When I was going out with my now-husband – I want to say when we were courting but that sounds rather old-fashioned – we used to come to magical Istanbul from Ankara from time to time, and every time, I was introduced to some new kind of street food or local speciality.
One day, with a look of eager expectancy on his face as he presented me with yet another Turkish taste (we were somewhere by the Covered Bazaar I recall), TT said to me, well what do you think? I remember this well because I said it’s rice pudding! Yes! It was! Good ole rice pudding, a beloved English favourite. After all sorts of other Turkish delicacies ranging from kokoreç/intestines to işkembe/tripe, I think I was in some small way relieved! At last, something I could handle!
I can’t say we had it at home because we didn’t. My mother was French and I suppose rice pudding wasn’t her thing. But my wonderful English aunt, my father’s sister, who looked after us during half terms, introduced me to the English rice pudding: a whole dish, with jam in the middle, skin on top, warm and milky, straight out of the oven.
It was quite delicious, definitely comforting, and I must say to this day, I much prefer it warm, unlike the Turkish version which is served cold or even chilled in individual serving dishes.
The concept is different. Here, milk puddings are in a category of their own. They are not eaten at the end of a meal as dessert but rather at any time of day, when you find them in speciality milk pudding shops which are called muhallebici.
They will only sell puddings such as this sütlaç or other variations of muhallebi made with perhaps rose water or mastic as well as tavuk göğüsü/the famous chicken breast milk pudding, and kazan dibi the oven tray version.
I love the idea that schoolgirls will pop by, or perhaps a family, and have a simple pudding each and a çay: so innocent, so traditional.
Nowadays, places like Sütiş will have a range of milk puddings along with other conventional savoury dishes.
I have been on a bit of a mission trying to find the definitive rice pudding to describe here.This has included watching several UTube videos as well as reading many online recipes – as always, I have thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of researching the recipe! All I can say is that there are many versions.
I think the following recipe which is taken from The Sultan’s Kitchen by Özcan Ozan suits my palate: TT and I both find this sütlaç just delicious. By the way, just for the record, are you aware that there are two different ways of serving this rice pudding: one is as is, sprinkled with cinnamon and the other is cooked exactly the same way but then put in the oven sprinkled with a little granulated sugar and put under the grill until the top is lightly browned.
This makes the difference between simple sütlaç and fırın sütlaç.
- ½ cup short-grain rice
- 2 cups water
- 4¼ cups whole milk, divided
- ¼ cup heavy cream NB in Turkey use one of those little packets
- ¾ cup sugar
- 3 tbsp cornstarch/nişaştı
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tsp vanilla crystals OR 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- Ground cinnamon
- In a medium-sized saucepan over high heat, bring the rice to a boil in the water. Lower the heat, cover, and cook very gently for about 25 minutes, until the rice is tender and has absorbed the water.
- Stir in 4 cups of the milk, the cream,and the sugar. Bring the mixture to the boil.
- Meanwhile, dissolve the cornstarch in the remaining ¼ cup milk, then gradually add it to the boiling rice mixture, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.
- Lower the heat to medium, add a pinch of salt and the vanilla crystals or extract, and simmer for about 15 minutes, uncovered, stirring frequently.
- Transfer the mixture to individual serving dishes and let it cool.
- Place in the refrigerator for several hours to chill the pudding. Sprinkle with ground cinnamon and serve.
- For the oven-baked version or fırın sütlaç:
- Once the pudding is cooked, transfer it to individual ovenproof bowls NB those little earthenware dishes are ideal and let it cool at room temperature.
- Sprinkle the pudding lightly with sugar and place the bowls in the oven under the grill until the pudding is lightly browned.
- Serve hot or refrigerate and serve chilled and topped with ground cinnamon.
Some recipes include zest of one lemon which is also nice; others omit the cream but I think it is a great addition.
This is an excellent recipe which makes a pudding of just the right consistency, I think.
Try it and decide for yourself!