Rice pudding––as we know it in Toscana––is one of those quintessential family type desserts – you feed it to kids for afternoon snack, or to perk them up when they're sick. They're sold in both pastry shops and bakeries, and are available all year round. The name "budino" actually means pudding, but there's no resemblance to the classic rice pudding. These are small baked rice pastries, the closest we Italians get to cupcakes!
Whenever I bite into one, the texture and flavor swing me back to my childhood. "Budino di riso" recalls Sunday morning passeggiatas in the Villa Borghese with my friends Margherita and Isabella, picking pine nuts and chasing butterflies, chaperoned by their nonna, the late Suso Cecchi d'Amico––world known screenwriter for Fellini and other cinema icons––accompanied by her gluttonous golden retriever Porto (who never missed a fountain for a dive).
Suso was a tireless nanny, great story-teller and awesome goal-keeper when it came to impromptu games of field soccer. During our playtime, we'd always stop at the Casina dell'Orologio cafe for a treat, and our order was always the same: a portion of budino di riso.
This recipe yields about 10-12 pastries, according to shape.
For the filling:
150 g (3/4 cup) of rice (I use the kind that will give off starch, like Vialone Nano)
400 g (2 cups) whole milk
100 g (1/2 cup) sugar + some confectioner's sugar for dusting
50 g (1/4 cup) unsalted butter + more for greasing the molds
A pinch of salt
2 egg yolks
A shot glass of rum, or cognac
A dash of cinnamon
1 vanilla pod, slit open and scraped (or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract)
The zest of 1 orange and of 1/2 lemon
For the pastry crust:
200 g (1 cup) "00" flour + more for dredging
150 g (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, chilled
A pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
Preheat oven at 180°C (350°F).
Use whatever muffin pans or ramekins you have at home, but ideally you'd need oval molds to make these typical Tuscan rice puddings.
Prepare the pastry first.
Quickly work the ingredients for the shortcrust with your fingertips (run them under cold water first) away from the oven or hot stove: remember, shortcrust pastry dough is tricky.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour and a pinch of salt, and using two knives, cut the butter into the flour. Roll up your sleeves, remove any rings and bracelets, and get in there pinching and breaking up the butter chunks further with your fingertips until the texture resembles coarse oatmeal, and the butter pieces are no larger than peas.
Drop in the yolk, and knead just until the dough pulls together. You want to obtain a silky texture, so don't be tempted to add flour.
Transfer the dough to a work surface, pat into a ball and flatten into a disk, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes. Then roll the dough down to 4 mm (1/8 inch).
Butter and dredge your muffin pans or molds with flour, line each with some pastry dough, and return to the fridge.
Bring 2/3 of the milk to a simmer and add the rice. Cook stirring until it's half done, then fold in the sugar, a pinch of salt, and the butter. Continue to cook, stirring and adding milk as the rice absorbs it, until the rice grains are quite soft.
Remove the mixture from the stove, let it cool until it is hot but not boiling, and stir in the eggs, liquor, cinnamon, vanilla and zest, mixing well.
Pour the mixture, divvying it among the prepared dough-lined molds, and bake for 15 minutes or until a light brown crust forms. Cover with foil and finish baking for another 10-15 minutes.
Remove the pastries from the oven, gently dislodge from the molds and let them cool on a rack. Dust with confectioner's sugar and serve at room temperature, with a nice cuppa.
|Images © NatadiMarzo