Monday, April 9, 2012

Gluten Free Baked Rice Pudding with Apples

Ever since I was a little kid, rice pudding has been one of my favorite desserts. There is definitively a comforting quality about rich and smooth cinnamon scented pudding. Rice grains cooked to perfection in milk or cream, slightly sweetened with honey, and served with dark chocolate shavings on top. I preferred mine warm and used to watch with fascination how the chocolate was slowly melting and oozing into the rice. In the limited culinary world of a six year old, there was only one thing that could top that experience, which was baked rice pudding with layers of apples in between and served with warm vanilla sauce. Over the years I came to realize that this was one of my mom's go-to recipes. It could easily be prepared ahead of time, fruits could be swapped depending on what she had available in her garden, and despite its simple ingredients it made quite an elegant presentation. Separating the eggs and folding in the beaten egg whites makes for an airy souffle like texture.

Those of you with any background in Austrian cooking might recognize this excellent dessert as the humble "Reisauflauf". Culinary Austria has a rich and diverse history when it comes to desserts or "Mehlspeisen" (which literally means food made from flour) as we call it. There's a myriad of recipes out there, from delicious fruit dumplings, souffles, sweet noodle dishes, to baked puddings to name just a few. Vienna, the cultural melting pot during the Austro-Hungarian Empire became the birthplace of dishes that had their origins in Germany, Bohemia, Slovakia, Hungary, Italy, Poland, and other areas of the Balkans. As cooks from every corner of the country moved to the capital city, new and unusual ingredients and cooking methods made their way into the kitchens of Austrian households. Many of the elaborate hot desserts originated as main dishes and were considered poor man's food. Heavier and much simpler versions, lacking the sophistication of beaten egg whites, vanilla extract, and confectioners' sugar were served. Potatoes, cornmeal, and stale bread often took the place of white flour. Typically, a pot of vegetable soup and a baked sweet dish were prepared on meatless Fridays, but depending on the economic status of the household, maybe several times a week. As costly and refined ingredients, which were previously considered a luxury, became more widely available to the general public, the recipes evolved.

Today, you'll enjoy the delicious "Mehlspeisen" for dessert or with afternoon coffee in the charming coffeehouses of Vienna. My all time favorite is "Cafe Central", which first opened its doors in 1876. It's been called "the home away from home" for the Viennese intellectual establishment during the late 19th century. The regulars included Adolf Loos, Sigmund Freud, Arthur Schnitzler, Vladimir Lenin, and Leon Trotsky. Still today a popular spot to enjoy "Kaffee mit Schlag" (coffee with whipped cream) and a slice of flaky home-made Apfelstrudel while listening to live piano music, the cafe caters to a variety of guests. You'll find elderly Viennese couples quietly reading the daily newspapers, groups of chatty young students working on their laptops, business people and bankers from the near-by offices, and your share of tourists from all over the world.

As you walk through the streets of the city you'll find coffeehouses on every block. Not all are grand and legendary, but they do offer the same relaxed atmosphere, inviting hospitality, great tasting coffee, and spectacular sweets.

I hope you didn't think I forgot about the rice pudding recipe. Going through my image files was a bit of a sentimental journey for me and I got completely sidetracked. I took those pictures on my last trip to Austria when I was visiting my mom and my sister. Hopefully, you enjoyed the sights of the city and the quick glance into the culinary history of the country.

Anyway, here is the recipe:

1/2  cup and 2 tablespoons short grain rice
pinch of salt
1  3/4 cups whole milk
4 tablespoons butter
1 cinnamon stick
1/8 teaspoon lemon peel, finely grated
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup raisins
2 egg whites
1/4 cup granulated sugar

3 medium apples, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice


Bring rice and salt to a boil with 3 cups of water. Let cook for a bout 2 - 3 minutes and drain.
Return to pot and add cold milk, butter, and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil, cover and cook over low heat for 30 minutes or until rice is tender, stirring occasionally. Remove cinnamon stick. Set aside and let cool.
In a bowl combine apples with 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and lemon juice.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.
With a mixer at medium speed beat egg yolks, confectioners' sugar, vanilla extract, and lemon rind until light and creamy. Using clean beaters and a different bowl, beat egg whites with 1/4 cup granulated sugar until stiff.
In a large bowl combine cooked rice, egg yolk mixture, and raisins. Gently fold in egg whites.
Spoon 2/3 of the rice mixture into prepared dish and top with apple slices. Cover with remaining rice mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes or until rice pudding is golden brown and puffy.
Let cool slightly and dust with confectioners' sugar. Serve with vanilla sauce.

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