimentary descriptors heaped on this humble dessert. But like most old-fashioned dishes, a homemade rice pudding is comfort food at its best–creamy, suave and  lusty. And when the canvas of rice and milk is painted with spices and fruit, it’s easy to make rice pudding into something elegant and even exotic.

As summer gathers her skirts to settle down into the balmy days of June, my desserts revolve more and more around fruit. These days they are heavily strawberry flavored–it’s the height of the berry season, after all. At first, we simply ate them out of hand. Then, we started embellishing strawberries with whipped cream, or better yet, with sour cream or crème fraîche. Recently I’ve been tempted time and again by rice pudding tarts, which are common at Belgian bakeries, and I decided to combine two of my favorite desserts into one.

Layering strawberries macerated with sugar and the vanilla flavored rice pudding already makes for a very elegant presentation, but I wanted to make the flavor likewise glamorous. To do that, I added a small amount of orange blossom water. Floral waters like orange blossom and rose are some of my kitchen staples, which I use nearly as much as vanilla extract in cooking and baking.

Even if you don’t care for floral tastes, a mere 1/4 teaspoon in a batch of sugar cookie dough or vanilla custard can add a haunting flavor and complexity. I love orange blossom water in Middle Eastern desserts because it gives such an appealing green accent and it makes the milk taste sweeter. It also gives a seductive flourish to a familiar taste.

In my rice pudding recipe, I likewise use orange blossom water with a light hand to create a rich flavor without an overly perfumey feel. I add the orange blossom water both in the pudding base and  in the strawberry compote.  As I discovered, it helps mimic the heady perfume of wild strawberries, fraises-des-bois, which in fact share some elements with orange flowers. I don’t include eggs or heavy cream in the pudding because for me the rice provides enough heft, and I prefer to make other flavors stand out. I dare anyone to call it old-fashioned!

Orange Blossom Rice Pudding With Strawberry Compote

You can use other seasonal fruit. Raspberries, peaches, and apricots are perfect as they are, while the flavors of pears, cherries, apples and blueberries can be enriched by tossing them in a hot pan with sugar and a teaspoon of lemon juice. If your strawberries are less then perfect, cooking will concentrate their perfume and sweetness. You can also vary the spices. Cinnamon, saffron, cardamom, and lemon zest are other great possibilities. The canvas of rice is very easy to paint with flavors!

The pudding can be cooked a day or two ahead and stored in the fridge, but don’t layer it with fruit until you’re ready to serve.

My favorite brands for orange blossom are Mymoune and Cortas. Orange blossom water is available from the Middle Eastern stores, Dean & Deluca, online from Kalustyan’s and Amazon.com (in Europe, Amazon.de and G. Detou carry a wide selection of orange blossom waters).

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

Rice Pudding
1/2 cup (100g) short grain rice (such Arborio or Japanese style rice)
2-3 cups (625-750ml) milk, whole or low-fat
a pinch of salt
1/4 cup (50g) sugar + extra 2-3 Tablespoons
1/2 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water

Strawberry Compote
1 cup (150g) hulled strawberries, sliced in small slivers
1/4 teaspoon orange blossom water
2 Tablespoons sugar or to taste

Steps:

  • Mix berries and sugar and let them macerate while you make the pudding.
  • Set a thick bottomed pan on medium heat, add 2 cups of milk and rice and bring to boil. Lower the heat to low and stir, scraping the bottom. If you are using a vanilla bean, split it in half and add it to the milk right now. Depending on the type of rice, the pudding will take 20 to 25 minutes to thicken. As  it cooks, add more milk if needed. Add salt.
  • When the rice grains are soft, add sugar. The cold pudding will taste less sweet, so keep this in mind when adjusting the sugar quantity. Add orange blossom water and vanilla extract, if using. Remove from the heat immediately and cover the pan. Cool the pudding in the fridge. If you were using vanilla bean, you can leave it in the pudding till it cools completely. (Then you can rinse it, dry it out and reuse it one more time. Or stick it in a jar of sugar to flavor it with vanilla.)
  • Layer pudding with compote and serve. Enjoy!

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, all rights reserved.

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33 Comments

  • Barbara: Gorgeous photos! I can almost smell those strawberries right through the laptop screen. I already used up a bottle of rosewater thanks to your posts. I even put it in my oatmeal porridge+pistachios+apricots. Yum! Now, I need a bottle of orange blossom water. 😀 June 28, 2012 at 8:08am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Barbara! So happy that you’ve tried rosewater. I need to try your porridge recipe pronto. It sounds wonderful–a sexy twist on a familiar breakfast dish.

      I bet that you will find lots of ways to use orange blossom water. If you click on the orange blossom water tag under the post, you’ll find a recipe for cookies. The orange blossom water makes such a difference in a simple sugar cookie. June 28, 2012 at 9:28am Reply

  • Mirian: I’m going to make this over the weekend!! Where do you think I can find orange blossom water? I can get rose water, but i’ve never seen orange blossom. June 28, 2012 at 9:05am Reply

    • Bee: yes, that’s my new weekend project too! June 28, 2012 at 9:07am Reply

      • Victoria: Hope that you will enjoy it! I made a big batch last weekend and we’ve been having it for dessert every day this week. Yesterday, I used peaches and rosewater instead of strawberries and orange blossom water, and it was a great combination as well. June 28, 2012 at 9:32am Reply

    • Victoria: Mirian, not sure where you live, but if you have Middle Eastern, Moroccan, Greek, Iranian/Persian or Mediterranean stores in your area, orange blossom water is easily found in those shops. Also, it should be sold at the same shops that carry rosewater. It’s usually right next to it. I usually order it online. I gave a couple of links in the headnote to the recipe. June 28, 2012 at 9:31am Reply

  • lucas: The picture is so charming and the recipe sounds delicious.

    I think I’ll try to cook this one once I’m done with my presentation tomorrow – I’ll have a lot of time then.

    And I’m starting a perfume blog too 😉 June 28, 2012 at 9:53am Reply

    • Victoria: Congrats! Keeping fingers crossed that your presentation goes well, and I already look forward to your blog launch. 🙂

      Thank you, milk, a handful of rice and berries–some of my favorite recipes really don’t require that much. June 28, 2012 at 10:33am Reply

      • lucas: Thanks Victoria, Marsi! You’re cordially invited to the “grand opening” 😉 June 28, 2012 at 2:11pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you. 🙂 We’ll bring champagne and cake. June 28, 2012 at 3:13pm Reply

    • marsi: Best wishes, Lucas! For your presentation and for your new blog. June 28, 2012 at 1:18pm Reply

  • Hana: Sounds delicious! I want to make some right now!

    In Germany (don’t know about other european countries) you can also buy orange blossom water in pharmacies. June 28, 2012 at 10:20am Reply

    • Victoria: Hana, thank you for the tip! Now that you mention it, I know that I’ve seen orange blossom water in pharmacies here in Belgium as well. I assumed that it was for cosmetic use only, but I’ll have to examine them closer the next time. June 28, 2012 at 10:34am Reply

  • marsi: Yummy! It looks beautiful. I’ve never tasted orange blossom water but I like orange blossom in perfume. 😀
    In Spain we make arroz con leche with cinnamon and lemon peel. June 28, 2012 at 1:18pm Reply

    • Victoria: Cinnamon and lemon peel is a great combination! I loved rice pudding in Spain, and if it was on the menu, I always ended up ordering it. June 28, 2012 at 3:13pm Reply

  • minette: ha. lusty rice pudding. love that.

    actually love rice pudding anyway, so this is like taking it to rice pudding heaven.

    thanks for the visual and gustatory treats! June 28, 2012 at 2:45pm Reply

    • Victoria: 🙂 Rice pudding heaven–I like the sound of that! I now want to try the spice combo Marsi mentions below, cinnamon and lemon peel. I bet, it would be so good with some blueberry compote. June 28, 2012 at 3:17pm Reply

  • Suzanna: Excellent–photography and recipe both. We have wonderful strawberries here (and even a strawberry festival), so I think I will enjoy this dish over the weekend.

    I also like rice pudding with cardamom accents! June 28, 2012 at 4:40pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Suzanna! 🙂

      Strawberry match cardamom really well, so you can try marrying them in the same dish. Every day I have these ambitious plans for some complicated desserts, but invariably, I just make something simple. Summer fruit really doesn’t require much embellishment. June 28, 2012 at 5:26pm Reply

  • Andy: This sounds great right about now. Since I don’t have any orange flower water (but wish I had some!), I think I’m going to try the variation you mention in the comments above of peaches and rosewater, using apricots instead of peaches. Can’t wait to try this! June 28, 2012 at 4:55pm Reply

    • Victoria: Andy, I can just imagine that apricots would be fantastic, especially with rosewater. If you have mild flavored honey, you can use it when cooking apricots, because it will make the flavor even more intense.

      A friend of mine makes a fantastic ice cream with apricots and lavender. That’s another thing I want to experiment with. June 28, 2012 at 5:32pm Reply

  • Elena: I love rice pudding. My favorite recipe uses basmati rice, coconut milk in addition to the milk and cream, cardamom, pistachios and golden raisins. I just ordered some Orange Blossom Water to try this one! Pfft to bathing suit season!! June 28, 2012 at 9:03pm Reply

    • Victoria: Your recipe sounds delicious too! I’ve never made rice pudding with coconut milk, only the Thai style tapioca puddings, so I think that I will try that over the weekend.

      Hope that you will enjoy my variation. 🙂 June 29, 2012 at 6:31am Reply

  • Andrea: I love rice pudding, tapioca, creme brûlée and any other milk/sugar pudding with berries atop! I just had my son dipping his blueberries into tapioca pudding, and he loved it. Who says that the “Senior Set” (respectfully stated) get to have all of the fun?

    I ordered Cortes rosewater and orange blossom water to get ready for your next good recipe, so glad that I have a chance to use them! June 28, 2012 at 10:59pm Reply

    • Victoria: Your son is getting the best of sensory education from you–I still remember your comment about the card he made for you. So sweet!

      I have more milk pudding recipes in my collection, and since for the time being I don’t have an oven, I’m trying my hand at various stove top desserts. Plus, the summer fruit lends itself so well to custards and puddings. June 29, 2012 at 6:46am Reply

      • Andrea: It is so thoughtful of you to remember, Victoria. I like any recipe without an oven, since we have such awful heat in Texas! June 29, 2012 at 9:06am Reply

        • Victoria: Heating up an oven on a hot summer day is the last thing I would want to do either. My grandmother used to have a special contraption to make on the stove top, because she didn’t have an oven at one point. She even made cakes in it! June 29, 2012 at 11:14am Reply

  • slinkypanther: Hi Victoria–this sounds like an awesome recipe–I love rice pudding, especially Indian and Spanish style that’s flavored with saffron. I am dying to try your version with orange blossom water. I’m trying to avoid dairy and am thinking about making this with almond or coconut milk. June 29, 2012 at 10:13pm Reply

    • Victoria: You’re welcome! I think that coconut milk would be perfect, but you have to play around and adjust the quantities. The nice thing about reducing 3 cups of milk in this recipe is that you end up with a delicious custard, in which the grains of rice are suspended. I used 2% fat milk for the puddings in the photo, and they were rich enough for me. I worry that coconut milk might be too heavy if reduced that much, so you might want to use the light kind or simply cut the regular coconut milk with water (3 parts coconut milk to 1 part water). June 30, 2012 at 4:39am Reply

      • slinkypanther: Thank you for that suggestion! I will definitely do that. I am going to make it this weekend with the coconut milk adjustment you are recommending. BTW, I am new to your blog and just love it. Your fragrance reviews are so poetic. The star ratings are also very helpful. June 30, 2012 at 1:32pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you very much! Glad that you found BdJ. I hope that the pudding works well with coconut milk. I can only imagine how delicious the coconut milk will be with rice and vanilla. Please let me know how it turns out. June 30, 2012 at 3:46pm Reply

  • Dain: I made this yesterday. It was so delightfully cool and calm, it cut through the mugginess of a summer evening. The flavors would be wonderful in ice cream form as well. June 11, 2014 at 1:45pm Reply

    • Victoria: So glad that you liked it! And yes, rice pudding makes really good ice cream. It’s so easy to change flavors and play with whatever spices or fruits you like. June 13, 2014 at 9:18am Reply

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