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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Summer's Perfect Dessert: Vanilla Rice Custard with Raisins

Because our house and backyard are shaded by three large trees, we make it through summer's hottest days without air conditioning. It helps that a cooling ocean breeze comes our way in the afternoon.

Eating outside on the deck is a great way to beat the heat. Easy-to-make dishes, relying heavily on salads and grilled vegetables, fish and meat are the way to go. No need to suffer inside in front of the stove when there's a barbecue outside.

Shopping at our local farmers markets--Pacific Palisades on Sundays and Santa Monica on Wednesdays--keeps us happy, with freshly picked fruits and vegetables.
Carrots full of sweetness and crunch, cherry tomatoes that dive bomb your mouth with sweet-acidic juice, flat and spicy leaves of arugula tossed in salads dressed simply with a reduced balsamic vinaigrette dressing, split lobsters on the grill topped with caramelized onions, bread crumbs and butter, Italian sausages poked with a fork to release the steaming juices as they grill on the barbecue....
Sooner or later, the meal comes to an end but before that happens, a closer needs to make an appearance.

Dessert.

The simpler the better, in my mind. Summer is no time for heavy confections. Perfectly ripe grapes or peaches and nectarines bursting with flavor. Figs so sweet you imagine wasps can sense their sweetness from miles around. Grilled fruit. Ice cold melons. Simple sorbets.

For a dinner last week, I prepared an easy-to-make vanilla custard with raisins. For variety I used both regular and golden raisins with a few dried cranberries thrown in.
Serve the custard at room temperature or slightly warmed (250 degrees for 10 minutes).

For a festive addition, try serving the custard with a variety of toppings: bowls of heavy cream, ice cream, whipped cream (there's a theme here) and fresh berries--whichever ones are ripe and sweet--blueberries, strawberries, raspberries or blackberries.

Vanilla Rice Custard with Raisins

Yield: 6

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Time: 45-60 minutes

Ingredients

2 eggs
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup cream
2 tablespoons raisins
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups cooked rice
2 tablespoons raw whole almonds

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Put the almonds on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 15 minutes.  Remove, let cool and roughly chop. Set aside.

Beat together the eggs and sugar until well-blended. Add the raisins, cream and vanilla. Let the raisins soak in the custard for an hour or overnight.

Use any kind of rice you like. Add the rice and chopped almonds to the custard-raisin mixture. Pour into an oven proof bowl.

I like to use a shallow baking dish so there is more of the delicious crust that forms around the edge of the dish.  The shallower baking dish, the shorter the cooking time. And, conversely, the deeper the baking dish, the longer the cooking time.

Create a water bath by putting 1" of water into a baking dish 4" larger than the baking dish you are using the for the custard. Put the baking dish into the water bath and into the oven.

Cook until the custard sets or doesn't jiggle if the baking dish is shaken.

Rotate every 30 minutes for even cooking. If the top of the custard is getting too brown before setting, gently lay a sheet of aluminum foil over the top.

Serve with ice cream, whipped cream or fresh fruit.

Variations

Instead of one kind of raisin, use golden as well as dark raisins.

Instead of all raisins, use dried cranberries or any other dried fruit, roughly chopped.

Instead of almonds, use whatever roasted nuts you prefer.

Add a touch of cayenne powder for a hint of heat.