Many cultures have a recipe for rice pudding that each bring a spoonful of comfort with every bite. The Puerto Rican (or Latin American) version is called Arroz con Dulce or Arroz con Leche. Arroz con Dulce is the preferred name for Puerto Ricans as arroz con leche is more of a breakfast treat there. Coconut and cinnamon play a significant role in the flavors found in this creamy dessert. Depending on how spoiled the cook’s family (Hector) is or isn’t, you might find that raisins (or the dulce) make an appearance.
What is Arroz con Dulce?
Though you may be unfamiliar with the name “arroz con dulce,” you have probably eaten it at least once. It’s the dish known as rice pudding here in the States.
Arroz con dulce (ah-ROSE cohn DOOL-say) translates to “rice with candy,” the “candy” being raisins. Other Hispanic countries call this dish arroz con leche as it’s made with milk as the base. Either way you name it, most recipes have the same core ingredients and preparation.
It is a sweet rice recipe, spice with varying amounts of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger according to the cook’s preferences. Hispanic versions of arroz con dulce range in texture from smooth and creamy (able to be eaten with a spoon) to thick and firm (enough to cut with a knife). Most recipes have the commonality of making this sweet treat with a spiced liquid sweetened with sugar. For this recipe, coconut milk and shredded coconut are stirred in.
Where does Arroz con Dulce come from?
I have to go out on a food anthropology limb and say that every culture in the world eats some version of rice pudding.
After some research, however, it’s hard to say where rice pudding itself originated. Fans of English Literature have read about it in many a Dickens novel. However, being as though rice comes from the East, logic would dictate that they, at some point, created this dessert long before those in the West. That said, this recipe is a Puerto Rican one learned from my family.
Again, I’m a chef, not a food historian, so we can move onto what’s really important: the recipe itself.
When is it served?
Arroz con dulce is most often served as a Christmas dessert. During the holiday season, which for Puerto Ricans runs from Thanksgiving to after Epiphany or El Dia de Los Reyes (Three Kings Day on January 6th), the interwebs blow up with people searching for the best recipe.
Granted, there’s no prescribed time to enjoy this sweet treat. Whenever you have a craving is the best time to serve it, but it’s most commonly served in the Puerto Rican culture during the holidays.
What do I need to make Arroz con Dulce?
To make this arroz con dulce pick up: white rice, light brown sugar, coconut milk (fresh or canned), raisins, sweetened coconut flakes or fresh coconut flakes, cinnamon, allspice, star anise, cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, salt, 1 lime, and heavy cream (which is optional).
The cooking takes place in a heavy-duty Dutch oven or caldero.
If you hate raisins dried cranberries, cherries, chopped dates, or currants are good stand-ins for them. You can also omit the dried fruit altogether. Coconut is a predominant flavor in my rice pudding, but you can make it with plain cow’s milk, almond milk, or any other milk. To make this a vegan recipe, replace the finishing cream with coconut cream or additional coconut milk.
What’s the best type of rice to use for Arroz con Dulce?
The type of rice you use to make this rice pudding isn’t as important as how you prep it for cooking. I prefer to use medium-grain rice to make my dessert because it plumps up to give the pudding a great texture. That said, I have made this rice pudding with jasmine, basmati, and long grain rice and have been pleased with the results.
Jasmine and basmati have floral undertones that lend themselves well to puddings like this. Long grain rice doesn’t have much flavor besides what it’s cooked in, but it works in a pinch.
I like using medium grain rice because its compact size and pearl-like shape cooks quickly without mush. Arborio rice- what you might be familiar with if you have ever made risotto- is an excellent replacement here.
Avoid glutinous rice like sweet sushi rice. It tends to make the finished dessert too gummy.
Why do I have to soak the rice for rice pudding?
Once you get your hands on your preferred type of rice, it is essential to soak the rice for a few hours. When you soak rice for use in rice pudding, it decreases the amount of time it has to cook. In turn, that reduces the likelihood of ending up with a gummy pudding when it’s all said and done.
How long do I soak the rice for Arroz con Dulce?
Because I want a creamy dessert, I soak my rice for 8 hours (or overnight). In the past, I have left my rice to soak for up to 12 hours. Obviously, the longer you can soak the rice (no longer than 12 hours), the better.
To soak the rice: rinse it in a colander under cold running water. Transfer the rinsed rice to a large mixing bowl and cover it with at least 5-inches of cold water. For this recipe, I soak my rice in 5 cups of water. Let it soak for as long as you care to.
When you’re ready to begin your arroz con dulce, scoop out a cup-and-a-half of the soaking water and set it aside. I like to add this rice water to my coconut milk to thin it as needed. Once you have your reserved rice water, drain the rest of the water from the soaked rice. You’re set to begin the dessert-making!
What spices can I use to flavor my rice pudding?
I flavor my arroz con dulce with the same spices I use to make my Coquito. You can never go wrong with the trifecta of baking spices: cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. But, if you can and have them, why not throw in star anise, cardamom, allspice, and cloves, to seal the deal on warmth? I actually prefer to use ground versions of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg in this recipe. Also, because I used up all my ginger on teas to soothe allergy-afflicted throats, I was out of fresh ginger. But, for the other spices, their whole varieties work best for this steeping step. Oh! I also add cinnamon sticks here because you can’t have too much cinnamon in this dish.
Again, this is a coconut-flavored rice pudding. What better milk to use than freshly-squeezed coconut milk? Canned coconut milk also works and, if you use it, the coconut flavor will be more pronounced. I like a subtle kiss of coconut.
Fill a tea strainer or a piece of cheesecloth with the whole spices and attach it to the side of your pot with a piece of butcher’s twine or its chain.
Remember that rice water I had you save earlier? Stir a cup of it into the coconut milk-spice concoction.
Bring this mixture up to a gentle boil over medium heat. Once the coconut milk starts to boil, turn the stove off and allow the spices to steep in the liquid for 20 minutes. This is important as it infuses the coconut milk with the flavor of the spices.
How long do I need to cook the rice?
Before adding the soaked rice to the pot of coconut milk, remove the spice sachet you used to infuse the milk with flavor. While it’s perfectly fine to leave the spice bag in while you simmer the rice, I find that stirring around it becomes annoying quite fast. Plus, that 20 minutes of steep time we gave is more than enough time to extract their flavor.
Turn the stove back up to medium heat. Stir the drained rice into the pot of coconut milk with a wide spoon. If you have a spoon with sharp corners, use that. Those spoon’s corners get into the corners of the pot to prevent any rice from hanging out there and scorching.
Bring the coconut milk up to a gentle simmer, stirring after 5 minutes. Once the milk forms small bubbles that barely break the surface, reduce the heat to low. Give the rice another thorough stir.
Now, a lot of folks scream at you to stir the arroz constantly while it simmers. Part of their rationale for this is they believe it helps the rice release its “stickiness,” which creates a glutinous quality in the overall pudding. I find it absolutely unnecessary to stand over the pot, stirring like a witch.
Instead, set a timer for 20 minutes. Stir the rice every 5 minutes to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Leaving it alone will help it cook faster, but those periodic stirs will keep it from scorching. It’s essential to keep the coconut milk from simmering and don’t allow it to boil.
The surface of the milk must look like mine does in the image above. You can see steam rising, but there are no bubbles on the surface.
How do I know when my Arroz con Dulce is ready?
After 20 minutes of gentle cooking, the rice will begin to peek through the surface of the milk when you stir it. Listen to the pot when you stir, too. It will sound like the gentle rustling of a newspaper. This is how you know your rice is ready to be sweetened.
Somethings will change the amount of time it takes before your arroz con dulce is ready to move forward. Because my coconut milk is fresh, it’s not as thick as canned coconut milk. As a result, it takes precisely 20 minutes for my rice to be al dente. When you use canned coconut milk, the mixture may thicken faster, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the rice is ready to move forward. So, if you taste a grain or two of rice and it feels really hard (like biting into a carrot), add 1- 1 1/2 cups of water to the pot. That way, you have more time (and liquid) to simmer your rice until it offers just a “snap” of resistance when you bite into a grain.
How long you soaked the rice also determines how long it will take to get to al dente. If you opted not to soak or soaked for less than 8 hours, it might take 40 minutes instead of 20.
However, if you soaked it for 8 hours and, after 20 minutes, your rice isn’t peeking at you, simmer it for an additional 10-15 minutes. Testing after that time to check for rice that is al dente. This particular texture or doneness is essential because the arroz con dulce still has about 20 minutes of cooking ahead of it. You don’t want it to be too soft at this point, or you may end up with mush.
What can I use to sweeten my rice pudding?
I love the caramel notes that light brown sugar gives my arroz con dulce, so I recommend using it to sweeten yours. However, maple syrup, honey, agave syrup, coconut sugar, or white granulated sugar can be used in its place. You can also increase or decrease the amount of sweetener you add to your dessert. Oddly enough, I’m not a massive fan of super-sweet pudding, so I find that one cup is perfect. Don’t forget, too, that the raisins (the dulce) will also add sweetness to the dish. It’s best to add any additional sweetener after you add the raisins for the best results.
Add the sugar, vanilla extract, salt, and any ground spices to the pot. Stir these in well to infuse and sweeten the rice with them.
Continue cooking the mixture on low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. If you find that the mixture is thickening a bit too much, thin it with more coconut milk or the reserved rice water- just a 1/2 cup at a time.
I hate raisins! Do I have to add them to my Arroz con Dulce?
Next, stir in the raisins and toasted coconut flakes. Again, you can add or not add either of these, but I think it ceases to be con dulce if there’s no dulce added. No judgment. But I will say that even the raisin hater- Hector- loved this version.
Continue cooking the rice pudding on low heat for an additional 10 minutes. Stirring every 5 minutes or so.
Why do you add lime juice to your rice pudding?
I add a squeeze of fresh lime juice to the finished arroz con dulce to brighten up the other flavors in the dessert. Some folks steep a lime peel in the milk with the other spices, but I don’t like the muddy taste that gives to the dish.
Instead, I wait until the arroz con dulce is done cooking and squeeze the juice of half a lime into it. After I stir it in, I taste it and adjust any spices that I think need it.
Your arroz con dulce is ready to eat! But wait. There’s more!
How do I make my Arroz con Dulce creamy?
Two of the most common ways to serve this dish are in a bowl or on a plate.
Yes, I said on a plate. There are arroz con dulce camps that prefer a very thick, cake-like consistency. So thick, in fact, that you can cut it with a knife, serve it with a spatula, and eat it with a fork.
If you are in that camp: spoon your rice pudding into a buttered cake pan (8″x8″). Use the back of your spoon to compact the rice in the pan, then cover the dish with plastic wrap and let it cool.
I’m a member of the “I want creamy arroz con dulce” team. If I want a rice cake, I will make that. Instead, I want my pudding to be a pudding. I want to eat it with a spoon. If you are like me, allow your rice pudding to cool completely. Once cool, stir in the heavy cream, or, if you want to keep it vegan, more coconut milk.
Is Arroz con Dulce served warm or cold?
Arroz con dulce is served cold, but that doesn’t mean you can’t break with tradition. Granted, if you want to serve it warm, you can’t expect to cut it with a knife. Instead, you can serve it at room temperature after packing it into your dish. Or, serve it straight from the pot, that’s the way to enjoy it hot hot.
If you want to serve it traditionally: refrigerate the arroz con dulce for 4-6 hours until thoroughly chilled. Slice (or spoon) and serve!
How do I serve rice pudding?
Sprinkle ground cinnamon over your servings of arroz con dulce. Whipped cream on top is another great way to serve this dish.
Of course, café con leche or coquito are must-have drinks when serving arroz con dulce.
While the cinnamon sticks and star anise I garnished mine with look pretty, they’re a waste since you can’t eat them as is. I do it for the ‘GRAM, my friend! I do it for the ‘gram.
Leftovers are great for dessert or even breakfast, surprisingly enough. My kiddos eat it for breakfast often, in fact. They heat a half-cup of milk to steaming and stir it into a bowl of arroz con dulce. The first time I saw them do it, I swole up with pride. It’s a genius idea.
What’s the best way to store it?
Store the arroz con dulce in a covered container in the fridge. The dessert will keep, when refrigerated, for 5 days.
When serving leftovers, try to avoid keeping them on the countertop for longer than possible. Doing so ensures you get the most life out of your dessert.
Can I freeze it?
Arroz con dulce actually freezes quite well. Transfer the pudding to a freezer storage bag or container. Press out excess air and freeze for 4 months.
Thaw the frozen pudding in the fridge. Give it a good stir. You might want to add a bit more milk to it to make it creamy again. Serve the arroz con dulce as desired.
Can I make Arroz con Dulce ahead?
While you can eat arroz con dulce warm and make it at the last minute, it actually tastes best if you make it ahead.
In fact, making it a day or two ahead is never a bad idea. Just remember to store it covered and in the fridge.
Well, Friend! I want to thank you for being a part of my Merry Band of Misfits here on Sense & Edibility! As we face 2021 with uncertainty and trust issues (thanks to 2020), I pray nothing but happiness, health, and prosperity for you and yours. I hope this Arroz con Dulce is one of many of my recipes honored to grace your table.
I look forward to sharing many more laughs, stories, and recipes with you in the years to come.
Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Belated Hanukkah, and Happy Holidays from my family and kitchen to yours!
Arroz con Dulce (Coconut-Flavored Rice Pudding with Dried Fruit)
- 4 quart Dutch oven or caldero
To Soak the Rice (Begin 2-12 hours Ahead)
- 2 cups (430 grams) medium-grain rice
- 5 cups (1.18 liters) cold water for soaking
For Cooking the Rice
- 5 cups (1.18 liters) coconut milk or 3 15 ounce cans unsweetened coconut milk
- 3 3-inch cinnamon sticks
- 5 cardamom pods optional
- 2 star anise
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice berries or 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves or 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 cup, packed (225 grams) light brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons (3 grams) ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon (5 grams) ground ginger
- 3/4 teaspoon (2 grams) ground nutmeg
- pinch kosher salt optional
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup (110 grams) dark raisins see note for swaps
- 1/2 cup (40 grams) coconut flakes toasted
- 1/2 medium (about 1 1/2 teaspoons) lime juice
- 1/2 cup (120 milliliters) heavy cream or coconut milk (optional for creamier arroz con dulce)
- dark raisins
- toasted coconut flakes
- ground cinnamon
- whipped cream
Soak the Rice (up to 12 hours ahead)
- Rinse the rice in a colander under cold running water. Transfer the rinsed rice to a large mixing bowl and cover it with at 5 cups of cold water.
- Allow the rice to soak for 2-12 hours. Eight hours (or overnight) is recommended. When you're ready to cook the arroz con dulce: scoop out 1 1/2 cups of the soaking water and set it aside. This will be used in the simmer liquid and to thin the rice as needed.Drain the rest of the water from the rice and set the rice aside.
Infuse the Coconut Milk with the Spices
- Pour the coconut milk and 1 cup of the reserved rice water into a 4-quart dutch oven or caldero. Add the cinnamon sticks to the liquid in the pot. Fill a tea strainer or a piece of cheesecloth with the cardamom, star anise, allspice, and cloves then attach it to the side of your pot with a piece of butcher's twine or its chain.
- Bring this mixture up to a gentle boil over medium heat. Once the coconut milk starts to boil, turn the stove off and allow the spices to steep in the liquid for 20 minutes to infuse the coconut milk with the flavor of the spices.
Gently Cook the Arroz con Dulce
- After 20 minutes, remove the spice sachet from the pot and discard the spices. Turn the stove back up to medium heat. Stir the drained rice into the pot of coconut milk with a wooden spoon.
- Allow the coconut milk to come to a gentle simmer, stirring after 5 minutes. Once the milk forms small bubbles that barely break the surface, reduce the heat to low. Give the rice another thorough stir.
- Set a timer for 20 minutes. Stir the rice every 5 minutes to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot and scorching. It's essential to keep the coconut milk from simmering or boiling. The surface of the milk should steam, but there should be no bubbles breaking the surface.
- After 20 minutes of gentle cooking, the rice will begin to peek through the surface of the milk when you stir it and sound like the gentle rustling of a newspaper*. Stir the sugar, ground cinnamon, ground ginger, ground nutmeg, salt, and vanilla extract into the pot. Continue cooking the mixture on low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. If you find that the mixture is thickening a bit too much, thin it with more coconut milk or the reserved rice water- just a 1/2 cup at a time.
- Next, stir in the raisins and toasted coconut flakes. Continue cooking the rice pudding on low heat for an additional 10 minutes. Stirring every 5 minutes or so.
Finish the Arroz con Dulce
- Once the cooking time has elapsed, turn the stove off. Squeeze the juice of half a lime into the arroz con dulce. After adding the lime juice, taste it and adjust any spices.
- If you want to serve the arroz con dulce traditionally: refrigerate the arroz con dulce for 4-6 hours until thoroughly chilled. Slice (or spoon) and serve! If you prefer a very thick, cakelike arroz con dulce: spoon the warm rice pudding into a buttered cake pan (8"x8"). Use the back of your spoon to compact the rice in the pan, then cover the dish with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until completely chilled, then cut and serve.If you like a creamier rice pudding: allow the rice pudding to cool completely. Once cool, stir in the heavy cream, or, if you want to keep it vegan, more coconut milk.
- Arroz con dulce is served cold, but you can serve it warm or hot straight from the pot. Sprinkle more ground cinnamon over your servings of arroz con dulce, or top with more raisins, toasted coconut, or whipped cream.
Swaps and Substitutes:
- Instead of dark raisins: try sultanas, dried cranberries, cherries, chopped apricots or dates.
- Try these rice varieties: jasmine, basmati, arborio, or long-grain instead of medium-grain.
- Make it vegan: by replacing the heavy cream with coconut cream or additional coconut milk.
- Replace the coconut milk: with cow's milk, almond milk, or soy milk.
*Things to Note As You Cook Your Arroz con Dulce:
- Fresh coconut milk is not as thick as canned coconut milk. As a result, it takes precisely 20 minutes for my rice to be al dente. When using canned coconut milk, the mixture may thicken faster, without cooking the rice to al dente. Taste a grain or two of rice after the 20 minute cook time is finished. If it is hard (like biting into a carrot), add 1- 1 1/2 cups of water to the pot. To allow you more liquid in which to simmer your rice until it offers just a "snap" of resistance when you bite into a grain.
- How long you soaked the rice also determines how long it will take to get to al dente. If you opted not to soak or soaked for less than 8 hours, it might take 40 minutes instead of 20.
- If you soaked it for 8 hours and, after 20 minutes, your rice hasn't absorbed the milk properly, simmer it for an additional 10-15 minutes. Test after that time to check for rice that is al dente.
- Store the arroz con dulce in a covered container in the fridge. The dessert will keep, when refrigerated, for 5 days.
- When serving leftovers, try to avoid keeping them on the countertop for longer than possible. Doing so ensures you get the most life out of your dessert.
- Transfer the pudding to a freezer storage bag or container.
- Press out excess air and freeze for 4 months.
- Thaw the frozen pudding under the refrigeration.
- Stir and thin with milk as desired.