If you’re looking for a creamy, delicious tapioca pudding recipe with vanilla spikes, this is it. I was testing tapioca recipes for a day when I was visiting my mother and father – in between I would look at old family slides and leaf through recipe folders. My father is a big tapioca fan and there has been a lot of experimentation with different recipes, ingredients and techniques. And in the end there was a clear, profitable approach that I know you will love. It’s no secret that I really prefer a silky smooth chocolate pudding, but this little exercise almost turned me into a convert.
My dad loves tapioca pudding. Much.
My dad is known to be pretty generous with his tapioca pudding – my grandma and her 90-year-old friends would have weekly deliveries until she passed away last year. I can only imagine that he shows up in his office regularly. Over the years he has been known to use various recipes, mixes and so on in his tapioca puddings, but I wanted to focus on one main recipe to share with you, the typical tapioca pudding recipe. We looked at his approach, my aunt weighed her recipe, and I brought some ideas into the mix. In the end, we had a perfect pudding that made me go from silky smooth to bumps and lumps indefinitely.
Tapioca Pudding Basics
A large amount of tapioca requires equal parts patience, attention, and top-quality ingredients. Like a risotto or polenta, there is a lot of stirring and you have to religiously observe the pudding. That being said, tapioca is, by and large, relatively straightforward to make. When I asked my father to formulate the most important considerations at the highest level, he said the following:
– – Use your pot with the thickest bottom – This prevents scorching. Once you’ve burned the pudding, it’s there – you ruined it. He uses his Dutch oven pot from Le Crueset, but surprised me when he said that for particularly large batches he sometimes uses the bottom of his pressure cooker (!?), Which is very large and very heavy. He never pressurizes it, just uses the pot part.
– – Use the correct size tapioca. They are here for small tapioca bowls and you can see them pictured above. We made a batch of instant tapioca – this comes in a box, and like instant oatmeal, the tapioca pieces are much smaller (and in this case also pre-cooked). The universal feel among everyone who tried it had nothing to do with the actual taste (which was decent), there was an aversion to the gelatinous texture – maybe because of the soy lecithin additive? I’m not sure, but everyone agreed that starting over with the little pearl tapioca was the right way to go – Bob’s Red Mill All Natural Small Pearl Tapioca worked wonderfully as a base ingredient.
– – Pay attention to the temperature. You need to slowly bring the tapioca pudding mixture to a boil for several reasons. To avoid burning, the tapioca balls also have time to cook when they come to the boil.
– – Stir constantly. I have to admit that I get lazy and don’t stir all the time, and if your oven isn’t overly hot, that’s fine. But my father likes to move all the time.
– – Do a double batch – one for you and one to share. The recipe below is for a single batch but can easily be doubled.
Before we get into the recipe itself, I noticed a few other things as we cooked our way through different batches. First, it’s important to soak small pearl tapioca before trying to make pudding with it or the texture will fall off. Some people soak overnight, but we found that working on small tapioca for around 30 minutes resulted in a lively textured tapioca with wonderfully creamy pudding bridging the pearls. I ask an hour in the recipe to be safe – but you can cut that down a bit if you are in a tight spot of time.
Water or milk? Lots of recipes call for water, I liked the 100% milk version we made, we even soaked the tapioca balls in milk – whole milk for that matter – again after rich creaminess. This version is so simple and creamy!
protein? I know a lot of people like to make the “fluffy” version of tapioca pudding, where you whip and fold in egg whites – it’s an extra step and I like a denser pudding, so I didn’t include this.
Tapioca pudding variations
I have a feeling if you want to make tapioca pudding you should keep it classic. Let the vanilla shine through and name it a day. But it’s also such a beautiful canvas to build other flavors on – I’m torn. If you tend to take the latter route, here are a few ideas. A pinch of saffron is always welcome, I would add it in the last five minutes of cooking. You could take a more flowery approach and add a splash of rose water or orange blossom water – just add a small amount at a time. I mention a chocolate tapioca variant in the top notes below, as well as a coconut version. I also imagine that a toasted sesame tapioca could be a nice wildcard flavor. Let me know in the comments if you have any favorite ingredients or flavors to add to your tapioca. It seems like the possibilities are endless.
Here is an old picture I came across while looking through the old slide carousels at my parents’ house. I love this photo, and I suspect it was taken in the California redwoods around 1979 or 1980, probably with the camera on a tripod and my father’s old Nikon – just a guess. This is my father, me, my mother and my sister Heather.
Hope you enjoy the tapioca pudding. Also, before I sign out – here are a few other recipes my dad loves to make (and share):
– My father’s garlic bread recipe
– He loves this mashed potato very much too.
– And it’s always a game for macaroni salad.
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