I really got into the fragrance of chai when I was in India, and transferring the same spices of cardamom, cloves, vanilla, and cinnamon to rice pudding transforms it from a plain Jane into something spectacular. Don’t wash the rice first, as you would for a savory dish, because the starch helps the pudding.
Put the cardamom pods and vanilla pod and seeds in a 9-inch ovenproof baking pan with the cloves and cinnamon stick. Place over medium heat and toast for 2 minutes until aromatic.
Add the coconut milk, sugar, milk, and heavy cream and bring slowly to a boil, stirring gently as you do so. Add the zest of 1 lime, then taste, adding more if you like. Pour in the rice and mix well. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook gently for 20 minutes, stirring constantly, until most of the milk mixture is absorbed and the rice is softened.
Mix together the egg yolks and mascarpone and add to the rice mixture off the heat, making sure it is well combined. Wipe the sides of the pan of any liquid (so it doesn’t burn while in the oven). Sprinkle the remaining lime zest over the top of the dish and place in the preheated oven for 20–25 minutes until golden brown on top and the rice is cooked through.
HOW TO TOAST SPICES
Toasting spices in a dry pan for even just a few seconds enhances and draws out their fragrance. Be careful not to burn them or they will turn bitter and you’ll taste it in the final dish.