I was excited to see Hibiscus as a major player in this week’s recipe. I live in Florida on Hibiscus Street, and need only to walk out my door to enjoy the lovely red, pink, and yellow Hibiscus bushes. When we first arrived here after a tiring cross country move, I stepped out of the truck to smell the ocean and the sweet smell of Hibiscus. I knew instantly I would be happy here.
I did half consider picking some hibiscus flowers for this recipe but was not sure whether they would dry adequately in time. I wound up using Red Zinger tea instead, which worked out well. My mother used to drink it all the time (tea at 3:30 with Gram every afternoon!), but I only just realized it had Hibiscus in it. I was intoxicated by its ruby red color as it steeped. I definitely think the syrup really made the rice pudding. It had so much depth of flavor, and each of the steeping spices really stood out on its own.
There is not too much that you can do with any rice pudding recipe to make it substantively different from any other. I was interested to see that the only thickener was the starch from the rice (I used arborio). For a while I was worried that it would thicken up enough, but I “stayed with it” at Dorie’s urging. I usually make my Aunt Verna’s rice pudding which uses an egg/sugar slurry and sweetened condensed milk (plus a quart of whole milk (!) to thicken (it is SO good). I haven’t had rice pudding in quite some time, though this brought back many memories of all the time my mom made it for me… Dorie’s technique is similar to my mother’s. Of course Aunt Verna’s is rich enough to stand alone, whereas this delicious syrup really requires a less rich rice pudding to coordinate with it.