Rice pudding is the best kind of comfort food: sweet, rich, seductive, and easy to make. Although this pudding will look a bit loose when cooked and still warm, it will thicken to the perfect consistency upon cooling (if you prefer your rice pudding warm, see the variation below).
In a 4-quart saucepan, combine 4 cups of the milk with the rice and sugar. With a paring knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape out the seeds, and add them to the pan. Add the scraped vanilla bean and the cinnamon stick and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat as necessary to maintain a simmer and cook, stirring frequently but gently, until the rice is completely tender, about 25 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth. Whisk in about 1 cup of the hot rice mixture. Pour the egg mixture back into the pan, add the remaining 2/3 cup milk, and stir with a wooden spoon until thoroughly blended. Put the pan over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, just until the mixture begins to boil, about 2 minutes.
Transfer the rice pudding to a bowl and place a piece of plastic wrap directly on its surface. Set the bowl in an ice bath to cool the pudding quickly. When cool, discard the cinnamon stick and the vanilla bean. Divide the pudding among 6 small bowls or ramekins, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving. Serve topped with a spoonful of whipped cream, if using.
Prefer your rice pudding warm? Not a problem. Use the recipe here, but when you add the egg yolks, omit the final addition of 2/3 cup milk. Cook as directed; remove the finished rice pudding from the heat and discard the cinnamon stick and vanilla bean. Spoon the warm pudding into small bowls and serve immediately with a generous dollop of whipped cream.
nutrition information (per serving):
Photo: Scott Phillips