My favorite dessert is unequivocally rice pudding. I love it so much that I refuse to make it, because I have absolutely no self-control when I have easy access to it. I broke that rule to develop this recipe, though, because while perusing an old community cookbook I found a recipe for “rice custard pie” and I could not believe that I had never once thought to make something of this nature for myself. I picked the book up at a Rhode Island thrift shop five years ago and had somehow never noticed this life-changing pie until now. Perhaps it was fate; maybe the universe wanted all of us to experience this together.
Though the recipe was presented in the cookbook without any context, I am nearly certain that the recipe is an Americanized version of the Italian Pastiera di Grano, which is sort of like a cheesecake with wheatberries that my people eat on Easter. The “pie” is an absolute unit, calling for a 9 x 13″ pan that gets filled to the brim with rice, ricotta, and cream. I decided to Americanize it even further, drawing inspiration from the place I’ve likely eaten more rice pudding than anywhere else: the diner. Instead of ricotta and a rolled pie crust, I went in a diner-cheesecake direction with cream cheese and graham cracker crumbs, and then I covered the entire thing with diner-style coffee cake crumbs, just for kicks. As expected, these were brilliant ideas, and I deserve to be lavished with praise for them.
Please note that this pie was originally designed for a holiday celebration and is thus an absolute unit. I decided not to make it smaller, because I like the height it gets in a 9 x 13-inch pan, and because it freezes beautifully. Once the family and I enjoyed a “perfectly reasonable” amount, I cut the rest into single portions, wrapped them individually in plastic wrap, stuck them in the freezer, then removed one piece each and every morning for breakfast since it’s the most important meal of the day. (Just thaw in the fridge overnight, or in the microwave.) I really enjoy warming up some frozen blueberries and serving them on top, and I encourage you to play around with other fruits that can make the pie qualify as part of a balanced breakfast.
For the filling:
- 1 1/2 cups white rice
- 4 cups milk
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 (8-oz.) blocks cream cheese
- 5 eggs
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 2/3 cups sugar
- 2 tsp. vanilla
For the crust:
- 1 box graham crackers
- 1 1/2 sticks butter, melted
For the topping:
- 1 stick butter, room temperature
- 2/3 cup brown sugar
- 1 3/4 cups flour
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 3/4 tsp. cinnamon
- Powdered sugar, to finish
Fill a large pot halfway with water and bring to a boil. Put the rice in a strainer and rinse under a cold faucet until the water runs clean, then add the rice to the pot and boil for 10 minutes. Strain into the sink, using a silicone spatula to make sure no rice is stuck to the bottom of the pot. Return the pot to the stove, add the milk, salt, and drained rice, and simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the cream cheese to the pot; set it aside, stirring occasionally to help the cream cheese melt.
Next, make the crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 9 x 13″ cake pan with several layers of heavy duty aluminum foil, leaving an overhang so you can easily lift the cake from the pan later. Pulverize the box of graham crackers into crumbs using a food processor or rolling pin, then mix with the melted butter. Press the crumb mixture onto the bottom and sides of the pan to make a thin crust, then bake for 10 minutes.
While the crust is in the oven, whisk the eggs, heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl, then add the cooked rice mixture. When the crust is ready, put the pan on a baking sheet (it’s helpful for moving the pie around), pour in the rice filling, and return to the oven for 30 minutes.
Make the topping by combining the butter, sugar, flour, salt, and cinnamon together in a bowl and kneading together using your hands or the back of a fork until crumbly. When 30 minutes has passed, crumble the topping over the pie, then continue baking for another 20-25 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Allow the pie to cool for at least one hour, remove from the pan, dust with powdered sugar, and serve.