Endings made milky-sweet

ELIZABETH LATHAM
Last updated 12:13 09/08/2013
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SMOOTH AS SILK: The classic French dessert creme caramel is an elegant custard with a layer of soft caramel on top.

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LOVING SPOONFUL: Latin rice pudding, made with Italian carnaroli rice, is served with a lively side of poached pears.

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At the Table

'Tis the season to be hungry Echoes of the Med Hot from the pot There's no taste like home Land of hops and honey Eating on the street A taste of the tropics Myths and mellow fruitfulness Crustacean craving Oh for onions

My childhood was filled with puddings, most of which I actively disliked and it was a tug of war with my mother to get me to eat them.

Sago was the one I disliked the most - or was it steamed pudding?

There was a lot I didn't eat as a child, including completely shunning milk, but I came right, thank goodness, and now if I sat down to my mother's sago and steamed pud I would probably be perfectly happy.

The only pudding that I would eat any day was rice pudding (it was probably the only way my mother got milk into me). My mother's version was always slightly runny and there was always a delicious crust on top.

Since my childhood I have discovered an amazing array of rice puddings: fluffy with eggs added including beaten egg whites or a creamy pudding cooked long and slow with a range of seasonings.

There are wonderful cultural variations adding cinnamon or vanilla; even turmeric or saffron to turn it yellow. Fruit can be added as well, such as sultanas or currants.

I am particularly fond of the Latin version that I have included for this story. Cinnamon, lemon and sultanas are the flavours and it is delicious hot or cold. The cold version is more like an aromatic rice slice. I like to use risotto rice as it adds a nuttiness that you don't get with regular short grain.

There is of course the dilemma of which milk to use - whole milk or lite, raw or pasteurised.

I have to say that when I make a milk pudding I always use whole milk. The taste is richer and creamier and the overall impact of the dish is smoother.

The debate about fats is not one I am going to have here and if you do feel shocked at the thought of full-fat milk just use skim milk and be happy!

I am prepared to cover all bases and drink light blue milk in my coffee and confine myself to the full-fat version when I am baking a milk pudding.

If you are lucky enough to live on a dairy farm you can even use raw milk straight from the cow and I am happy to say that it is great to see businesses like Village Milk dairy in Golden Bay being able to sell us raw milk commercially.

When I want some I am prepared to take a drive over the hill to their dispensing machine in Clifton. You rock up with your $2 and from one dispenser select the litre glass bottle and for another $2 select the milk from the other dispenser. The glass bottle can be used over and over (what happened to us buying milk in bottles!)

If you have ever tried raw milk you will know that the taste is quite different from pasteurised and that we have sacrificed taste in order to gain security from disease.

Unfortunately that sacrifice means that our milk and cheese lack the flavour dimensions that raw milk provides, so when the opportunity comes to sample milk or cheese made from raw milk, I jump at the chance. Meanwhile, we are mostly forced to use the plastic bottled milk found in the supermarket.

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There are three milk puddings in today's story, all of which I really love to make and to eat. Creme caramel, rice pudding and semolina custard. Try the rice pudding and the semolina custard with poached pears.

CREME CARAMEL Serves 6

cup of sugar

3 eggs

Pinch of salt

2 cups scalded milk

tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Heat ½ cup of sugar slowly in a heavy-bottom pot until the sugar melts, stir occasionally. You want it to be runny caramel and free of lumps. Quickly pour into the bottom of a pyrex dish, the larger the dish the flatter the custard so you can choose what you want the finished product to look like by altering the style of the dish.

Roll it around to make sure the bottom of the dish is completely covered in caramel. You can alternatively use individual ramekins.

In a bowl beat the eggs with the ¼ cup of sugar, salt and add the milk scalded with the vanilla. Gently pour over the caramel and bake for about 45 minutes or until set. You need to create a water bath in an oven dish larger than the cooking dish. Make sure that the bottom of the dish is in the water bath throughout the cooking process.

Cool before serving. To serve, gently run a knife around the edge of the dish to loosen the custard. Shake gently and then invert onto a plate.

To do this place the plate over the top of the custard and quickly turn upside down. It should come out perfectly!

LATIN RICE PUDDING Serves 6

4 cups milk

2 cinnamon sticks

2 slices lemon peel

½ cup carnaroli rice (or short grain)

cup sugar

1 Tbsp brandy

cup raisins or sultanas

1 Tbsp butter

Heat the milk, cinnamon and lemon peel in a heavy-bottom pot over low heat for about 10 minutes until bubbles form around the edges. Add the rice and stir well so that the rice does not stick. Stir occasionally until the rice has absorbed most of the milk - about 30 minutes. Test the rice, it should be tender. Add the sugar, brandy and raisins. Cook for about 15 minutes longer. Stir in the butter. Turn out into a serving dish and cool. Serve warm or cold with poached pears.

SEMOLINA CUSTARD 4 cups milk

1 cinnamon stick

3 slices lemon peel

1 tsp vanilla essence

2 egg yolks

cup semolina

cup sugar

Lightly beat the egg yolks and add the milk, cinnamon, lemon peel and vanilla, then add to a heavy-bottomed pot. Stir in the sugar. Cook gently for about 10 minutes to infuse the flavours into the milk. Add the semolina and whisk well. Keep whisking as it thickens. Only cook until it is lightly thickened. The longer you cook it the thicker it will get. Pour into a serving bowl to cool and serve with poached pears.

POACHED PEARS cup water

cup white sugar

1 Tbsp honey

1 cup red wine

Zest of one lemon

1 vanilla pod

2 bosc pears cut in half and cored

Put the water, sugar, honey, wine and vanilla in a deep pot and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to a simmer.

Peel the pears and cut a slice off the base so they sit flat. Leave the stalk in.

Cut in half and scoop out the core carefully. Lower into the poaching liquid and gently simmer for about 45 minutes or until tender. Turn occasionally. Let cool in the liquid.

Take the pears out carefully and put on a serving platter.

Reduce the poaching liquid by three quarters and pour over the pears when you serve with your favourite pudding.

- Nelson

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