How I like San Gimignano in the early morning, when the tourists are not crowding its medieval alleys, when you see the locals passing along the streets almost incredulous to have San Gimignano all for themselves, even just for a few more minutes. I like it when the footsteps echo on the cobbled streets, resounding between the high walls of the houses.
I like the grey colour of the stones, especially when the gentle early Spring rain has just washed them. In San Gimignano, along the main street that goes to the Cathedral from the park outside the walls, just after the main gate on the left, you find the Pasticceria Armando e Marcella, one of my favourite pastry shops in the world.
Every time that mum took me there as a little girl, just entered my question was always the same: Mum, could you buy me a rice tartlet?
The lemon-scented rice pudding tartlets of my childhood
The subtly lemon-scented rice pudding tartlets were my favourite sweet treat as a child, whether bought by my mum on a common Saturday when we went to visit my granddad Remigio, who lived there, or by my aunt Silvana in the early morning before going to the market, when I used to spend in San Gimignano a few days during the summer holidays.
It might depend on their special character or in their essence interwoven with childhood memories and flavours, but they are still my favourite choice on the rare occasions when I have breakfast in a bar, or when I enter in a baker’s shop and they have just been baked and are still warm with a gentle creaminess inside.
I baked them just before leaving for London, in one of those days when you need comfort from food and memories, using my grandma’s rice cake as a basic recipe and working on it.
Italian rice pudding tartlets: the recipe
I scribbled down the recipe, took a few pictures and came to London, meaning to write this post from here, from the warm and cosy kitchen in South East London, where there is always an Italian coffee. But then, as it always happens to me abroad, I felt like cooking home food, and I baked my rice pudding tartlets again for breakfast along with minestrone, my mum’s veggie soup (not for breakfast!). The rice pudding tartlets, changing the country, have changed as well.
In Italy they are and should remain the tartlets you buy in a pastry shop, or better, in your favourite baker’s shop, round or softly oval, wrapped in a paper towel. We usually eat them standing up, perhaps with a coffee if you’re a grown-up or with a thick pear juice if you are a child. They are covered with icing sugar, that icing sugar that will inevitably dust your best dress in sweetness on the most important morning of your life.
Here in London, in the food blogger headquarters, where any excuse is good to take new pictures or experiment with a new combination, we played around with flavours and presentation. No icing sugar but a spoonful of thick greek yoghurt and a drizzle of raspberry sauce, cooked with just a hint of sugar, to add a nice tart note. It goes well with our plans for tomorrow and a cup of Earl Grey.
Now you are spoilt for choice on how to serve these subtle lemon-scented rice pudding tartlets. I already tried and tested the recipe for you!
Lemon-scented Italian rice pudding tartlets
For the rice pudding:
- 1 l (4 1/4 cups) whole milk
- 300 grams (1 1/2 cups) pudding rice
- 1 tablespoon organic vanilla essence, or 1 vanilla bean
- zest of one organic lemon
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- 8 grams (1/2 tbsp) baking powder
- 2 free-range eggs
For the short pastry shells:
- 200 grams (1 2/3 cups) all-purpose flour
- 100 grams (2/3 cups) rice flour
- 150 grams (3/4 cups) sugar
- 150 grams (2/3 cups) butter
- 8 grams baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 free-range egg
- First thing first, let’s make the shortcrust pastry. Sieve the plain flour with the rice flour and mix them with the raw cane sugar, salt and baking powder. Add the diced butter and rub all the ingredients with your fingertips to make soft crumbles, just as grated Parmesan cheese.
- Beat the egg in a bowl, then add it to the crumbles and keep rubbing the ingredients with your fingertips until you have a nice and smooth ball of dough. If you have rubbed the butter and the flour thoroughly, it will take only a few minutes, and you won't overheat the pastry, which will eventually be crumbly and light. Flatten the dough ball with your hands, wrap it in clingfilm and let it rest in the fridge.
- Now pour the milk into a large thick-bottomed pot and bring it to a simmer with the lemon peel and the vanilla pod. When it starts simmering, add the pudding rice and let it cook completely (it will depend on the kind of rice you chose: it must be thoroughly cooked, soft and sticky). Mine took about 15 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and stir in 3 tablespoons of sugar. Let it cool down completely.
- When the rice is cold, mix in 2 egg yolks, the baking powder and 3 tablespoons of sugar. Whip the egg whites and fold them gently into the rice pudding.
- Preheat oven to 170°C / 350°F.
- Roll the pastry with a rolling pin on a floured surface in a 5 mm thick sheet and line 16 muffin moulds. The fastest way to make it and have regular and nice pastry shells is to cut out some pastry discs with a glass as big as the bottom of the muffin mould and press them gently in. Then cut with a knife some pastry strips to line the sides of the muffin mould. Press the pastry lightly with your fingers to seal the bottom with the side stripes.
- Spoon the rice pudding into the pastry shells and bake for about 40 minutes (25 minutes will be enough in a convection oven) until the rice tartlets will be golden brown on the edges.
- Serve them warm or cold, with a dusting of icing sugar or some fresh fruit and yoghurt.
More rice pudding cakes from the blog archive
- The Tuscan rice pudding cake of my childhood. Mum loves the central part of the cake, coated with melted sugar, I prefer the shortcrust pastry shell instead, crumbly and orange-scented. What I’m going to show you is not the canonical procedure to make shortcrust pastry, but this is how we usually make it at home since I can remember.
- Farro and ricotta tart. Properly not with rice, this cake is so similar to a rice pudding cake, but made with farro. You can bake it as an afternoon snack, though it would be hard to resist a slice of this tart even for breakfast, or at the end of a family meal on a Sunday. Instead of chocolate, or along with it, you can add raisins soaked in dessert wine, or some candied orange peel.
Behind the scenes