If you didn’t know yet, I come from Puerto Rico, a little island in the Caribbean, and there Christmas is serious business. Just how serious? They last the longest there than anywhere in the world! We start on November, just after Thanksgiving day, and we end it on the second week of January with the “Octavitas”, celebrated after “Día de Reyes” on January 6th.
“Día de Reyes” (Three Kings Day or Epiphany Day) is a Spanish tradition in which we commemorate the moment when the three Wise Men went to visit Baby Jesus and gave him presents. On the night before, kids are to gather hay or grass into a shoebox and leave it by their bed to feed the camels of the Wise Men. In the morning they will find that the hay is gone and in its place the Wise Men left them presents. The “Octavitas”come right after that on January 7th. In the past it was celebrated with a religious background in which they dedicated a day for each of the Wise King, and later three more days for the Three Mary’s. But at this point it is really more of an excuse to continue the Christmas celebrations and parties. And we do love to party!
But among all the traditions and celebrations, adapted from both Spain and the US, food is at the center of it all. This is the case of the Coconut Rice Pudding, one of the most popular Christmas dessert on the island. You can go to any house, any party or any Christmas celebration and you will find a large tray of Coconut Rice Pudding! There are so many things I love about this beautiful dessert. It’s creamy, it’s sweet, a little sticky and it’s full of coconut flavor. But, what I love is the combination of the spices and raisins that make this rice pudding exceptional. For me “Arroz con Dulce” means Christmas!
I have very good memories of my childhood and this pudding. When my mother’s family was about to make coconut rice pudding the whole family was there to make it. My uncle was outside breaking fresh coconuts and reserving the coconut water, one of my cousins was extracting the coconut meat, meanwhile my grandma was making the coconut milk. Everything was fresh and everything tasted better! These days you can find everything at the groceries store and the process is way more quicker. Even though it’s not longer done from scratch, like my family used to do, I encourage you this Christmas to make this dessert a new family project!
- 4 cup of medium grain rice
- 1 cup of raisins
- ½ cup Brandy , to pre-soak the raisins (optional)
To make the infusion:
- 6 cup of water
- 8 cinnamon sticks
- 6 start anise
- ¼ cup of fresh ginger
- 12-15 clove sticks
- ¼ teaspoon of nutmeg
For the rice:
- 3 ½ cups of coconut milk
- 2 tablespoon of butter
- 1/4 teaspoon of salt
- 1 can of cream of coconut, about 13 oz
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla
- 1 can of condensed milk
- 1 cup of turbinado sugar or brown sugar
- ground cinnamon for garnish
- In a medium bowl, add rice and enough cold water to cover by 2”. Let the rice soak a minimum of 5 hours, or even better overnight. Drain and set aside. Optional: Soak the raisins in the Brandy for 1-2 hours.
- Meanwhile, in medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring to boil 6 cups of water, cloves, ginger, star anise , cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Lower heat to medium low and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove and discard spices. Reserve water in saucepan.
- Stir the coconut milk into the reserved water; bring to boil. Add the rice and raisins. Lower heat to medium low. Simmer covered for about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom.
- Continue checking on rice until is soft and most of the liquid is absorbed. Add the cream of coconut and the condensed milk and stir until well combined. Continue to cook uncovered until creamy, like a soft pudding. It’s OK if it’s a little runny because the rice will continue to absorb the coconut milk as it cools.
- Transfer the rice pudding to a large casserole dish; cool at room temperature then transfer to the refrigerator to set.
- To serve, scoop pudding onto serving plate. Garnish with cinnamon, and enjoy this pinch of sugar!