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#ThatTranslatorCanCook week 32: Rice pudding

In this scary and unusual environment, it's important to focus on doing what we can to make ourselves feel good. If that's exercise, do it. If that's baking, do it. If that's bingeing on Netflix, do it. In my case, it involves all three!

But right now, many of our usual ingredients are scarce. So I’ll be choosing recipes which use ingredients I have to hand. I don’t think eggs will be making an appearance for a while! This week’s choice is riz au lait, or rice pudding.

Rice pudding seems to be the stuff of school canteen nightmares for many. For others, it evokes memories of vanilla-infused creamy delights fresh from the oven.

At its core, it’s a basic dish, made with rice, milk, sugar, and vanilla. But quite a few recipes I looked at have gone posh. Many British recipes seem to use egg yolks and cream for a richer custardy treat, and some of those are baked in the oven, with quite a long overall cooking time. Some faff around making a vanilla syrup. And there’s quite the debate about the best type of rice to use, with many requesting short grain or pudding rice. Incidentally, I’d never heart of ‘pudding rice’ before. NZ online grocery stores don’t list such a product. In fact, it seems like it’s a bit of a marketing ploy, as the BBC explains:

This is not a specific type of rice, but a generic description for short-grained white rice used for making rice pudding. The term is rarely used outside England. Whichever rice you use, the important thing is that it should give a soft, creamy, slightly sticky result.

But I didn’t have much shortgrain rice… Besides, I wanted to get back to basics, making the most of my cupboards' contents. My chosen recipe, from Françoise Bernard’s recettes faciles, fit the bill just nicely. No cream, no eggs, and simply calling for ‘rice’. In case you’re wondering whether rice variety really does matter, someone else has already experimented. Spoiler alert: the verdict seems to be... not really. My advice is to just use what you have.


Mixed measures

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that French recipes tend to use different measures than British recipes. Whether it’s weighing out egg whites, or using centilitres rather than millilitres, there’s quite a lot that I adapt to meet the English reader’s expectations.

One example from this recipe was ‘around ¾ of a litre’ (of milk). It just seemed like a strange way of expressing this. Why not 750ml, or 75cl? Most French recipes I’ve seen quantify liquids in centilitres. So why not here? Maybe the approximate nature led the author to feel that using millilitres would be too precise?

My recipe also included a 1 noix de beurre (word-for-word translation: 1 ‘(wal)nut’ of butter), stirred in at the end of cooking. In the UK, we would say a ‘knob of butter’, but I quite like the French noix. Noix refers both to nuts in general, and specifically to walnuts. This means it’s quite visual when applied here. I can just picture a walnut-sized chunk of butter.

But to me, in English, it seems strange to use a numeral with such an imprecise measurement, as in ‘1 knob of butter’. Similarly, my source text lists 1 pincée de sel, but rendering this as ‘1 pinch of salt’ looks odd for some reason. A quick look at recipes on the BBC shows many of them write ‘pinch of salt’, while Rose Elliot lists ‘a knob of butter’ in her New Complete Vegetarian. So maybe there is something to this?


No hiccups with the cooking this time – a relief after last week’s baking fail!

I used basmati rice and substituted almond milk for dairy milk, and it all went swimmingly. Although the recipe advised serving it chilled, I fancied it warm, topped with some raspberry coulis (left over from the macaron filling). It was rich, creamy, and comforting.

Picture of rice pudding ready to eat

Next week

No ideas yet, but it must be time for a savoury dish. Of course I'll be using store cupboard essentials.



Bernard, F. (2015). Les recettes faciles de Françoise Bernard. Paris: Hachette Livre.

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