My book club resumes this week after a two-month summer break and it is my turn to host. The Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk is my favorite modern writer; he won the Nobel Prize in literature in 2006. His novels are set in his hometown of Istanbul and are fascinating. We will be discussing his most recent work, “The Museum of Innocence,” and I wanted to make a Turkish dessert to go along with our discussion. I was intrigued by several recipes for Turkish rice pudding (sütlaç) and decided to attempt it for my book club friends. Middle Easterners love milk puddings. This one is flavored with mastic and orange flower water, a delicious combination. I want to add it to all kinds of desserts.
Mastic is a resin that has both piney and vanilla overtones. It comes in clear to amber-colored crystals that I ground in my spice grinder with a pinch of sugar. It left the grinder a little gummy so I quickly cleaned it out and ground some whole cloves, which seemed to remove most of the stickiness. I tried several recipes for sütlaç. This recipe is adapted from one of Claudia Roden’s books; I love her writing and find her recipes interesting and delicious.
Turkish Rice Pudding (Sütlaç)
3/4 c. Arborio short grain rice
1-1/2 c. water
3 c. whole milk
2-1/2 c. heavy cream
1 c. vanilla sugar
pinch of kosher salt
1 small cinnamon stick
2 Tbsp. cornstarch mixed with 3 Tbsp. hot milk mixture
1 Tbsp. orange flower water
1/2 tsp. mastic ground with a pinch of sugar
Combine rice and water and let sit 10-15 minutes to soften rice while the milk is heating. In a heavy bottomed 5 quart stockpot mix together milk, cream, sugar, salt and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil on medium heat. It should take about 15 minutes. Once the milk mixture boils, remove three tablespoons and mix with the cornstarch in a small bowl and set aside. Add the rice with the water to the boiling milk mixture. Bring to a boil again, stirring occasionally, then lower heat slightly and cook for 30 minutes until the mixture begins to thicken and the rice is tender. Stir often. Cook for 5 minutes longer if the rice is chewy. The mixture will still be soupy. Pour cornstarch mixture into rice and milk mixture, stirring constantly. Return to the boil and, once the pudding has thickened, it should only take a minute or two, add mastic, stirring constantly, and orange flower water. Let it cook 2-3 more minutes. Remove from heat and discard cinnamon stick. You can serve it hot or cold, topped with ground almonds or pistachios or sprinkled with cinnamon. Serves 6.