Arroz con leche is the quintessential Latin American rice pudding that graces tables from Mexico to Argentina as a beloved comfort food dessert.
With its creamy texture, cinnamon-laced aroma, and just the right amount of sweetness, it’s no wonder arroz con leche remains a staple in Hispanic cuisine.
This step-by-step recipe will show you how to make the perfect arroz con leche from selecting the ideal rice to whipping up the creamiest texture. Follow along and you’ll master this mouthwatering classic in no time!
Choosing the Right Rice
The foundation of stellar arroz con leche is choosing the proper type of rice. Starchy short or medium grain white rice varieties work best. The extra starch released during cooking thickens the pudding to the appropriate creamy consistency. Stay away from aromatic rice like jasmine or basmati which won’t achieve the velvety texture.
The two best options are:
- Short grain white rice: Sometimes labeled “pearl” rice, this plump grain rice cooks up creamy thanks to its high starch content. Arborio rice, used for risotto, is an example of short grain rice perfect for pudding.
- Medium grain white rice: Slightly longer than short grain but still full of starch for decadent results. If you can’t find short grain, medium will suffice. Calrose rice is one variety of medium grain that makes stellar arroz con leche.
Whichever you choose, make sure it’s regular white rice, not instant or converted. The whole grains retain more starch. Rinse the uncooked rice in a mesh strainer until the water runs clear to remove excess starch that can make the pudding gloopy.
Cooking the Rice
With the right rice chosen, now it’s time to cook it. Stovetop simmering followed by oven baking achieves rice that is perfectly tender yet still retains a subtle bite. Resist any temptation to use a rice cooker – we’re after a specific texture here!
Bring water, sugar, and cinnamon to a boil in a medium pot. The amount of water should be double the volume of rice. Add a pinch of salt. Stir in the rinsed rice, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes over low heat.
After 15 minutes, transfer the rice mixture to a casserole or baking dish. The rice will still be quite soupy. Place in a 300°F oven and bake uncovered for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes.
The gradual oven heating allows the starches to release while the rice grains cook evenly throughout. Stirring periodically ensures nothing sticks or scorches on the bottom. After an hour of baking, you’ll have sublimely cooked rice for your pudding.
Choosing the Right Dairy
Creamy dairy is essential for rich, decadent arroz con leche. Whole milk is traditional, but you can substitute half and half or evaporated milk for even silkier results. Stay away from low fat dairy options – you want all the richness here.
You can also use coconut milk for a dairy-free version. Full fat canned coconut milk adds luxurious texture. Shake the cans well before using.
For a truly indulgent arroz con leche, simmer the pudding with a blend of half heavy cream and half whole milk. The cream provides body while the milk lends sweetness.
Whatever dairy you select, you will need 4 cups of total liquid added to the baked rice. Heat the dairy over low heat until steaming, then stir into the cooked rice in the casserole dish.
Achieving a Velvety Texture
After adding the hot dairy to the baked rice, stir thoroughly to incorporate. At this stage, the arroz con leche will still be somewhat soupy. Finish it with a gentle simmer on the stovetop to achieve the perfect velvety consistency.
Return the casserole dish to medium-low heat. Let the pudding simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently. Keep the heat low enough to avoid scorching the bottom. You’ll notice the liquid start to thicken to a creamy, pudding-like texture.
For even smoother results, pass the finished pudding through a mesh strainer or blender. This shears any remaining starch molecules and ensures your arroz con leche has a flawlessly silky texture.
Throughout the cooking process, there are a few ingredients that boost the flavor of arroz con leche beyond basic rice pudding:
- Cinnamon: This aromatic spice is essential. Add a cinnamon stick to the rice cooking water and dairy mixture for infused flavor. Finish with a dash of ground cinnamon.
- Vanilla: A touch of vanilla extract or vanilla bean seeds enhances the sweetness. Scrape seeds from 1⁄2 bean while simmering the dairy or use 1 tsp extract.
- Citrus zest: A bit of lemon, lime, or orange zest brightens the flavor. Use finely grated zest from 1⁄2 fruit.
- Sweetened condensed milk: For ultra-indulgence, swirl in 1⁄4 cup sweetened condensed milk after cooking. It contributes caramel notes.
- Rum or brandy: A splash of booze like rum or brandy adds sophistication. Stir in 1-2 tablespoons just before serving.
The finishing touch for sublime arroz con leche is an array of tasty topping possibilities. Mix and match options:
- Cinnamon sugar
- Fresh whipped cream
- Dulce de leche or caramel sauce
- Diced mango or pineapple
- Toasted coconut flakes
- Chopped maraschino cherries
- Chopped nuts like almonds, pecans, or walnuts
- Shaved chocolate or cocoa powder
- Fresh berries
- Sprinkles or sandbox cookies
Drizzle sauces or dollop whipped cream over individual servings of warm pudding. The contrasts of texture and flavor take this comforting dessert over the top!
Make It Your Own
Once you master the basics, have fun with personalized tweaks:
- Infuse the dairy with herbs like basil, lavender, or thyme
- Swap 2 cups milk for horchata or coconut milk
- Use maple syrup instead of sugar
- Add a pinch of cardamom, nutmeg, or allspice
- Stir in 1-2 tablespoons rum-soaked raisins
- Layer the pudding with granola for parfaits
The possibilities are endless for crafting arroz con leche to suit your tastes. This step-by-step guide equips you with the fundamental techniques for rice pudding success. Savor the fruits of your labor in every creamy, cinnamon-kissed bite!