Arroz con Leche

     up-close-rice-pudding

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.

picture-perfect vertical-blue-cup

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.

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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.

powdered-cinnamon served-in-cups

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.

ingredientscinnamon-and-ricepour-into-water

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.

vertical-pic-boilingvertical-condensed-milkwith-milk-added

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.

20-minutes5-more-minutesvanilla-in-rice

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.

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Summer Pavlova with Dragon Fruit

  Heavy-Whipped-Cream    pavlova-for-dessert

Pavlova is a light and airy dessert with a crisp merengue shell and a soft, fluffy center. Traditionally pavlova is topped with fresh whipped cream and fruit. I topped this great white beauty with dragon fruit and strawberry fruit salad. I love merengue, especially merenguitos you can find everywhere in Miami- at Walgreens, Publix, the gas station, your local bakery…you get the picture. So when I stumbled upon pictures of a beautiful baked merengue, I knew I had to make it one day, but beating egg whites for nearly 10 minutes by hand?! Haha- yeah right!!! Well the day finally came…I caved and bought a KitchenAid Stand Mixer. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning when the UPS delivery guy knocked on the door. I jumped for joy and already knew the very first thing I would make with this mixer would be a pavlova.

KitchenAid   Glossy-Merengue

I have never actually had a pavlova other than these two that I made- but I am obsessed. Pavlova is traditionally an Australian and New Zealand specialty- and I was so excited to learn how to make it. This dessert is very very delicate. I know because I had a big time blogging flop…I dropped something on top of the first pavlova totally destroying its utterly perfect, un-cracked baked merengue shell! It was so tragic, especially since it looked so pristine and alabaster. Giving up on this dessert was not an option so I made it again the very next day.

   Pavlova-all-ready

Pavlova, my friends, is heavenly. The outside shell is crisp and sweet while the inside is light and fluffy. The texture of this dessert is perfect for a spring or summer afternoon with some champagne at dessert. The whipped cream and dragon fruit salad were just sweet enough to not overwhelm the palate. Next time I think I will make mini individual pavlovas. They would most likely transfer better to a plate than the larger version.

For Pavlova:Plated-Pavlova
5 room temperature egg whites
¼ tsp salt 1 heaping cup of sugar
1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp white vinegar

For the Dragon Fruit Salad:
1 medium dragon fruit diced
¾ cup strawberries sliced
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract

For Whipped Cream:
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat your oven to 250F. Draw a 6-7 inch circle on parchment paper and lightly dust with powdered sugar; set aside. Add the room temperature egg whites (with absolutely no trace of egg yolks) to a very clean mixing bowl. Beat until the egg white forms soft peaks, around 3 minutes. Slowly add the sugar one tablespoon at a time; this should take 2-3 minutes. Once all the sugar is added, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Continue to beat the egg whites on high for 6 minutes. Rub a small amount of the merengue between your fingers. If you can feel any sugar granules, mix for another minute or two.

3-Minues-after-Sugar     Perfect-Pavlova

Dollop the merengue in the middle of the circle you drew. The merengue will be very thick, so gently drop it in heaping mounds into the center. Once you scraped most of it on the parchment paper work the merengue into a circle. Try to flatten out the top gently to avoid air bubbles and leave a nice surface to place the whipped cream and fruit salad later. Bake the pavlova for an hour and 20 minutes. Do not open the oven to take a peek. After the timer goes off, turn off the oven but leave the pavlova in for 1-2 hours or until the oven is completely cool. This part is important, and I repeat do NOT remove or open the oven until it is cool. Your pavlova may crack, this is normal. The first time I made one it was perfect, the second time had some crackage.

Perfectly-Baked Sliced-Pavlova

For the Fruit Salad and Whipped Cream:

Once the oven is cool, dice the dragon fruit and strawberries. Gently toss with powdered sugar and vanilla extract. 20 minutes before you are ready to plate the pavlova, place your mixing bowl in the freezer to chill. Add sugar to mixing bowl and 1 cup of heavy cream, beat on high until peaks form. Dollop fresh whipped cream in the center and lightly smooth out to the edges. Spoon the dragon fruit salad on top. Serve with fruit salad juice spooned on top and enjoy!

Fresh-Fruits  Dragon-Fruit-Salad

*This can be made up to 2-3 days in advance. Store on the counter top loosely covered with plastic wrap. If you have plated the dessert it will only last the day, and if put in the refrigerator the outside merengue will lose its crispness.