Soy milk has been around now for many years on a scale large enough to reach supermarkets across the country. But recently we are seeing the other milk substitutes getting more and more available. Every once in awhile I re-assess my habit of buying soy milk routinely and consider how other milk alternates would fit into my recipes.
The subtle differences between various milks can work for us, as in the recent recipe I looked over that recommended coconut milk for use in Rice Pudding. Since rice pudding is such a popular dessert--not to mention one of the supreme comfort foods--the dairy-intolerant like me are now able to look forward to a new taste sensation when we try this variation on the classic recipe.
I'm betting that coconut milk would also work wonders on Bread Pudding, which was a standard around my house when I was growing up. My mother made it like a custard rather than the drier version that is mostly bread. She used egg yolks to thicken the custard (which in those days was always milk-based) and then whipped the egg whites into a meringue topping that she browned in the oven after the custard was set.
So these two recipes could become welcome additions to dairy-free households if we would like to give coconut milk a try. It is available nowadays in two main forms: in boxes like milk and soy milk in the coolers of the supermarket dairy sections, and also in canned form when it is imported from Southeast Asia. Among the canned versions you can choose Light or Regular coconut milk. If you buy the Regular you'll find it almost as thick as pudding when you remove it from the can, so I'd advise buying the Light form for everything, which is what I do. You'll find that it is interchangeable with the boxed coconut milk that is marketed by companies like Silk.
Coconut milk in cans is available in the Asian section of your supermarket, by the way, and it isn't hard to find anymore--I buy it routinely at my neighborhood Fry's Supermarket in the area of Campbell and Irvington here in Tucson. So it is going to be simple for you to locate it anywhere in Tucson, and substituting it into these recipes will be a snap.
CLASSIC BREAD PUDDING
6 slices day-old bread
2 Tablespoons melted organic butter
1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)
4 large eggs at room temperature, separated
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3-4 Tablespoons sugar (separately)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Break the bread into small pieces and place in an 8-inch-square baking dish or comparable open casserole. Drizzle the bread with the melted butter and the raisins.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks, milk, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. Beat until they are well mixed. Pour this over the bread and push it down lightly with a large spoon or spatula until the bread is covered and begins to soak up the egg mixture.
Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, until the top springs back when touched.
Meanwhile, using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites with the 3-4 Tablespoons of sugar until they become a medium-stiff meringue. When the pudding is done, remove it from the oven and spread the meringue over the top.
Return the pudding to the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the meringue has browned slightly and is cooked through. Remove it from the oven and cool to warm or room temperature before serving. Refrigerate leftovers.
I am going to keep reminding my readers about food safety: DO NOT use a kitchen torch to brown the raw meringue rather than putting it in the oven. Meringue that is treated with a kitchen torch does not cook through and can easily spread food-borne illness. Take those few extra minutes to cook the meringue in the oven, even if you want to turn the oven itself off and use the remaining heat to brown the meringue (this may prevent burning).
Now for the Rice Pudding, which usually is served with a whipped topping on the cooler side rather than with a meringue.
CLASSIC RICE PUDDING
3/4 uncooked organic white rice (Arborio is particularly good)
2 cups light or unsweetened organic coconut milk, divided
1/3 cup organic sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 large organic egg at room temperature
2/3 cup organic golden raisins
1 Tablespoon organic butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Bring 1-1/2 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan and stir in the rice. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the rice is fully cooked.
Meanwhile, mix together 1-1/2 cups of coconut milk, the sugar and the salt. Pour this into the hot rice and cook over medium heat until it is thick and creamy, about 15-20 minutes.
Beat the remaining coconut milk with the egg and stir in the raisins; add this to the pudding. Cook for 2 minutes longer and stir in the butter and vanilla. Pour the pudding into a serving bowl or individual dessert dishes and serve warm or cold, topped with whipped cream or non-dairy topping.
I specify golden raisins in both recipes because I dislike the appearance of dark-brown raisins in creamy dishes. This may not be a problem for you, and if you have standard raisins in the house, go ahead and add them in by all means.
Both the above recipes can, of course, be made with milk or half and half with no change in the outcome (other than the unsuitability for dairy-intolerant people).