I am a pudding fan, pudding of any sort: chocolate, butterscotch, rice, tapioca, flan, creme caramel, pots de creme, whatever. Sign me up. I was poking around the internet not long ago, as I do, and a recipe on Food52 caught my eye. Torta di Riso alla Carrarina. It was a rice pudding cake. Holy moly. A cake made of rice pudding on the bottom with a thick custardy layer, almost a flan, on top. I needed to do this. With Easter coming up, what better? I had a pile of leftover candied clementines from the Orange Chocolate Angel Food Cake I made last month that would be a delightful addition. That sealed the deal. Rice pudding cake, you would be mine.
It starts out a bit fancy, using Arborio or carnaroli rice that is typically used for risotto. It’s a short grain, starchy rice that cooks up plump and creamy and makes delectable rice pudding but whereas a rice pudding cooked on the stovetop must be stirred and stirred, this recipe simplifies all that. You cook the rice like pasta, al dente in a bunch of water, then mix it with warm milk, sugar, eggs and all kinds of good stuff – orange zest, rum, vanilla bean and my favorite addition, some of that candied orange, chopped into nice little pieces. Pour it into a cake pan for a low maintenance bake. Easy easy.
My torte came out of the oven lightly browned and slightly bubbled (I should have paid attention and poked that bubble while baking.) I cooled it down and popped it the fridge. Then, several hours later I stared at it, a bit dumbfounded. How was this thing coming out of the pan? Damn. I ran a paring knife around the edges, grabbed two large flat plates and crossed my fingers. A quick flip-flip action and I had a beautiful custardy cake on a pretty platter. Well that was easy. I shouldn’t have worried.
Now, I’m not one to throw some powdered sugar on something and send it out. While the torte was mighty good, it needed something. That lovely flan or creme caramel layer on top called out for one thing in particular: a crunchy, brûléed top. Oh yes, you read that right. That crunchy caramelized sugar layer that makes everyone go “ooooooh”. It was a no-brainer. Every pastry chef I know has a favorite method for brûlée, in terms of the sugar used. Pearl sugar, coarse grain sugar, granulated sugar, brown sugar; I’ve seen them all and they all work. But here’s what I use: regular ‘ol granulated sugar, two coats in thin layers. In my experience it works best and is readily available.
Now listen up as I’m going to give you a key piece of advice. Throw away the bitty blowtorch you bought at the fancy kitchen store. It’s crap, it was too expensive and just doesn’t have enough oomph. It’s OK, we all started out with one but now it’s time to upgrade to the fun stuff. Go to Home Depot and buy a real, legit blowtorch. The top hardware part (I don’t know what it’s called) attaches to a small tank of propane, like a portable gas grill, and works perfectly. Every pastry kitchen has one just like it. I bought mine for 30 bucks and when I asked for help deciding amongst the options, the store employee asked me if it was for cooking. They know what’s up. When you get that thing home, let ‘er rip. Be prepared to laugh because torching things is FUN. You will find yourself looking for things to flame. Use a thin layer of sugar and work quickly with nice even strokes. And make sure you do this just before serving. A brûlée crust does not hold for long.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: BELLISSIMO! What is better than a big wedge of orange studded rice pudding with a crunchy sugar top? Oh, not much methinks. This right here is the perfect Easter dessert you’ve been looking for, or a lovely addition for a springtime brunch. It’s easy, can be made ahead (which is such a big help when entertaining) and is so comforting and delicious yet a little special and fancy. The candied clementines, as I’ve previously outlined, are surprisingly easy to make but if you don’t feel like it, purchased candied orange will work perfectly well too. Do what you need to do and don’t look back. Because once you fire up that blowtorch, you’re a rock star.
Seven years ago: Khachpuri
Six years ago: Wedding Cake Stories
Five years ago: Chocolate Cabernet Sauce
Four years ago: Sweet Orange Rolls
Three years ago: Chocolate Pudding Cake
Two years ago: Chocolate Crème Filled Cupcakes
Last year: Flourless Chocolate Cookies
TUSCAN RICE PUDDING TORTE (TORTA DI RISO ALLA CARRARINA) adapted from this recipe
Serves 8-10 people
unsalted butter, for the pan
1 ¼ cups sugar, plus extra for the pan
½ cup short-grain risotto rice (such as Arborio or carnaroli)
2 cups whole milk, warmed
6 large eggs
¼ cup dark rum
Zest of 1 orange, about 1 Tablespoon
2 Tablespoons diced candied orange rind (from candied clementines or purchased)
½ vanilla bean, scraped (or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract)
granulated sugar for the brûlée top
- Place a rack in the bottom third of the oven and preheat to 350°F.
- Butter the bottom and sides of an 8” solid-bottomed round cake pan and coat well with sugar.
- Bring a pot of water to boil and cook the rice to al dente as you would for pasta, about 10 minutes. Drain but do not rinse.
- Meanwhile, warm the milk in a separate saucepan to just under a boil. Set aside until needed.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, rum, zest, vanilla, and a pinch of salt.
- Add a ladle or two of the warmed milk to the egg mixture and whisk to combine. This tempers, or warms slightly, the eggs so they don’t curdle.
- Add the remaining warmed milk and then the cooked rice, stirring to combine.
- Pour the rice/custard mixture into the prepared pan. The rice should settle evenly along the bottom.
- Sprinkle the candied orange evenly on top.
- Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the top is golden brown with some darker spots and firm, not liquid, when gently touched (a skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean). A few times during baking, check the torte. If there are any bubbles, pierce gently with a skewer.
- Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan on a wire rack.
- Once cool, wrap tightly and refrigerate for several hours or overnight until cold.
- To serve, run a paring knife around the edges of the pan and place a large flat plat on top of the cake pan. Have another large flat plate, or serving platter standing by.
- Flip the cake pan and give it a good shake to release.
- Quickly top the now released cake with another plate or serving platter and flip back upright. Pat yourself on the back.
- To brûlée, cover the top of the torte with a thin coating of granulated sugar.
- Turn on your blowtorch and with quick, even motions melt and brûlée the sugar, rotating the platter as necessary.
- Add another thin coat of sugar and brûlée in the same manner.
- Garnish with additional candied clementines or orange if desired.
- Serve immediately. Refrigerate any leftovers up to 3 days, knowing that the brûléed sugar top will melt so make sure the torte is wrapped or on something with a rim to catch any dripping caramel.
- Do ahead: the torte can be made several days in advance and chilled. Brûlée just before serving.