rice pudding with citrus caramel and candied almonds

rice pudding with citrus caramel and candied almonds || photo: olaiya land

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about not creating extra stress in my life. If you’ve been reading here for a while, you know I’m an anxious person by nature. You also know that I’m a person who loves to start new projects, try new things, collaborate with new people and generally take on challenges. All of which undeniably yields many benefits: new friends, creative satisfaction, travel to distant places, a sense of accomplishment. 

But I’ve realized I cram so many new challenges into my life, I feel like I’m on a crazy roller coaster of stress half the time. I’m either attacking a new project head-on or huddled under the covers with my cat binge watching period films and trying to recuperate. Those have been my two modes recently.

rice pudding with citrus caramel and candied almonds || photo: olaiya land
rice pudding with citrus caramel and candied almonds || photo: olaiya land

The other day I paused for moment in the middle of whatever I was doing to check in with myself. I could feel waves of stress radiating through my body. Thoughts zooming. Fingers tingling. Heart banging in my chest. I know this is going to sound ridiculous, but it hit me in that moment that STRESS IS A REAL THING. Like a tangible, physical thing. Not just something you read about being bad for you in some vague sense. But something that takes a toll on your body, like sleep deprivation or smoking. 

In that moment, I decided I’m going to stop creating stress for myself unnecessarily. Some stress is unavoidable (taxes). Some stress is good (getting married). We can’t grow without challenging ourselves. But living in stress is toxic. So I’m trying to be extra mindful of what I say yes to and how I spend my days (which means I might be posting here a little less often). I’m also trying to remember that almost nothing matters as much as we think it does. My photography class homework isn’t perfect! I gained 5 pounds this winter?! She unfollowed me on Instagram!?! All small potatoes when I consider that I have a roof over my head, enough to eat, and people who love me and whom I love.

rice pudding with citrus caramel and candied almonds || photo: olaiya land
rice pudding with citrus caramel and candied almonds || photo: olaiya land
rice pudding with citrus caramel and candied almonds || photo: olaiya land
rice pudding with citrus caramel and candied almonds || photo: olaiya land

I am 100% certain stress will creep up on me when I’m not expecting it. Because I’m human. But I’m pretty excited that so far my less-stress mantra seems to be working. To celebrate, I have a recipe for a creamy Rice Pudding with Citrus Caramel and Candied Almonds for you. Pure comfort food. Like Grandma used to make--but jazzed up with zingy citrus and crunchy almonds. And hopefully a reminder to step back from whatever is stressing us out and fit in a little old-fashioned comfort. 

Rice Pudding with Citrus Caramel and Candied Almonds

  • 1 cup long-grained rice
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 allspice berries, crushed
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • About 2 cups whole milk
  • 3/4 cup evaporated milk (or substitue whole milk)
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • Heavy cream, to taste (optional)
  • 1 recipe Citrus Caramel (see below)
  • 1 recipe Easy Candied Almonds (see below)

*Notes: The evaporated milk gives the rice pudding extra richness, but feel free to use whole milk or a mix of whole milk and cream instead.

- Top the rice pudding with the caramel just before serving. The acid from the citrus will cause the dairy in the rice pudding to break if you let it sit for long. If this happens, the pudding will taste fine but look a little strange.

rice pudding with citrus caramel and candied almonds || photo: olaiya land

Place the rice in a heavy-bottomed stock pot or Dutch oven along with 1 cup of water, the allspice, cinnamon and salt. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring often, until all the water has been absorbed and the rice is starting to soften, about 10 minutes. If the rice is sticking to the pot, you can add a little more water. 

Stir in the two types of milk and the brown sugar. Cover and continue to cook over low heat, stirring frequently, for about 30 minutes. The rice should be cooked through but still have some tooth to it. Remove the rice pudding from the heat and stir in a few tablespoons of the heavy cream, if using.  Cover and set aside for 15 minutes. The rice will continue to absorb the liquid and firm up a bit. Add a bit more milk or cream if you like your rice pudding a bit looser. Serve warm or cold topped with citrus caramel and candied almonds. 

Makes about 8 servings.

Recipe adapted from Diana Kennedy's Oaxaca al Gusto

rice pudding with citrus caramel and candied almonds || photo: olaiya land

Citrus Caramel

  • 2 blood oranges

  • 1 pink grapefruit

  • 1 navel orange

  • 1 meyer lemon

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1/4 cup water

  • 2 tablespoons dark rum

  • Pinch salt

*Notes: You can use any mix of citrus you like. I’d avoid going very heavy on lemons, limes or meyer lemons, but a few thrown in provide a nice contrast to the sweet caramel.

- This will keep for 3 days, covered and refrigerated. It’s also delicious on cake, pancakes, ice cream, yogurt or ricotta--pretty much anything creamy or cakey.


Cut the skin and pith from the citrus and cut into supremes. Squeeze the leftover flesh to remove as much juice as possible. Strain the juice from the citrus (you should have about ½ cup) and set aside. Combine the citrus in a medium heatproof bowl and set aside. 

Combine the water and sugar in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar has dissolved, turn the heat to medium and DO NOT STIR. (Doing so could cause your caramel to seize up.)

Cook, swirling the pan occasionally (but not stirring), until  the water has evaporated and the sugar starts to caramelize and turn medium amber in color. Very carefully, add the rum. It will splatter so stand back! Once the rum has stopped splattering, slowly add the reserved citrus juice and a pinch of salt. The caramel will likely seize up a little and look crazy. Don’t worry--simply return it to medium heat and cook, stirring often, until any hardened bits have melted and the caramel has thickened slightly, 2-3 minutes. Remove the caramel from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.

When the caramel is lukewarm or completely cool, pour it over the citrus. Set aside for at least an hour to allow the flavors to come together. 

Makes 8 servings.

Easy Candied Almonds

  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

  • Generous pinch salt

  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1 tablespoon butter

  • 1 cup blanched slivered almonds

In a small bowl, stir together the sugar, salt and cinnamon.

Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the butter and swirl to melt. Add the almonds and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the nuts and cook, stirring often, until the sugar has melted and caramelized and the nuts are starting to turn golden brown, about 3 minutes.

Immediately transfer the nuts to a large plate to cool. When cool enough to handle, break up any clusters. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Makes 1 cup candied nuts.

blackberry-pear upside down cake

blackberry pear upside down cake on
blackberry pear upside down cake on
blackberry pear upside down cake on

Hello friends,

I’m going to keep it short and sweet this week. I was hoping inspiration would hit and I’d be able to send you all a positive message of unity and hope before Thanksgiving. But today, I got nothin’.

It’s been pretty dark in this corner of the world for the past two weeks. The weather, shorter days and post-election mood have conspired to leave me feeling more than a little bit upside down.

So today, upside down cake it is. 

blackberry pear upside down cake on
blackberry pear upside down cake on

I have faith that, as with so many things that seem undeniably bad at the outset, some good will come of our current political situation. Hopefully, the results of this election will spark a demand for greater equality and inclusion in this country and beyond. Yossy from Apt. 2B Baking Co. has put together a fantastic list of some things we can all do to turn our anger and frustration into action. So get to it.

In the meantime, cheer yourself up with a slice of cake.

blackberry pear upside down cake on
blackberry pear upside down cake on
blackberry pear upside down cake on
blackberry pear upside down cake on
blackberry pear upside down cake on

Blackberry-Pear Upside Down Cake

  • 1 ½ cups (10 ½ oz.) superfine sugar, divided
  • 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • ¾ cup (7 oz.) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pan
  • 3 large eggs
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 scant cup (4 oz.) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 ¼ cups (7 oz.) hazelnut flour (or almond flour)
  • 2 firm-ripe pears
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen blackberries
  • 3 tablespoons apple jelly

Rum Whipped Cream

  • 1 ½ cups heavy cream

  • 1 ½ tablespoons superfine sugar

  • 1 ½ tablespoons dark rum

*Notes: I used Bob's Red Mill hazelnut flour for this recipe and I love how it turned out. (I have no connection to Bob's Red Mill, BTW. Just love this hazelnut flour!) Store-bought nut flour works best in this recipe because its finer grind gives the cake a lighter texture. If you're in Seattle, Dilaurenti carries an amazing (but pricy) Italian hazelnut flour that would be perfect in this cake. Another great alternative is Trader Joe's almond meal since it's quite finely ground. 

- You can also make your own hazelnut (or almond) flour by placing toasted and cooled nuts in the bowl of a food processor or blender and processing until they form a fine meal. You will be able to get a finer meal in the blender. Adding a tablespoon or two of sugar will help keep the nuts from turning to nut butter. If you go this route, your cake will be a bit more crumbly than if you use store-bought nut flour.

- I call for superfine sugar because it makes for an easier caramel and yields a finer textured cake. If you can't find it (or don't want to buy a box just for this recipe), you can make your own following the directions here

- If you use frozen blackberries, don't thaw them before baking. Raspberries or boysenberries would also be great in this cake.

blackberry pear upside down cake on

Preheat your oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle. Lightly butter a 9-inch round cake pan with 2 1/2-inch sides. Line the bottom of the pan  with a round of parchment paper and lightly butter the parchment.

To make the caramel, bring ½ cup (3 ½ oz.) of the sugar and 2 tablespoons of water to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, do not stir or your caramel could seize up on you. Boil, swirling the pan occasionally, until the caramel turns pale amber. Remove the caramel from the heat and add the butter. Swirl the pan until the butter melts into the caramel. Carefully but quickly pour the caramel into the cake pan, tilting it to coat evenly. Whatever you do, do not grab your pan by the bottom as it will be very hot! Set aside to cool.

In the bowl of an stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter with the remaining 1 cup (7 oz.) sugar until just combined. (You can also use a hand mixer or even do this by hand if your butter is soft enough.) Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the zest. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt. With the mixer at low speed, add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and work until just combined. Set aside.

Peel and core the pears and slice them about ¼-inch thick. Fan the pear slices over the caramel, leaving a bit of room for the berries to show through. If you need to, save some slices back to leave space. Pour the blackberries over the pears. Arrange any remaining pear slices over the berries and pears.

Gently spread the batter evenly over the fruit. Bake until a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 55 to 65 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan for 5 minutes. Invert the cake onto a cooling rack. Remove the parchment  paper if it sticks to the top of the cake.

Just before serving, heat the jelly and  water in a small saucepan over medium-low until melted. Brush the top of cake with the apple glaze. Whip the heavy cream, sugar and rum together by hand or using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Serve the cake warm or at room temperature accompanied by the whipped cream.

Makes 6-8 servings.

banana tarte tatin

banana tarte tatin // milly's kitchen

We go through a lot of bananas around here. Especially in the winter months when more tender fruit and vegetables aren’t available. Along with kale, cabbage and root vegetables, it’s one of the hard-working staples we rely on year-round. However, unlike kale and its stalwart kitchen companions that we transform each week into soups, salads, braises and roasts, we never do anything exciting with bananas. And considering the enormous mountain of them that appears on our kitchen counter each week, the peel-and-eat situation was getting a bit monotonous.

Everything about this winter was starting to feel monotonous, in fact. Seattle, lush and verdant in the summer months, is all grey and drizzle in the fall and winter. Some people are immune to this seemingly endless series of overcast days. I am not one of them. And winter was starting to wear on me. 

banana tarte tatin // milly's kitchen

Thumbing my way through Instagram with its scenes of New York and Detroit and even Raleigh and Chatanooga under a winter blanket of white, filled me with nostalgia for snow days and hot cocoa and snowball fights. (I suspect those of you digging out from under huge drifts and mending frozen pipes might have less romantic notions of this year’s winter storms.)

Thus afflicted by the winter doldrums and feeling more than a little bit sorry for myself, I was casting around the kitchen for inspiration when my eyes fell on that pile of steadily ripening bananas. A recipe for a banana tarte tatin I’d seen ages ago flickered in the distant recesses of my mind. And just like that, that heap of boring bananas was full of delicious, caramelized potential.

banana tarte tatin // milly's kitchen

If you haven’t had a tarte tatin, it’s a beauty of a dessert: tender caramelized apples above layers of flaky, buttery puff pastry. Elegantly French, yet homey and familiar. No one in their right mind can object to a good tarte tatin. Substituting bananas for the apples would lend some of the irresistible charm of Bananas Foster and provide the humble banana an edge of sophistication. 

After tinkering with the recipe, I invited some friends over for dinner to act as my unwitting guinea pigs. Halfway through dessert, it struck me what folly it was to invite an incredibly talented pastry chef over to sample an untested dessert. Too late to course-correct; I fretted internally and carried on. 

banana tarte tatin // milly's kitchen

We tasted the tart with all sorts of toppings and decided in the end that less is more. It certainly wouldn’t be bad with, say, coffee-infused whip cream or cacao nibs or candied hazelnuts. But in order to let the nuances of the caramel and the floral notes of the bananas shine through, it was best with just a straightforward scoop of ice cream (I like vanilla or coffee), or simpler still, a dollop of tart crème fraîche. Whether you choose a minimalist approach or something more baroque, this banana tart is a winner.

While eating a leftover slice for breakfast (don’t judge), I started thinking about the transformation of a lackluster winter staple into a delicious dessert. How if you can coax yourself into seeing things from a slightly different point of view, fresh possibilities open up. On a walk later that day, it occurred to me that, of course, this lesson applies outside the kitchen as well. That caramelly tart reminded that there is inspiration in the everyday if you take the time to look for it. 

As I walked, I decided to stop mentally complaining about the monotonous Seattle winter and focus instead on the little signs of spring that are starting to emerge. Tiny, tender buds on branch tips. Crocus and daffodils gently unfurling. The first flushed breast of a robin. The air smells a bit different: loamy and rich with the perfume of cherry blossoms here and there. The afternoon sunlight, growing by a few minutes each day, seems more golden and bright. 

spring blossoms // milly's kitchen
spring blossoms // milly's kitchen

Grey days can still cast a pall over my mood if I’m not mindful. I wish I could say I now bound out of bed each morning singing show tunes! Alas, I do not. But I have decided to focus on the many good things each day holds, especially until spring is fully settled in and the sun returns. More walks. More laughs. More time in the garden. More cooking for no other reason than because it makes me happy. 

It turns out bananas and winter days, when seen with a fresh eye, are full of delicious potential.

banana tarte tatin // milly's kitchen

Banana Tarte Tatin

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons cream
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • 5 bananas, halved lengthwise (ripe, but still firm)
  • 1 sheet puff pastry, preferably all-butter, thawed if frozen
  • Ice cream or crème fraîche, to serve
  • Flaky sea salt, to serve (I like Maldon)

Preheat the oven to 400° F. 

In a medium saucepan melt the butter over medium heat. Add the sugar and salt. Cook, whisking occasionally until the sugar has melted and turned medium-amber, about 6-7 minutes. Cook the caramel a shade or two less that your desired final result as it will continue to caramelize in the oven. Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in the cream, then the lemon juice and rum. Use caution as the caramel is extremely hot and will bubble up when you add the liquid ingredients. Don’t worry if it seizes a bit, just keep whisking until it’s smooth again. Very carefully transfer the hot caramel to your baking dish. Working quickly, spread the caramel with a spoon or flexible spatula to the corners of the dish before it hardens.

banana tarte tatin // milly's kitchen

Roll out the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of 3/16-inch. Using a sharp knife, trace a rectangle ½-inch larger than the bottom of your baking dish. Arrange the bananas, cut-side-down over the caramel, trimming them as necessary to make them fit. Carefully lay the the trimmed puff pastry over the bananas, tucking the excess dough between the bananas and the side of the dish. Bake until the puff pastry has risen and is golden brown, about 30 minutes. 

Remove the tarte tatin from the oven and let it rest for a couple of minutes. Run a butter knife around the sides of the baking dish to loosen any puff pastry or caramel that may have stuck. If there is caramel pooling in the bottom of the dish, carefully pour it off. But do not throw it away--it is DELICIOUS. Place a large platter or rimmed sheet pan over the baking dish. Grasp the baking dish and platter or sheet pan firmly with oven mitts or kitchen towels and invert them quickly. (They key is to flip quickly without hesitating.) Remove the baking dish. 

Serve the tarte tatin warm or at room temperature, with a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of crème fraîche and lightly sprinkled with sea salt. If you poured off any caramel from the bottom of the dish, it’s delicious spooned over the top or reserved for a killer ice cream sundae.

Makes 6 servings

banana tarte tatin // milly's kitchen