Sweet rice pudding is simple comfort food.

How to Cook Sweet Rice With Milk & Vanilla

by Fred Decker

Rice's mild flavor makes it a culinary chameleon, suited for almost any purpose. One often-overlooked use for rice is in desserts such as rice pudding, where its starches thicken the sauce and provide a smooth, comforting texture. You can make rice pudding by baking leftover cooked rice with milk and vanilla, or by treating it as a sort of sweet risotto and cooking it on the stovetop. Either method makes a creamy, smooth dessert.

Cooked Rice Method

Spray a glass or ceramic baking dish with pan spray, and fill it loosely with cooked rice until it's about two-thirds full. Break up any lumps of rice with your fingers, as you add it. Measure the rice in a measuring cup, then pour it back into the baking dish.

Measure out 1 1/2 cups of milk or half-and-half for every cup of rice, and whisk in about one-third cup of sugar. You can adjust the sweetness to your taste, or use alternative sweeteners. Heat the milk in your microwave until it's hot to the touch, then add a half-teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Add optional ingredients such as raisins or citrus zest to the rice, and toss it gently. Pour the milk mixture over the rice, and sprinkle the top with cinnamon.

Bake the pudding at 325 Fahrenheit until it's thick and creamy, which can take as little as 45 minutes for a small batch or up to two hours for a large one. Serve warm or cold.

Uncooked Rice Method

Minimize the risk of scorching your pudding by choosing a heavy-bottomed saucepan. One cup of uncooked rice makes roughly four cups of finished pudding, and you'll need some space for stirring, so you should use at least a 1 1/2 to 2-quart pan.

Measure 2 1/2 cups of milk or half-and-half for every cup of long-grain rice you use. Arborio rice and other medium-grained rices are starchier and can thicken more liquid, so you can cut the rice by half. That makes a much creamier dessert.

Combine the rice and milk in your pot at moderate heat, with about a quarter-cup of sugar for every cup of long-grain rice. You can adjust the sweetness to your taste.

Add a half vanilla bean or half-teaspoon of vanilla for each cup of long-grain rice. Bring the rice to a gentle simmer over moderate heat and cook it slowly, stirring regularly, for 30 to 45 minutes. It's better to go slow and cook for a long time, rather than try to rush it and scorch your pudding to the bottom of the pot.

Taste the rice periodically, until it's soft and the sauce has thickened. Remove the pot from the heat. If the pudding is very thick, stir in a small amount of heavy cream to thin it, which gives it a richer flavor. Serve the rice pudding warm or cold.

Items you will need

  • Glass or ceramic baking dish
  • Pan spray
  • Leftover cooked rice
  • Measuring cup
  • Milk or half-and-half
  • Sugar or other sweetener
  • Pure vanilla extract
  • Heavy-bottomed saucepan
  • Uncooked long-grain, arborio or other rice


  • For a creamier baked rice pudding, increase the milk and cream to two cups per cup of cooked rice, and whisk in an egg for every cup of milk. It sets like a custard, giving a thicker and creamier-tasting sauce. It also increases the protein, if you have picky eaters who normally shun eggs and meats.
  • Adding a small quantity of extra vanilla late in the cooking process can improve stove top rice pudding. Some of the subtle flavors of real vanilla are volatile, and they'll cook out during preparation. Adding some more near the end of your cooking time replaces some of those nuances.
  • Citrus peel, dried or candied fruit, cinnamon and other warm spices are all welcome additions to rice pudding, and a light sprinkling of cinnamon over top is a traditional garnish. Experiment and have fun with it. If you think an ingredient might taste good in your pudding, it probably will.


About the Author

Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

Photo Credits

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