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Cinnamon (Recipe: cranberry rice pudding)

My friend Peter, a chef who trained with Madeleine Kamman before veering off course to become a banker for a couple of decades, decided to celebrate his 50th birthday by walking across Spain. He met a Brazilian woman along the way, and they fell in love. Now, a few years later, they have purchased a lovely inn and restaurant in the mountains of Minas Gerais, and Peter is finally back in the kitchen, cooking recipes from his New England heritage, with Brazilian flair and local ingredients. This week, I'm revisiting some favorite posts on The Perfect Pantry, featuring recipes that might adapt well to the produce and food products of Brazil. Usufruir totalmente (which, I hope, means "enjoy completely")! 


Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus — he who reportedly fiddled while Rome burned — clearly had issues.

Who could blame him?

His mother, the ambitious and manipulative Agrippina, married the emperor Claudius and, to ensure the continuation of her own position of power, she schemed to have her son become the next emperor. To that end, Agrippina managed to get Nero betrothed to Claudius' daughter, Octavia. Whom he divorced soon after, at mom's urging. And then had killed.

And then, to demonstrate the depth of his supposed grief, he burned a year's supply of very expensive cinnamon on her funeral pyre.

Maybe that's why cinnamon is called a warm spice. (Groan.....)

Cinnamon comes from a small evergreen tree, cinnamomum zelanicum, and the spice is the inner bark of the tree, harvested in the rainy season between May and October. Native to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), cinnamon is one of the oldest known spices, its discovery dating to the 13th Century, and was so prized that it was traded as currency. In order to corner the market, Portuguese settlers occupied Ceylon until the Dutch drove them out in 1636. The Dutch began to cultivate cinnamon, which up to that time had been harvested in the wild, and kept prices high by burning excess supplies. They maintained a monopoly until the British East India Company took control in 1796, though competitive trade had begun two decades earlier, when plants were taken by traders to Java, India, and the Seychelles.

Often confused with cassia, which is darker in color and stronger in flavor, cinnamon comes in quills (what we call cinnamon sticks), one piece of bark rolled inside another. Most of what we buy in ground form in this country is actually cassia, either from China or Vietnam. In The Perfect Pantry, I have cinnamon sticks from Indonesia, and cassia ground cinnamon from China. It's just a matter of personal taste. Buy your cinnamon from a good spice vendor like Penzeys, and you'll have a choice of cassia or cinnamon, in different pungencies, from different countries of origin.

In cooking, cinnamon plays both sides of the field. Well known in sweet dishes, it's also fundamental to the savory cuisines of Morocco, India, and Thailand. Without cinnamon, we'd have no apple pie, no five-spice powder, no gingerbread, no Mexican coffee, no mulled wine — and no warm and gooey cinnamon buns.

Cranberry rice pudding

Good for breakfast or dessert, this sweet dish, inspired by a Mexican rice pudding in James McNair’s Rice Cookbook, serves 4-5.


3/4 cup arborio rice
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
Zest of 1/2 lime or lemon, removed in one piece
1-1/2 cups water
Pinch of salt
1 pint whole milk
1 cup evaporated milk
5/8 cup sugar
1/4 cup dried cranberries (or dried blueberries)
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Ground cinnamon


Combine cinnamon sticks and lime zest with water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and add the rice and salt. Stir once. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until the rice is tender and the water is absorbed. Add the milk, sugar and cranberries, and stir well. Increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, just until the mixture begins to thicken, 20 minutes or longer if you want a thicker pudding. Remove from heat and discard the lime zest. Stir 2-3 Tbsp of the hot pudding into the beaten egg yolks. Stir the egg mixture and the vanilla back into the pudding. 

Preheat the broiler, and turn the pudding into a shallow flame-proof dish. Dot with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon. Place under the broiler just until the top begins to brown lightly, 3-4 minutes. Serve immediately or at room temperature.


More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Aromatic rice pudding
Quinoa pudding

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


Um, yum?! Wow, Lydia -- this sounds incredible. I'm definitely going to have to give this a try.

Confession...I have never had rice pudding...well I have but I was too little to remember. I really must change that.

Oh, that Nero! I'm trying to imagine what it would smell like burning that amount of cinnamon. I don't want to imagine the other things he did! Wonderful post--and recipe. Must try it.

Love that story of Nero: what a piece of work he was! :D Ahh, cinnamon, just the name has such a warm and spicy feel to it.

Ah that Nero - I remember studying him in Latin class - not a congenial guy by any description.

Love this post. Thank goodness for cinnamon. ;-)

Your friend with the inn/restaurant in Brazil sounds interesting. I love anything Brazil related.


Rice pudding....brings back a lot of good memories! As does cinnamon - but I have it every day on my apple...'cause I can't be bothered to take the time to make a pie~

Cinnamon is a great spice, I love it in all sorts of dishes. I like to use just a pinch in chicken dishes too -- it adds a bit of depth.

Genie, hope you enjoy it.

Peabody, I never had it when I was young, either -- not something my parents ever made for me. More fun to discover these things when we're old enough to make it our own way!

Sher, Nero was one indulgent guy....!

Nupur, he was a character. But he had good taste in spices.

Radish, you are too kind to old Nero!

Paz, my friend is a true romantic, and a darned fine cook. I look forward to visiting him in Brazil and reporting to my blogging friends (unless some of you get there before I do).

Katie, I love making applesauce with cinnamon and cloves -- no sugar -- the way my grandmother made it. So much easier than baking, and the apple-cinnamon combo is the best thing.

Kelly, I just did a chicken and prune tagine last night, with cinnamon as the primary spice. Oooooh, it was good.

I like the aroma of cinnamon. It's one of those spices so versatile that you find them in all different cuisines.

I haven't had a chance to place an order from Penzeys... yet, but already seen lots of praise from different bloggers.
This rice pudding definitely a comfort food for me!

Tigerfish, you are right, and I never realized until recently that cinnamon is used so often in savory dishes.

Gattina, Penzeys has several types of cinnamon, and it's fun to taste a few side by side. Beware, though -- once you get the Penzeys habit, you'll be stocking your pantry with all sorts of goodies!


I'm absolutely head over heels for any sort of rice pudding! This one sounds lovely!

You know, I love rice pudding, but I never make it because it seems too filling for the end of a meal. But, I love the idea of having it for breakfast -- this recipe sounds like the perfect cool-weather weekend breakfast. Yum.

Nice joke at the beginning, ha. I love love love cinnamon and that cranberry rice pudding sounds absolutely delicious. My brother recently roasted chicken with cinnamon (and other spices) and it was great!

I like the story about your friend Peter...and cinnamon...smells almost as good as fresh ground coffee(which I only smell)!

Thanks for adding the aromatic rice and quinoa puddings too!

I once tried making a savory cranberry rice dish with fresh cranberries. This rice pudding looks much, much better. Seriously, don't ever try to make savory cranberry rice. You will regret it.

Ivonne, it would be a wonderful pudding for Thanksgiving morning or evening snack!

Jennifer, a breakfast rice pudding on a cool morning sounds perfect.

Hillary, I'm completely into cinnamon as a spice for savory dishes now. I'll be posting another cinnamon recipe in a week or two.

Meg, my friend Peter is one of a kind, a true renaissance man, multi-lingual, multi-talented, and an adventurer. And he can cook! Does this rice pudding work for your macrobiotic diet?

Becky, fresh cranberries are bitter, aren't they? The dried ones are so much sweeter, with all of that concentrated sugar. Thanks for the warning, though -- I will definitely not try cranberry rice.

I love rice pudding but have yet to be able to make a decent one...I think its the rice I use. Its a Swedish tradition to serve for Christmas Eve. Your recipe with the dried cranberries sounds festive. Maybe if I start practicing now.....

if i had to pick a desert, only one to eat for the rest of my days it would be pudding. this rice pudding sounds DELICIOUS!!!

Diane, that's a lovely holiday tradition. Dried cranberries are often sold under the name "craisins", which is a nifty marketing ploy, and they're easy to find in every market, even the one in my little Rhode Island village. Yes, practice makes....well....rice pudding!

Aria, if I had to pick only one dessert to eat for the rest of my days, it would definitely have chocolate!

As a Brazilian, I had to "de-lurk"... :-)

I live in the US but go to Brazil every year of course. Some of my family lives in Minas Gerais - your post just made me want to go there and eat at your friend's inn

I normally just to go Sao Paulo, the city where I was born and raised - but who knows???? one of these days.... :-)

that´s such a romantic story, I love it!

Sally, welcome to The Perfect Pantry -- so glad to hear from someone who might, some day, be able to visit Peter's restaurant and inn. It is truly lovely, and I'm looking forward to my first visit to that part of the world.

Lobster, every time I tell someone this story, my heart sings.

Hi Lydia,
Yes, I can adapted both of these recipes, the aromatic rice and the quinoa puddings by using soy or rice milk in place of milk. For the sugar replacement I would use brown rice syrup...so, quite easily! Thanks for asking.

What a great story, Lydia, and even better recipe! I love rice puddings, especially now that the winter is coming. And with cranberries--why it just makes my mouth happy thinking about it!

Meg, thanks so much. I'm learning a lot about macrobiotic from your wise comments.

Susan, thank you, too. Cranberries are so New England, aren't they?

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