Comforting rice custard

My children went through a stage where their favourite breakfast was rice custard, usually accompanied by stewed fruit. I figured it was probably better for them than 90% of breakfast cereals – rice, milk, eggs and a small amount of sugar. It is still a favourite but not for breakfast.

A few Sundays ago I poached some pears and made some rice custard – it was a hit. The trick with this recipe is cooking the rice and milk mixture long enough, so the rice is well cooked. In the past five or so years I have been using arborio rice rather than the short grain white rice I had been using for years.


Rice custard

Makes about 1.25 litres

1/2 cup arborio rice

1 cup water

4 cups milk

I vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped.

1 teaspoon cornflour

2 eggs

3 tablespoons sugar

grated nutmeg


Combine the rice and water in a large saucepan. Stir over medium heat until water has been absorbed. Add the milk and stir every now again until the mixture starts to simmer. Add the vanilla bean. Turn the heat down and leave the mixture to simmer, stirring occasionally until the mixture thickens and the rice is cooked, 30-40 minutes.

Mix the cornfour with a tablespoon of milk. Add eggs and whisk together. Add a cup of the hot milk mixture and whisk. Add the egg mixture to the saucepan off the heat and stir until the mixture thickens – this should happen quite quickly. Add the sugar and stir until incorporated.

Spoon mixture into serving dish. Sprinkle with nutmeg and cinnamon and leave to cool.

Serve with poached or stewed fruit or fresh berries.

My Aunt

My Aunt celebrates a Big Birthday today – happy birthday and many happy returns! Not only has she been a wonderful aunt, she is also a terrific cook, something she emphatically denies every time we try to praise her. I can hear her now, saying “It’s just simple, it’s easy, it’s nothing” as our eyes feast upon a table groaning with food because without a doubt, the meal she prepares is guaranteed to be very generous.  That’s my aunt.

When it comes to cookbooks and food magazines, we are kindred spirits. If I decide to buy a new cookbook and guilt descends as I approach the sales counter, I can justify the purchase by thinking (a) my aunt would think I should buy it and (b) she probably has the book already. We also share (along with my mother… so perhaps it is genetic…) a love of small tongs - they are so handy – although I only have 4 pairs whereas my aunt probably has about 20 pairs.

With the plentiful supply of pears on offer at the markets this time of year, last week for Sunday Dinner I decided to make Dietmar Sawyer’s Pear Clafoutis for dessert, from this month’s Gourmet Traveller. The recipe fed 5 of us quite easily. I thought this dessert was really delicious – I will definitely make it again.

The hazelnuts on top really made it. I didn’t use the poire Williams eau de vie and I poached the pears cut in quarters rather than whole as I was short on time. As usual, my photography does not do it justice.

Happy birthday to my wonderful Aunt!

Pear and hazelnut clafoutis

from Dietmar Sawyer, Australian Gourmet Traveller July 2012

Serves 4

50 gm hazelnuts
120 gm softened unsalted butter
120 gm caster sugar
2 eggs
2 tbsp milk
100 gm (2/3 cup) plain flour
40 gm hazelnut meal
1 tsp baking powder
To serve: icing sugar
To serve: vanilla bean ice-cream
Poached pears
200 gm caster sugar
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
2 ripe beurre Bosc pears
60 ml poire Williams eau de vie (optional)


1 For poached pears, stir sugar, vanilla bean and seeds and 400ml water in a saucepan over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves, add pears and liqueur, weight with a plate and bring to the simmer. Cover with a tight-fitting lid, reduce heat to low, simmer for 2 minutes, then cool pears completely in poaching liquid (1 hour). Drain pears and thinly slice.
2 Preheat oven to 180C. Spread hazelnuts on an oven tray and roast, shaking occasionally, until browned (8-10 minutes). Rub with a tea towel to remove skins, then coarsely crush with the flat of a chef’s knife and set aside.
3 Beat butter and sugar in an electric mixer until pale and creamy (6-8 minutes), add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add milk, beat to combine, then sieve in flour, hazelnut meal and baking powder and fold to combine.
4 Spread a 1cm-thick layer of clafoutis mixture in four buttered 200ml 12cm-diameter ovenproof dishes, arrange sliced pear on top, scatter with crushed hazelnuts and bake until golden and just cooked through (15-20 minutes). Dust with icing sugar and serve hot with vanilla bean ice-cream.


Saffron crème caramel

I love crème caramel; it is a childhood favourite. My paternal grandmother has never been particularly interested in cooking but she cooked a great Christmas pudding every year and she used to make fantastic crème caramel. Because Nanna knew how much I loved it, she regularly made it when we visited or brought it with her when she visited us. I can clearly remember the time my grandparents visited me at boarding school with a homemade crème caramel for me. I ate it outside so that I wouldn’t have to share it with anyone.

As I am fortunate enough to have a good store of saffron at the moment, I chose to make Saffron Crème Caramel with Roasted Pumpkin Seeds this Sunday, from Cook with Us by Gary Mehigan and George Colombaris. Unfortunately, I overcooked them a bit. The recipe said to cook them for 40 minutes at 170C; I cooked them for 40 minutes at 165C but I was distracted and should have checked them at the 35 minute mark. When I opened the oven door they were sizzled and I was quite sure they would be curdled and horrible. Needless to say, I quickly whipped the custards out of the baine-marie rather than leaving them to ‘cool’ and set.

I even made plans for a replacement dessert (on hold now until next week). However, I decided to test one after if had been in the fridge for a few hours and although it wasn’t perfect – there were definite indicators of over-cooking – they were delicious, and by no means a disaster. Because I was sure they were ruined, I didn’t buy the pumpkin seeds but they would be a nice addition.

I really liked this recipe, despite the over-cooking. The hint of orange was delicious.  I would happily make this recipe again.

Saffron Crème Caramel

Serves 8

50 grams pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

a large pinch saffron threads (about 30 threads)

500 ml milk

300 ml pouring cream

rind of 1 orange, in strips, white pith removed

6 eggs

1 cup (220 g) caster sugar


1 cup (220 g) caster sugar

1 cup (250 ml) water

  1. For the caramel, place the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then simmer until golden, about 10 minutes. Working quickly so the caramel doesn’t set, divide the caramel evenly among eight 175 ml-capacity ramekins.Roll the ramekins around to coat the base and sides with caramel. Place the ramekins in a roasting tin and set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 170C fan-forced (190C conventional). Roast the pumpkin seeds on a baking tray until lightly toasted, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  3. Meanwhile, soak the saffron in 1 tablespoon of the milk for 10 minutes.
  4. Heat the remaining milk, cream, orange rind and the saffron mixture in a saucepan over medium heat. Just before it comes to the boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to infuse for 15 minutes.
  5. Lightly whisk the eggs and sugar together, taking care not to create too many bubbles. Gradually pour the warm milk mixture into the egg mixture and stir to combine.
  6. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a large jug; this will catch any solids and egg white that is not mixed in well and remove any air bubbles. Divide the mixture evenly between among the prepared ramekins. Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to comes two-thrids of the way up the side of the ramekins.
  7. Bake the custards for 40 minutes or until they just bobble; don’t worry as they will still be slightly wet in the centre and will set while they are cooling. Leave the crème caramels to cool and set in the water in the raosting pan.
  8. Remove the ramekins from the roasting pan, then cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.
  9. To serve, run a knife around the edge of each ramekin and invert the crème caramels onto serving plates, then scatter with the roasted pumpkin seeds.

Sublime crème brûlée

Mim offered to make dessert for Sunday Dinner. Two years ago, Mim made crème brûlée for Sunday Dinner but although it tasted good it wasn’t a big success due to the fact we didn’t have a blowtorch so the custard melted and the top wasn’t crisp.She decided to try again, this time with a blowtorch. It was an absolute hit and quite definitely up there with the best crème brûlée I’ve ever had.

We found Guillaume Brahimi’s crème brûlée recipe on the internet. I would definitely use this recipe again. Mim used organic milk and really fresh eggs from friends’ chickens which were sure to have made a difference. The brûlées took a bit longer than 60 minutes to cook – more like 75-80 minutes.

All four of the usuals turned up for dinner, plus Mim as the special guest. Mim can be a bit accident prone so we were a bit concerned she may set the house on fire with the blowtorch. Under Elyse’s supervision, she did a great job.

This dessert was sublime. Not something you’d eat every day but an excellent treat. Thanks Mim!


Vanilla crème brûlée

By Guillaume Brahimi

Serves 4

300ml pure cream

200ml milk

2 vanilla beans, split, seeds scraped

100g egg yolks (from 5 eggs)

70g caster sugar

30g demerara sugar

Preheat oven to 130°C.

Place the cream, milk and vanilla seeds in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to the boil and remove from heat.

Quickly whisk together the yolks and caster sugar in a large bowl until just combined. Pour the hot cream mixture over the top and whisk again until combined. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve then pour into 4 x 180ml ramekins.

Cover with foil and bake the brûlées in a bain marie for 60 minutes or until set but with a slight wobble. Remove and rest for 20 minutes at room temperature before refrigerating for 4 hours or until cold.

To serve, sprinkle each brûlée with demerara sugar and caramelise using a blowtorch.

Creamy Ricotta

In January, we had dinner at my friend Suzie’s. Pre-dinner we enjoyed delicious bruschetta – small heirloom tomatoes with fresh ricotta and basil. It turns out Suzie made the ricotta which was creamy and sweet.

A week or so later I decided to give it a try so I called Suzie and she enthusiastically gave me the recipe, promising me that I will never buy ricotta again once I’ve made it. How right she was.

I have been making a batch of ricotta once a week ever since. The first time I made it, I added a heaped tablespoon of icing sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste to a cup and a half of ricotta and served it with poached peaches. Even my very sceptical son agreed it was delicious.

Generally I give a cup or so away each week to whichever friend I happen to see. What I find most amazing is that it lasts in the fridge for at least a week which would never happen with store bought ricotta.

I have tried all sorts of combinations of milk and cream. The batch I made with low fat milk was like rubber – if I’d thrown it against the wall it would have bounced right back. My most usual combination is 300ml of cream and 1200 ml of full cream milk. The combination in the original recipe below is by far the best.


4 cups full cream milk

2 cups cream

1 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar (or white vinegar or lemon juice)

Rinse a medium sized saucepan with cold water (stops the milk sticking to the bottom of the pan). Add the milk, cream and salt.

Bring to boil over medium heat.

Once the liquid comes to a rolling boil, remove from heat and stir in the vinegar. Leave to rest for a minute or so.

Pour into a sieve lined with a double layer of muslin (I use a double layer of Chux, as suggested by Suzie). Leave to drain for about 15-20 mins, depending on the fat content. Remove from sieve and place in a bowl in the fridge. Once cool, remove from muslin and refrigerate.