Arroz con leche is a sweet, creamy, and rich Cuban rice pudding. There are countless varieties on this quintessential Cuban classic, but this is the easiest and very best recipe you’ll find. Evaporated milk, lemon peel, orange peel, cloves, raisins, whole milk, and all the other whosits and whatsits that other recipes call for have no place here. This recipe is no-frills and no-fuss- plus it’s my abuela’s arroz con leche recipe and that makes it the best on this planet.
Pearl short-grain Valencia rice– in all its creamy starchy glory- is the only kind of rice to use for Cuban arroz con leche. My abuela’s arroz con leche is decadent and homey, and it will have you asking why on earth you ever added all those silly other ingredients in the first place.
As the water boils with the cinnamon sticks and slightly browns, the fragrant warm spice perfumed the air bringing back many a fond memory. I recall eagerly waiting over the bubbling arroz con leche waiting for my abuela’s nod of approval that dessert was finally done. We both stood armed with spoons ready to scrape up the thick and gummy goodness that builds up along the sides and on the bottom of the pot.
Arroz con leche is made with a lot of love and requires constant stirring. This rice pudding is worth the wait and is a real treat served warm or cold sprinkled with a little extra cinnamon on top.
Abuela’s Arroz con Leche
2/3 cup Valencia Pearl rice
1 can condensed milk
1 pinch of salt
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon vanilla
Put about 4 or 5 cups of water to boil with a pinch of salt and the cinnamon stick (I made a double batch- hence the extra cinnamon sticks and ingredients pictured). Add the unwashed rice and boil the rice until it opens over medium heat while moving the rice once in a while. Washing the rice removes some of that starch that makes it creamier and wonderfully thick.
When the rice is ready after around 20 minutes or so, add the condensed milk moving constantly. Continually scrape along the bottom and sides to prevent burning the arroz con leche. Seriously- just stay standing by the stove-top and stir! It can quickly burn and will ruin the entire batch.
Stir the dessert softly until it is like a cream, and you can temporarily see to the bottom- this takes around 10-15 minutes. In the first picture below you can see that the rice pudding is much too soupy and needs about 10 more minutes of constant stirring over low heat. In the middle picture, the arroz con leche is just right as you can see the bottom momentarily when stirring.
Stir in the vanilla and remove from heat. Remove the cinnamon sticks from the arroz con leche and discard. Serve the arroz con leche in individual cups, sprinkle with cinnamon, garnish with a cinnamon stick if you like, and enjoy warm or cold. I made a double batch which serves around 10-12 generous portions.