Winter months require warm desserts.
It's about the only time I prefer them, actually. Hot summer crisps and pies can (and should!) be apologetically tempered with a scoop of ice cream, but brash hot chocolate, molten lava cake and creme brulee have no such remedy.
Don't get me wrong: If you offer me rice pudding in June, I will eat the rice pudding. But the snowscapes of December are when I really want it.
Growing up, I never understood why people disliked rice pudding. Then I had the packaged version; it, like regular chocolate pudding, bears little resemblance to homemade.
Especially, in this case, to my grandmother's take on it.
I called her up and asked if I could visit one day to watch her make rice pudding. This was necessary because there was no recipe for the dessert -- she'd simply made it so often over the years that she operated on instinct.
She poured some milk into a small saucepan as the rice simmered in its water, and when she turned back to stir the pot, I went and retrieved a measuring cup to see how much there was.
My careful observations were for naught, of course. As she occasionally tasted a spoonful of the rice, she would splash in some milk, kept at a simmer so its addition wouldn't interrupt the rice's cooking, then replenish the pan's supply from the milk jug.
I ended up with relatively few notes on my recipe card, but from what I can tell, she used far more rice and far less milk than the version I'm sharing today. I've never really gotten hers to work, and I'm not sure if I what I wrote down was wrong, or if I lack the patience for her technique.
I don't think she left the stove while it cooked for at least an hour, a discipline I do not yet have. I'm guilty of doing dishes, getting lost in my phone or, in fact, writing this in between turns of the pot.
Fortunately, the method for this Brown Sugar Bourbon Rice Pudding is a little less fussy than 60-plus minutes of constant stirring. This dish is an amalgam of my grandmother's version, an America's Test Kitchen version and their recipe for Brown Sugar Bourbon Whipped Cream.
From the whipped cream, it inherits a smooth mixture of brown sugar, bourbon and sour cream. From my grandmother, it gets its serving temperature -- HOT, PLEASE, ALWAYS -- and its serving style. As she did, I put the pudding in a wide, shallow bowl and shave slices of butter over the top; once that's melted, I sprinkle enough sugar in to soak up the butter and dust it with cinnamon.
If I didn't just sell you on this with a layer of sugar/butter/cinnamon slurry, I don't know what else I can do here. Best get back to my stirring.
Brown Sugar Bourbon Rice Pudding
2 cups water
1 cup medium-grain rice
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups whole milk
3/4 cup raisins
2/3 cup brown sugar, plus more for topping
1/4 cup bourbon
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup butter
Cinnamon, for dusting
Bring the water to boil in a large saucepan. Stir in the rice and salt. Cover, turn the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the water is almost fully absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes.
Microwave the milk until steaming, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir the hot milk, raisins, brown sugar and bourbon into the rice. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to simmer, then reduce heat to maintain simmer. Cook, uncovered and stirring frequently, until mixture starts to thicken, about 30 minutes. Reduce heat to low and continue to cook, stirring every couple of minutes to prevent scorching, until spoon is just able to stand up in pudding, about 15 minutes longer.
Off heat, stir in sour cream and vanilla; adjust bourbon flavor by adding one or two more teaspoons if needed. Transfer rice to serving bowl, if using. Slice butter over top; when melted, sprinkle additional brown sugar over surface until butter is mostly absorbed. Dust with cinnamon and serve immediately.
Chef's notes: If you don't like raisins in your rice pudding, this dish can certainly survive without them. I thought about letting them sit in the bourbon to rehydrate some, but I haven't yet tried it.
Variation: For Classic Rice Pudding, swap brown sugar for equal amount of white sugar and omit raisins, bourbon, vanilla, and sour cream.