Dulces: Flan de Arroz con Leche (Rice Pudding Flan)


Two hearts that beat as one. [Photograph: María del Mar Sacasa]

It had never occurred to me to make rice pudding and flan at the same time. I don't mean in separate dishes and eaten side-by-side (I've definitely done that), but making a flan that was at the same time rice pudding and a rice pudding that was in turn flan. Do you follow?

It seems a natural enough pairing—like cake + ice cream = ice cream cake—but the concept of this criss-crossed dessert was somehow novel. In the panorama of sweetened condensed milk-based desserts that exist in many Latin American countries, it's a subtle way to break routine without leaving the comfort zone.

I found a recipe in a Nicaraguan cookbook but, because it's written in the tradition of "cook it till it's done," the instructions weren't very specific and there were few flavor additives other than a single cinnamon stick; so I jotted down a few notes and stepped into the kitchen prepared to improvise.

One of the major tweaks I made was in the rice cooking method. I'm normally really patient when baking, but here I didn't feel like making rice pudding first and then flan, so after staring doggedly at rice grains as they simmered in milk I took a shortcut. Microwaving the rice with some water in a covered bowl for a few minutes parcooked it and streamlined the process.

Sweetened condensed milk is a backdrop flavor in this recipe, but what comes forth more readily are the floral aroma of finely grated orange zest, the tartness of golden raisins, the exotic essence of cinnamon, and the bittersweet accent of just-on-the-edge-of-burning caramelized sugar. The result is a chilled, refreshing dessert that encases tender rice in creamy custard. Though the individual components are recognizable in this new guise, the effect is far from routine.

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