Arroz con Dulce is a popular Puerto Rican dessert of rice simmered in sweetened coconut milk with warming spices like star anise, cinnamon, and cloves studded with raisins. Different countries call this dessert arroz con leche.
*This is an updated post that was originally published in December 2020. Only the article is new.*
What is Arroz con Dulce?
Arroz con dulce means “rice with candy” or “sweet rice” in Spanish. We call it rice pudding here in the States. Arroz con dulce is one of Puerto Rico’s traditional recipes, especially during the holiday season, from Thanksgiving to January 6th (or Three Kings Day). Puerto Ricans often serve it with other traditional desserts like bread pudding, tembleque, flan, or mantecaditos. You can enjoy this sweet rice pudding any time of year, though.
Puerto Rican arroz con dulce and Mexican arroz con leche have minor differences. Arroz con leche is made with regular milk instead of coconut milk, as Puerto Rican arroz con dulce is. The Puerto Rican version often includes shredded coconut, as well. Often arroz con dulce often has more spices than arroz con leche, but that only depends on the chef preparing the recipe.
Different 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).
Where Does Arroz con Dulce Come From?
Arroz con dulce came to the Americas via Spanish colonizers. In Spain, rice pudding was considered royal food. The Spanish likely learned how to prepare arroz con dulce from the conquering Moors during their Spanish rule.
What Do I Need to Make Arroz con Dulce?
Arroz con dulce is made with medium grain rice, brown sugar, coconut milk, raisins, sweetened coconut flakes, cinnamon, allspice, star anise, cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, salt, lime or orange, and heavy cream for a creamier finish.
Coconut is a predominant flavor in arroz con dulce, but you can replace it with whole, almond, or soy milk. To make this a vegan recipe, replace the finishing heavy cream with coconut cream or additional coconut milk.
You can make this rice pudding recipe with dried cranberries, cherries, chopped dates, or currants in place of raisins or omit the dried fruit altogether.
What Kind of Rice is Arroz con Dulce Made With?
The type of rice you use to make this rice pudding isn’t as important as how you prep it for cooking. Using medium-grain rice to make arroz con dulce gives the pudding a plumper texture. You can also make arroz con dulce with jasmine, basmati, or long-grain rice.
Jasmine and basmati have floral undertones that lend themselves well to this pudding.
Avoid glutinous rice like sweet sushi rice when making rice pudding because they tend to make the finished dessert too gummy.
Do I Have to Soak the Rice
You should always soak the rice for your arroz con dulce for 1 to 2 hours because it decreases the time the pudding takes to cook. That, in turn, reduces the likelihood of ending up with gummy pudding.
Soak the rice for 2 hours to achieve a creamy texture in the finished dessert. The longer you can soak the rice (no longer than 12 hours), the better, but 2 hours is sufficient.
First, rinse the white rice 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– about 5 cups of water.
Remove 2 cups of the soaking water and set it aside when you’re ready to cook your arroz con dulce. You’ll add this to the coconut milk later. Drain the rest of the water from the soaked rice and rinse the rice under cold water.
What Spices Go Into Arroz con Dulce?
The most common spices in arroz con dulce are cinnamon, cloves, and star anise. Add cardamom, allspice, and nutmeg to make your pudding even more flavorful.
You can use ground cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg in this recipe. As for the other spices, whole varieties work best for this steeping step, but using their ground versions is also okay. Adding cinnamon sticks to the milk is always a good idea because you can never have too much cinnamon.
I recommend using fresh coconut milk, though canned coconut will work fine, especially if you want a coconut-forward dessert. However, fresh coconut milk is best for a subtle kiss of coconut flavor.
Add the whole spices to a tea strainer or a piece of cheesecloth and put it in the pot. Attach it to the side of your pot with a piece of butcher’s twine or its chain to make it easy to remove later.
Add 1 cup of the reserved rice water to the pot with the coconut milk.
Bring this coconut milk mixture up to a simmer over medium heat. Once the coconut milk starts to simmer, turn the stove off and allow the spices to steep in the liquid for 20 minutes. This infuses the coconut milk with the flavor of the spices without evaporating the liquid.
How Long Do I Cook the Rice?
Remove the spice sachet from the pot.
Turn the stove to medium and stir the drained rice into the pot of coconut milk with a wide spoon. If you have a spoon with sharp corners, use that to get into the corners of the pot. This prevents any rice from hanging out there and scorching.
Bring the coconut milk to a gentle simmer, stirring after 5 minutes. Once the milk forms small bubbles, barely breaking the surface, reduce the heat to low. Stir the rice again. It’s essential to keep the coconut milk from simmering. The surface of the milk should look like mine in the image above. You can see steam rising, but no bubbles are on the surface.
Set a timer for 20 minutes and stir the rice every 5 minutes to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot and prevent it from scorching.
How Do I Avoid Hard Rice Pudding?
After 20 minutes of gentle cooking, the rice will peek through the milk’s surface when you stir it. Listen to the pot when you stir, too. It will sound like the gentle rustling of a newspaper.
Some things will change the time before your rice pudding is ready. If you’re using fresh coconut milk, the rice will take 20 minutes to be al dente. Al dente means “to the tooth” and indicates a food still has a bit of snap when bitten into. We want this firmness because the rice must cook for another 20 minutes.
The mixture may thicken faster if you use canned coconut milk, but the rice may not be ready to move forward. Taste a grain or two of rice, and if it feels really hard (like biting into a carrot), add 1- 1 1/2 cups of water (or coconut milk) to the pot. That way, you have more time (and liquid) to simmer your rice until it offers a “snap” of resistance when you bite into a grain.
How long you soak the rice determines how long it will take to get to al dente. The rice in your arroz con dulce will be hard if you don’t soak your rice for at least 2 hours. It also will take around 40 minutes, instead of 20 minutes, to soften to the proper consistency.
How Do I Sweeten Rice Pudding?
Sweeten arroz con dulce with brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, agave syrup, coconut sugar, or white granulated sugar. I prefer brown sugar because it gives the dessert a caramel-like flavor.
You can also increase or decrease the sweetener you add to your rice. I’m not a massive fan of super-sweet pudding, so, to me, 1 cup of sugar is perfect. Because the raisins will also add sweetness to the dish, it’s best to wait to add any additional sweetener until after you add the raisins and taste it.
Stir the vanilla extract, salt, and ground spices into the rice with the brown sugar.
Continue cooking the mixture on low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the mixture thickens too much, thin it with more coconut milk or reserved rice water a 1/2 cup at a time.
Do You Have to Add Raisins?
Next, stir in the raisins and toasted coconut flakes. Typically, arroz con dulce contains raisins. You can add them if you want, but they won’t make or break the recipe. Even our resident raisin hater- Hector- loves this version with raisins.
Continue cooking the rice pudding on low heat for an additional 10 minutes. Stirring once after 5 minutes.
Why is Lime Juice Added?
Traditional Puerto Rican arroz con dulce contains orange blossom water. Orange blossom brightens the other flavors in the dessert, but it can be challenging to find.
Instead, I accomplish the same goal by squeezing the juice of half a lime into the pudding once it’s done. You can replace the lime with lemon or orange juice or replace the juice with a little orange extract. This is an optional step but adds amazing flavor to the creamy rice.
How Do I Make It Creamy?
Two of the most common ways to serve this dish are in a bowl or plate. Some people prefer their arroz con dulce to be very thick, almost cake-like in consistency. If that’s you, spoon the rice pudding into a buttered 8 x 8-inch cake pan or a disposable aluminum foil cake pan. 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 prefer my rice pudding to have a pudding consistency. For creamy arroz con dulce, allow your rice pudding to cool completely, then stir in heavy cream or coconut milk for a vegan option.
Is Arroz con Dulce Served Warm or Cold?
Arroz con dulce is served cold, but you can serve it warm if you prefer.
You can’t cut it with a knife if you want to serve it warm. Instead, serve it at room temperature after packing it into your dish. Or, serve it straight from the pot to enjoy it hot.
Refrigerate the arroz con dulce for 2-4 hours until it is thoroughly chilled to serve it traditionally. Once cold, slice or spoon it into serving dishes.
How Do I Serve Rice Pudding?
Serve arroz con dulce with a light sprinkling of ground cinnamon.
Of course, this makes a great creamy dessert, but surprisingly enough, it makes an even better breakfast. To serve this rice pudding for breakfast, heat half-cup of milk to steaming and stir it into the pudding.
What’s the Best Way to Store Leftovers?
Store leftover arroz con dulce in a covered container in the fridge for 5 days.
When serving leftovers, 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?
To freeze arroz con dulce, transfer it to a freezer storage bag or container and freeze it for 4 months.
Thaw the frozen pudding in the fridge before stirring it well. You should add more milk to make it creamy before serving.
This Arroz con Dulce is one of the most popular Puerto Rican desserts. One taste of it, and you’ll see why. Be sure to pin this recipe to your desserts board and share it with the coconut lovers in your life. And let me know in the comments below if you’re team “eats with a spoon” or team “cuts with a knife.”
Arroz con Dulce (Coconut Rice Pudding)at Sense & Edibility
- 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 or 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) orange blossom water
- 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 (Begin 2 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 at least 2, but no longer than 12 hours. After soaking, remove 2 cups of the soaking water and set it aside. 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 berries, and cloves then attach it to the side of your pot with a piece of butcher's twine or its chain.
- Bring the coconut milk up to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Once the coconut milk starts to simmer, turn the stove off and allow the spices to infuse coconut milk with their flavors for 20 minutes.
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 and stir the rice thoroughly.
- 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. Be sure 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.
Sweeten the Arroz con Dulce
- 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, 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.
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 add more spices to suit your taste.
- To serve the arroz con dulce traditionally: refrigerate the arroz con dulce for 3-4 hours until thoroughly chilled. Slice (or spoon) and serve! For very thick, cake-like 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.For 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.
- To serve, 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.
- Replace the lime juice: with orange juice, lemon juice or 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) of orange blossom water or orange extract.
- 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.
- 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 2 hours, it might take 40 minutes to cook instead of 20.
- If you soaked it for 2 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.
- To serve this rice pudding for breakfast, heat half-cup of milk to steaming and stir it into the pudding.
- Store the arroz con dulce in a covered container in the fridge for 5 days.
- When serving leftovers, try to avoid keeping them on the countertop for longer than possible.
- Transfer the pudding to a freezer storage bag or container.
- Freeze the arroz con dulce for 4 months.
- Thaw the frozen pudding under the refrigeration.
- Stir and thin with milk as desired.