Arroz con Leche and Rice Pudding: Every Country has its own Version

Published by Wednesday, November 28, 2012 Permalink 0
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by Marisol Murano

Small Plates: Rice Pudding

Arroz con leche in South America. Arroz Doce in Portugal. Kheer in India. Rice Pudding in the United States. What makes rice boiled in milk and sugar so irresistible? The secret may be in the grain.









The Indian version, made with basmati rice, spiced with cardamom and garnished with almonds and sultanas is exotically delicious. The Portuguese version, which calls for short-grain rice, egg yolks and cinnamon, is a creamy Iberian dream. My Venezuelan grandmother’s recipe called for long-grain rice and condensed milk.

Both the grain and the cooking method impact the creaminess of the final pudding. Whereas my grandmother’s and the recipes from Portugal boil the rice in water first, kheer is cooked in the milk. The major disadvantage of cooking the rice directly in the milk is that it tends to stick to the bottom of the pan and requires constant stirring to keep it from burning.

The recipe I have concocted after traveling the world as a Destination Chef and after experimenting with several exotic grain varieties is the best of all worlds. It includes my grandmother’s condensed milk, the Portuguese egg yolks in moderation, toasted almonds, and it is made with sushi rice. It is also true to both my eating and culinary philosophy that you can turn almost any guilty pleasure into a small plate to better savor it without the guilt.

In a final twist against the grain, I serve it warm, rather than chilled.

The Long and Short of it

Not all rice grains behave equally under pressure. Of the short grain rice varieties I tested for this recipe the sushi rice, also known as japonica, turned creamiest in the least amount of time.

The other varieties I used are listed below, along with some of their most distinctive features.

Varieties of Rice in the World


This Italian short-grain rice is named after the town of Arborio in Italy’s Po Valley. It is often used for risotto and to make rice pudding as well. Because it is both creamy and chewy at the same time, arborio is great for rice pudding.

Arborio rice.

Arborio rice










A medium-grain rice grown in the Vercelli province in the Italian Piedmont, carnaroli has a higher starch content than arborio. It is also a little firmer and the grain is a little longer than arborio’s. It worked great for the arroz con leche, but it takes about 40 minutes to cook and it is expensive.

Detalle del Grano del Arroz Carnaroli

Carnaroli rice







Sushi Rice

The Japanese short-grain rice used for sushi is oftentimes called japonica. It takes years of practice and patience to make sushi rice that is suitable for a sushi roll. After taking a class with a master sushi chef and realizing I could not wait 10 years to make the perfect rice, I decided on a shortcut: Why not use sushi rice to make rice pudding? The grain is very short and it absorbs the milk beautifully. You may also use a sushi rice variety grown in California, known as calrose.


Bamboo Rice

This isn’t a variety of rice, but rather a short-grain rice which has been infused with bamboo juice. This exotic grain has a lovely hue of jade and a slightly grassy taste reminiscent of green tea. It is also moist. I really hoped this would be my finalist because the color of the grain is lovey, the taste is subtle and the rice is full of nutrients. In the end, though, I found that to better appreciate its flavor subtleties this rice is better steamed or boiled. But if you want to indulge your inner panda, try it with white fish, sea scallops or chirashi (Edo-style scattered sushi).






Of the long-grain varieties, basmati remained the crunchiest, even after boiling it in 10 cups of milk. I was aiming for creamy, so this wasn’t the rice for me.

Grown in north central India and Pakistan, basmati is a variety of long-grain rice. It is often used to make biryani, pulao and kheer. It has a sweet aroma reminiscent of pandanus leaves.

Basmati Rice

Basmati rice


Originally from Thailand, jasmine rice has a nutty taste and fragrant aroma. The grains will stick together when cooked, though it isn’t as starchy as the short-grain varieties. Of the two long-grain varieties jasmine made for the creamiest arroz con leche, but not as creamy as sushi rice.

Close-up of grains of jasmine rice

Close-up of grains of jasmine rice









The two secrets to this recipe are boiling the rice in water first and using sushi rice. Boiling the rice first also substantially reduces the overall cooking time. Because some of the starch is removed during boiling, I find this method keeps the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan as well.

To download and print a PDF copy of my Arroz con Leche Condensada y Canela recipe, click here.


Arroz con Leche Condensada y Canela


For the Arroz con Leche:
2/3 cup sushi rice (4 ½ oz/125 grams)
6 cups water (48 fl oz/1.5 liters)
1/8 tsp salt4 cups milk (32 fl oz/1 liter)
1 tablespoon ghee, or clarified butter
1 cinnamon stick
1/3 cup sugar (2.5 oz/67 grams)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
½ cup sweetened condensed milk (4 fl oz/125 ml)

For the garnish:

1/3 cup blanched almonds (1.3 oz/ 36 grams)
1 teaspoon ghee, or clarified butter
Ground cinnamon


Arroz con leche:

  1. Bring water to a boil in a saucepan. Add the rice and salt. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally for 20 minutes. Drain.
  2. Warm the milk in a saucepan. Add the ghee, cinnamon stick, sugar and vanilla extract and cook over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Add the drained rice, lower the heat and cook for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep the rice from sticking.
  3. Beat the egg yolk in a small bowl and add the sweetened condensed milk until combined. Gently stir condensed milk mixture into the rice and cook over very low heat, stirring constantly, for five minutes. Remove from the heat.
  4. Spoon arroz con leche into small serving cups and sprinkle with cinnamon. Garnish with toasted almonds. Serve warm.


  1. In a small non-stick pan toast the almonds in ghee over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until almonds turn a light golden color, about 4 minutes.
  2. Set aside to cool.
Chef Marisol Murano is an international destination chef, writer and show host. Her latest book, Deliciously Doable Small Plates from Around the World, is an engaging travel adventure featuring 60 world classics in small plate format and glorious photographs from every corner of the world where she has worked as a destination chef.  For more information, visit her site Marisol Murano.



  • , is an engaging travel adventure featuring 60 world classics in small plate format and glorious photographs from every corner of the world where she has worked as a destination chef.  For more information, visit her site Marisol Murano.



  • From Tokyo: Quirk of Fate after the Quake, is an engaging travel adventure featuring 60 world classics in small plate format and glorious photographs from every corner of the world where she has worked as a destination chef.  For more information, visit her site Marisol Murano.



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  • Marisol Murano
    November 28, 2012

    Dear Jonell:
    It is an honor to be part of your wonderful blog. Happy Holidays to everyone at The Rambling Epicure!
    Warmest Wishes,
    Marisol —

  • Sally - My Custard Pie
    November 29, 2012

    And don’t forget the milk puddings of Arabia – Umm Ali (literally Mother of Ali) for instance.

    • Jonell Galloway
      December 5, 2012

      What a lovely post it is too! Perhaps we could repost it as a guest post, Sally.