Rice pudding is not a complicated dessert to make from scratch. That's putting it mildly—all you do is simmer rice, milk, and sugar in a pot on the stove. But for all its simplicity, rice pudding isn't a quick dessert. I recently made rice pudding from scratch, and it took a solid 40 minutes of simmering and stirring until it reached the right thickness and consistency.
I was eager to try Uncle Ben's Rice Pudding Mix ($2.59) not because I thought it would make preparing rice pudding easier, but because I thought it would make it faster—the box promises rich, creamy pudding in just 10 minutes' cooking time.
The mix is available in two ho-hum varieties: French Vanilla and Cinnamon & Raisins. (But then maybe I'm biased. My office is around the corner from Rice to Riches, the specialty rice pudding shop in the Soho neighborhood of New York, which has flavors like "Stubborn Banana" and "Sex Drugs and Rocky Road.") Since I love dried fruit, I opted for the cinnamon and raisin mix.
The box was filled with dried precooked rice (like the kind that comes in those 10-minute boil-in bags), a seasoning packet, and a scant smattering of raisins—18, to be exact. All I had to do was dump everything into a saucepan, add 2 cups of milk and 2 tablespoons of butter, bring to a boil, and stir.
Indeed, the pudding thickened expeditiously. It was a bit like watching the Food Network on fast forward. After only 9 minutes, my from-a-mix rice pudding was as thick as homemade rice pudding would be at the 35-minute mark. Amazing. The final step was to remove the pot from the stove, cover it, and allow the pudding to stand for 5 minutes.
When I removed the lid of the pot, the pudding had thickened a bit more, to about the consistency of lemon curd. It smelled like warm cream and plenty of cinnamon, though I would have liked to see more raisins. Since I like my rice pudding cold, I transferred it to an airtight container and put it in the fridge to chill until after dinner.
Three hours later the pudding had cooled to the right temperature, but the taste was extremely disappointing: the consistency of the pudding was far more gummy than creamy; and the grains of rice had a dry, chewy quality that suggested they were undercooked and hadn't absorbed enough of the milk.
In the end, I guess there is no quick fix. In rice pudding, as in ketchup, good things come to those who wait. And simmer and stir.