Finalist in the 2019 Writers Contest – Cooking With Tea Category

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Late spring is here, and summer is next; which beckons me to take frequent advantage of fresh cherries while they sparkle on the tables at my local farmers’ markets. In fact, one grower who sells at the markets in Southern California alleges that their cherries are the first to appear in the northern hemisphere. Apocryphal or not, I revel in the bounty of varieties (almost 60 kinds) that this farmer brings to market each season. And as the month or so unfurls, more and more varieties appear: From the yellow variety blushed with pink and red and those Bings or Brooks varieties–deep dark as night–to the lighter reddish ones; proving to be inspiring to a pastry chef or home baker. A cascade of other ideas occur to me: Custardy tarts spangled with these beauties and chocolate layer cakes or crispy baked meringues piled high with whipped cream and fresh cherries are only the beginning. But standing out above the rest is a simple dessert in which smoky lapsang souchong tea serves as the poaching liquid for these seasonal fruits atop a lush custardy rice pudding. Here’s the recipe.

A bowl of cherries, rice pudding and smoke

Chef’s Note: The best rice puddings are the ones that are made with the smallest amount of rice. If you are aiming for custardy deliciousness, as in this pudding, this is the way to go. Poaching the cherries in the slightly smoky black Chinese tea yields fruit that plays beautifully against the richness of the pudding. Be sure to save some of the poaching liquid, reduced, to drizzle over the top of the dessert.

Yield: 4-6 servings

For the Rice Pudding:

  • 1 quart (32 ounces) whole milk
  • 5 ounces (generous ½ c.) granulated sugar
  • 1 fragrant vanilla bean, split lengthwise, with its seeds scraped
  • 2 ounces (scant ½ cup) short grain rice (Arborio risotto rice works well here)
  • 6 egg yolks from large eggs (approximately 4 ounces)
  • 1 t. cornstarch dissolved in 1 T. cold water
  • 2 ounces (4 T.) softened unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 c. whipping cream, whipped to soft peaks

In a heavy 3-quart saucepan, heat the milk with the sugar and vanilla bean. Allow to simmer for about 10 minutes and then add the rice. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally to ensure that the rice is flowing freely throughout the liquid and that the mixture is not sticking or burning on the bottom of the saucepan. Cook for about 20-30 minutes or until the rice is tender (rice will vary in their cooking times, so test by tasting frequently to cook to preferred degree of doneness).

Whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl and add about ½ cup of the rice mixture, whisking to combine. Now add this mixture back into the saucepan along with the dissolved cornstarch. Cook over medium heat, stirring gently but thoroughly, just until the mixture has thickened slightly. It should coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Allow to cool and then fold in softly whipped cream. Serve cool, or even refrigerated, if you prefer. (Refrigerate if not using within an hour).

For the Cherries:

  • 1 lb. pitted fresh cherries
  • 2 ounces granulated sugar
  • 2 c. (16 ozs.) brewed lapsang souchong tea

Place the pitted cherries and the sugar in a bowl and allow to stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes. In the meantime, bring the brewed tea to a simmer. Add the cherries and sugar mixture. Simmer over low heat just until the cherries soften slightly. Remove from the heat and allow to cool in the liquid.  Separate the fruit from the liquid and refrigerate the cherries until ready to serve the rice pudding. (Note that depending on the serving vessels that you use, you might have some of the cherries left over after portioning out the puddings. They will keep well and would be great over vanilla ice cream or on their own.)  After removing the fruit, boil the liquid over high heat to reduce to a light coating consistency. When done, it should thinly coat the back of a spoon. Keep at room temperature if serving within an hour. If not, refrigerate, covered, and then bring to room temperature before using. You can thin down the liquid with a bit of water if it has solidified.

To serve:  Spoon the rice pudding, half filling 1-1/2 c. capacity serving dishes or nice wide mouthed glasses or mason jars. Top with the cherries and a drizzle of the reduced poaching liquid and serve immediately.  A crisp cookie such as a buttery shortbread or spicy gingersnap would be a nice accompaniment.

Photo “Cherries” is copyright under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License to the photographer Amanda Slater and is being posted unaltered (source)