Arroz con leche, Spanish rice pudding, is an easy and comforting dessert. With warm cinnamon and fresh lemon flavors mixed in with the creamy rice, it's the perfect end to any meal.
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I didn't have many foods I didn't like as a child, but rice pudding was one of them. I think it was mainly my only experience of it was in school where it was tasteless, watery and had been kept warm too long.
It took me a while to work up to trying it again later as an adult, but this traditional Spanish way of preparing it won me over. It's thankfully so different from what I had as a child - smooth, with a lovely flavor and oh so comforting.
Where does arroz con leche come from?
Rice pudding is a dessert that people enjoy in many parts of the world with a few variations in the process of making it and ingredients.
Arroz con leche is believed by many to have been introduced to Spain by the Moors when they occupied a large part of the country. This is particularly believed to be the case since the Spanish version uses cinnamon that was brought to the country by the Moors.
While it's not a hugely common ingredient, you will find cinnamon used in other Spanish dishes that are influenced by Moorish times like pinchos morunos.
The Spanish then took this favorite dessert with them to the New World and it has been adopted and adapted in Mexico, Peru and other parts of Latin America.
What distinguishes Spanish rice pudding?
While the basic dish is very simple, you'll find different styles in different places, as I said. Some use more water, others use evaporated and/or condensed milk. The sweetener and seasonings differ as well.
The Spanish version is typically made with just a little water and mainly milk to cook the rice, then lemon and cinnamon to season it. The cinnamon gives it a wonderfully warmth and the lemon adds a nice freshness.
Tips for making arroz con leche
This has only a few ingredients, but a couple tips to make it come out perfectly:
- Use a medium grain rice - it will give a better texture to the end dessert.
- Stir the mixture regularly as it cooks to avoid it burning on the bottom of the pan.
- Don't rush it - cook over a medium-low heat to avoid the milk boiling and potentially curdling.
- Try to avoid getting too much milk up the side of the pan as it can burn and/or cause a skin to form (which you don't want to stir back in).
- The mixture should be slightly thicker than you want it before you add the sugar - the sugar makes it sightly more fluid.
Is arroz con leche served hot or cold?
The answer is either! You'll find this dish served both warm and chilled so enjoy as you prefer. What can work well is to make a slightly larger batch, have it warm when you make it then serve the rest cold a day or two later.
You can reheat it, but take care to reheat it properly. Rice is particularly prone to develop bacteria - these food safety tips are especially important with rice.
Arroz con leche takes a little time to cook, but it's still incredible easy with just a few ingredients. And the result is so worth it: creamy, gently sweet with a wonderful warm-fresh flavor from the cinnamon and lemon. I know warm-fresh sounds an odd description, but just try it and you'll understand as it wins you over.
Try these other comforting, creamy desserts:
- Crema Catalana (Spanish creme brulee)
- Swedish cheesecake (ostkaka)
- Creme Anglaise ('real custard')
- Plus get more dessert recipes and Spanish recipes in the archives.
Arroz con leche (Spanish rice pudding)
- ½ cup medium grain rice 100g
- ¼ cup water 60ml
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 strip lemon zest (ie a thick strip of the skin)
- 1 ¼ cups milk 180ml
- 3 tbsp sugar or more/less to taste
- 1 pinch cinnamon to serve
- Rinse the rice in some water to remove some of the starchiness (the water should start a little cloudy then clear up).
- Put the rice in a small pan with the water, cinnamon stick and strip of lemon zest. Place over a medium-low heat and warm so the water simmers and is absorbed.
- Add the milk, around ½ cup at a time to the rice and bring to a simmer but don't let it boil - reduce the heat if needed. Cook, stirring gently relatively frequently, so it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan but also doesn't splash up the sides too much. Add more of the milk as the milk in the pan is almost absorbed.
- As the last of the milk is almost absorbed, check that the rice is cooked. If needed, add a splash more milk. Let the rice absorb to a little drier-looking than you would want it then remove the heat.
- Remove the cinnamon stick and strip of lemon zest then stir in the sugar so that it dissolves. If you prefer it sweeter, you can add a little more.
- Serve either warm or let it cool to serve chilled, in both cases with a sprinkle of cinnamon on top.
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