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Rich, creamy, and full of Latin American love, our arroz con leche recipe is ideal for an easy, wholesome dessert that can be eaten at any time of the day.
Arroz con Leche Recipe
Rice pudding is a dish found in nearly every cuisine in the world, but Latin Americans have found a way to add a touch of magic to this wholesome dish, making it with three types of milk and a few additional sweet extras. It’s so simple to make, and is as pleasantly sweet as it is satisfyingly filling.
What is Arroz con Leche?
After a delicious and hearty Latin meal, sometimes a little sweet treat is needed. Thankfully, arroz con leche saves the day every time since it is so easy to make and does not take many ingredients.
Arroz con leche translates to “rice with milk,” but it certainly tastes much better than it sounds in English. It’s basically the Spanish version of rice pudding. It is made by mixing rice with water or milk and other ingredients, depending on how the various Latin American countries prefer to make it.
It’s a dessert that can be enjoyed by everyone, whether they have a sweet tooth or not. Vegetarians and vegans can also partake in experiencing this wonderful treat since alternative ingredients can be used in all aspects. No matter the dietary preference, arroz con leche is certainly for everybody.
One might think that this dessert would have originated in Asia because of the use of rice, but Europe takes the main credit for this one. In fact, the first time arroz con leche was ever mentioned was in an Italian book written in the year 1520. The oldest known recipe was created in 1607 by a Spanish cook named Domingo Hernández de Maceras.
Thought to have originated during the Middle Ages and the Muslim conquest, we can thank the Spanish for introducing the version of arroz con leche that we know today to the New World. It is widely believed that rice pudding recipes stem from the time when the Moors invaded the Iberian Peninsula thousands of years ago.
Recipes including rice, cinnamon, and milk are a big part of Arabian culture, and so the Spanish were able to create the arroz con leche because of their influences. In Spain, it is considered one of the oldest desserts and can be found all over the country.
Throughout the centuries, nuns across the Americas have been known to use any leftovers they had from the day to create new meals from them. They would experiment with different ingredients and come up with new, delicious foods and drinks.
It is believed that this method became the origin of many other meals that we all enjoy today. By using these ingredients that were recently used, the nuns were able to make fresh, unique dishes without wasting any food.
Depending on where you are in the world, you will find that just about every country makes arroz con leche differently. Although you may have a preference for one variation over another, there is no doubt that this is what makes this dessert so unique. You can try ten different types of it and still not be done tasting the varying versions of it.
In Colombia, they often like to adorn the arroz con leche with grated coconut and leave the cinnamon sticks on the side. It is one of the Colombians’ favorite desserts to enjoy during the holidays.
Argentinians and Uruguayans like to add dulce de leche.
Cubans like to add vanilla extract and use short-grain rice instead, like Arborio rice.
Hondurans tend to leave out the evaporated milk and use sugar in its place.
In Peru, cloves are sometimes added for more aroma and spice. They also like to add a shot of pisco at the end to give it a little bit of a liquor kick. Peruvians also sometimes like to use quinoa instead of white rice, which they call quinoa con leche. They have a version called arroz zambito, which translates to “dark rice pudding.” The reason behind the name is the naturally sweet and dark sugar used in many Peruvian desserts called chancaca. To this version, they like to add anise seeds, cloves, coconut, raisins, and coffee granules.
In Brazil, this dessert is called arroz de leite or arroz-doce. In this recipe, they add egg yolks and butter.
Some Latin American countries, like Guatemala, like to use the ingredients from this recipe, gelatin powder, and a gelatin mold to construct a beautiful version called arroz emperatriz.
Ecuadorians have a variation of arroz con leche known as morocho or morocho dulce, but instead of white rice, corn is used. It is known as Ecuador’s spiced corn pudding drink. At first glance, it is very easy to get it confused with arroz con leche because they look so similar. While it is prepared similarly and with like ingredients, it is served as a drink since it is much more liquid than arroz con leche and the recipe asks for many more cups of water and milk.
There are a few variations that are found more commonly compared to others throughout the U.S. because of their popularity, how easy they are to make, and how quickly they can be made. In many restaurants and bakeries, you will find arroz con leche most traditionally made in the Cuban, Mexican, and Puerto Rican ways.
How to Make Arroz con Leche
Let’s get ready to make a Mexican-inspired arroz con leche, which is one of the most popular versions.
For this recipe, you’ll need a medium or large pot, a stove, a wooden spoon or something else to stir with, and about an hour on hand.
For about four to six servings, below are all the ingredients you’ll use:
- Rice – 1.5 cup (about 300 grams) long-grain white rice
- Salt – a pinch of salt
- Water – 2.5 cups water
- Milk – 1.5 cups whole milk
- Evaporated Milk – one can of evaporated milk (14 oz/400grams)
- Condensed Milk – one can of condensed milk (14 oz/400grams)
- Vanilla – 1 tsp vanilla paste or vanilla extract
- Cinnamon Sticks – 2 cinnamon sticks
- Ground Cinnamon (optional) – 1 tbsp ground cinnamon for topping when serving
Step 1 – Wash the rice beforehand to get rid of any dirt, dust, chemicals, bugs, etc. Remember, by the time the rice gets from the field to your counter, it goes through a lot!
Step 2 – In a medium or large pot, over high heat, bring the water to a boil.
Step 3 – Add the washed rice, water, and cinnamon sticks, stir once, and bring to a boil again.
Step 4 – Turn the heat down to medium-low and let the rice simmer until it is tender, for about 13-15 minutes (check on the water level from time to time to make sure it’s not burning on the bottom). If the water has been absorbed before the 13 minutes are up, simply proceed to the next steps (adding the milk).
Note: If the water is not fully absorbed, do not drain the water. This water contains a lot of flavor that is essential for the recipe.
Step 5 – To this rice mixture, add the whole milk, condensed milk, and evaporated milk and give it a good stir. Turn the heat up to medium-high, and let it come to a boil, stirring from time to time.
Step 6 – Reduce the heat and let the mixture simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Be sure to leave the pot uncovered the entire time and stir continuously.
Step 7 – Once the mixture thickens to a preferred consistency, remove from heat, and transfer to your serving bowls/containers and let the rice cool a bit.
Step 8 – Once it has cooled down a bit, it is ready to serve. Others prefer to refrigerate for two hours and serve cold.
Enjoy hot or cold with any preferred toppings. Here are some suggestions to give you ideas.
You could serve it as is, with a cinnamon stick left in for a little extra sweetness.
Or maybe try it with a dusting of cinnamon over the top for some sweet, vanilla-like notes.
Dried fruits, such as raisins, is a great way to add sweet and tart notes to the dish.
You could also try it with grated coconut, to add an extra layer of fragrance and delicate sweetness.
- As mentioned in the recipe, don’t drain the water from the rice and cinnamon sticks after the second step. This will take out a big portion of the flavor from the final result. If you notice that after boiling, there is still too much water and the rice is still not tender enough, do not be afraid to let it boil for a little while longer. Remember to stir, keep an eye on it, and not let it get too tender.
- Do not add sugar on top of these ingredients unless you have a strong, sweet tooth! Using the condensed and evaporated milk give the arroz con leche the perfect touch of sweetness that it needs. Nevertheless, some may find the recipe to be even better when at least half a spoonful of white granulated sugar is added.
- If you prefer to use semi-skimmed (2% milk) as a healthier alternative, you can. The consistency may be less thick, but it does not change the overall flavor of the dessert. 1% milk, however, may thin it out too much.
- Milk tends to burn easily. To avoid this, always be sure to stir constantly when the recipe says to.
- While some recipes call for discarding the cinnamon sticks, you will find that many recipes, including ours, simply leave them in. It just provides a little extra cinnamon punch to the final result without being overwhelming. Some like to chew on the cinnamon sticks – and that’s perfectly fine!
- Letting the rice cool after you remove it from the heat allows the consistency to become even more thick, leading to a richer and more flavorful arroz con leche.
- Add two orange peels or lime zest if you would like a citrusy kick to your dessert.
- Many fans of arroz con leche like it just the way it is, but others love to add fruits, raisins, and chopped nuts to top it off. In Mexico, sometimes a spoonful of cajeta, which is a type of homemade dulce de leche, is added, but others may find this to make it much too sweet. With this dessert, it is easy to accidentally go over the sweetness threshold, so trial and error may happen. With patience, you will make the perfect arroz con leche to your liking.
- Add a spoonful of rum if you are feeling extra daring today!
- This can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for about five days. It can be frozen in a freezer-safe container for up to three months.
- If it has been a while and you are going to reheat the arroz con leche, you might find it is much too thick. Adding a little bit of milk or water to the dessert will help with this.
- This recipe can be made with brown rice. If you are mindful of healthier alternatives, then this is an option for you. However, just know that it will change the consistency and taste of the dessert!
Arroz con Leche Recipe Card
- 1.5 cup (about 300 grams) long-grain white rice
- a pinch of salt
- 2.5 cups water
- 1.5 cups whole milk
- one can of evaporated milk (14 oz/400grams)
- one can of condensed milk (14 oz/400grams)
- 1 tsp vanilla paste or vanilla extract
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 tbsp ground cinnamon (optional) for topping when serving
- Wash the rice beforehand.
- In a medium or large pot, over high heat, bring the water to a boil.
- Add the washed rice, water, and cinnamon sticks, stir once, and bring to a boil again.
- Turn the heat down to medium-low and let the rice simmer until it is tender, for about 13-15 minutes (check on the water level from time to time to make sure it’s not burning on the bottom). If the water has been absorbed before the 13 minutes are up, simply proceed to the next steps (adding the milk). If the water is not fully absorbed, do not drain the water. This water contains a lot of flavor that is essential for the recipe.
- To this rice mixture, add the whole milk, condensed milk, and evaporated milk and give it a good stir. Turn the heat up to medium-high, and let it come to a boil, stirring from time to time.
- Reduce the heat and let the mixture simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Be sure to leave the pot uncovered the entire time and stir continuously.
- Once the mixture thickens to a preferred consistency, remove from heat, and transfer to your serving bowls/containers and let the rice cool a bit.
- Once it has cooled down a bit, it is ready to serve. Others prefer to refrigerate for two hours and serve cold.
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