The ultimate tapioca - a creamy, classic, delicious, vanilla-spiked tapioca pudding recipe. Guided by the tapioca enthusiasts in my family.
If you're on the lookout for a creamy, delicious, vanilla-spiked tapioca pudding recipe, this is it. I did a day of tapioca recipe testing while visiting my mom and dad - in between looking at old family slides and flipping through recipe binders. My dad is a big-time tapioca fan, and there was lots of experimenting with various recipes, ingredients, and techniques. And, in the end there was a clear winning approach I know you'll love. It's no secret that I much prefer a silky smooth, chocolate pudding, but this little exercise nearly made me a convert.
My Dad Loves Tapioca Pudding. A lot.
My dad is known to be quite generous with his tapioca pudding - my grandma and her 90 year old friends would receive weekly deliveries up until she passed away last year. I can only imagine it makes appearances at his office on a regular basis as well. Over the years he has been known to use various recipes, mixes, and whatnot in his tapioca puddings, but I wanted to zero in on one master recipe to share with you, the quintessential tapioca pudding recipe. We looked at his approach, my aunt weighed in with her recipe, and I introduced some ideas to the mix. What we ended up with was a perfect pudding good enough to make me consider switching from silky smooth to bumps and lumps indefinitely.
Tapioca Pudding Basics
A great batch of tapioca requires equal parts patience, attentiveness, and top-notch ingredients. Like a risotto or polenta there is much stirring involved, and you need to watch the pudding religiously. That being said, broadly speaking, making tapioca is relatively simple. When I asked my dad to articulate the most important, top-level considerations here's what he said:
- Use your thickest-bottomed pot - this will help prevent scorching. Once you've scorched the pudding, that's it - you've ruined it. He uses his Le Crueset dutch oven pot, but surprised me when he said for extra large batches he sometimes deploys the base of his pressure cooker (!?) which is very large, and very heavy. He never pressurizes it, just uses the pot part.
- Use the correct size of tapioca. You're after small tapioca peals here and you can see them pictured above. We did one batch with 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 feeling among everyone who tasted it didn't have anything to do with the actual flavor (which was decent), there was an aversion to the gelatinous texture - maybe coming from the soy lecithin additive? Not sure, but it was universally agreed upon that starting from scratch with the small pearl tapioca was the way to go - Bob's Red Mill All Natural Small Pearl Tapioca worked beautifully as a base ingredient.
- Pay attention to temperature. You need to bring the tapioca pudding mixture up slowly for a few reasons. To avoid scorching, but also this gives the tapioca balls time to cook as they are coming up to a boil.
- Stir constantly. I have to admit that I get lazy and don't stir the entire time, and if your stove isn't overly hot, this is fine. But my dad likes to stir the whole time.
- Make a double batch - one for you and one to share. The recipe below is for a single batch, but easily doubles.
Before we move onto the recipe itself, here are a few other things I noticed as we cooked our way through various batches. First, it is important to soak small pearl tapioca before attempting to make pudding with it, or the texture will be off. Some people soak overnight, but we found that 30 minutes or so worked with small tapioca, resulting in a lively textured tapioca with wonderful creamy, custard bridging the beads. I call for an hour in the recipe to be safe - but you can reduce that a bit if you're in a time crunch.
Water or Milk? Many recipes call for water, I loved the 100% milk version we did, we even soaked the tapioca balls in milk - whole milk for that matter - again going after rich, creaminess. This version is so simple and creamy!
Egg whites? I know many people like to do the "fluffy" version of tapioca pudding, where you beat egg whites and fold them in - it is an extra step and I like a denser pudding, so that isn't something I incorporated here.
Tapioca Pudding Variations
I kind of feel like if you're going to make tapioca pudding, you should keep it classic. Let the vanilla shine through and call it a day. But it's also such a beautiful canvas to build other flavors on - I'm torn. If you're inclined to take the latter route, here are a few ideas. A pinch of saffron is always welcome, I'd add it in the last five minutes of cooking. You could take a more floral approach and add a splash of rose water or orange blossom water - add it to your liking, just a small amount at a time. I mention a chocolate tapioca variation in the headnotes down below, as well as a coconut version. I'm also imagining 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 you like to add to your tapioca. Seems like there are endless possibilities.
Here's an old picture I came across while looking through the old slide carousels at my parent's house. I love this photo and suspect it was shot in the California redwoods circa 1979 or 1980 likely with the camera on a tripod and my dad's old Nikon - just a guess. That is my dad, me, my mom, and my sister Heather.
Hope you enjoy the tapioca pudding. Also, before I sign off- here are a few other recipes my dad likes to make (and share):
- My Dad's Garlic Bread recipe
- He also really loves these mashed potatoes.
- And is always game for macaroni salad.
This tapioca pudding recipe make a classic-tasting pudding. That being said, there are endless options for variations - you can add chopped chocolate and cocoa powder to taste for a chocolate version. Next time around I'm going to do one based in coconut milk with added toasted coconut folded in at the end....lots to play around with.
- 3 cups organic milk, divided
- 1/3 cup small pearl tapioca
- 2 extra-large egg yolks, lightly beaten
- 1/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 vanilla bean, split along the length (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
Pour 3/4 cup of the milk into a medium-sized, thick-bottomed pot. Add the tapioca and soak for 60 minutes. Whisk in the egg yolks, salt, sugar, and the remaining milk. Scrape the vanilla bean along its length with a knife and add that bean "paste" along with the bean itself to the pot (if you are using vanilla extract in place of the vanilla bean stir it in at the very end, after the pudding is completely cooked).
Over medium heat slowly bring the mixture just barely to a boil, stirring all along - this should take about 15 minutes. Reduce the heat and let the mixture fall to a simmer - you keep it here until the tapioca is fully cooked, another 20 minutes or so. Keep in mind this time can be significantly longer (or shorter). The tapioca will tell you when it is ready if you watch carefully. The tapioca beads will swell up and become almost entirely translucent. The custardy part of pudding will thicken dramatically as well - keep tasting and assessing at this stage. It is even more critical to keep stirring at this point avoid dreaded scorching.
Remove from heat and let cool a bit. This tapioca tastes its best when served warm, but is still delicious cold as well.
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Hmmm... Tapioca! I have never really worked with Tapioca till I found out about my Gluten allergy. And now it's a staple in my pantry. By the way, I finally picked up your book at the store and we'll probably do your Avocado Soup as a special at the restaurant sometime this week. It looks so delicious!
Heidi, as usual you come up with the perfect thing. My parents are in town and this is one of my mom's favorites (though she's never made it, I wonder why?). In any case, thanks. Thanks, too, for the chocolate pudding, I've already made it several times and twice turned it into gelato (big success).
I love milk puddings and have been trying to convert my family to them for years. A few weeks ago, I made Nigel Slater's rice pudding - I got the recipe from the Observer newspaper but I think it's in his new book Eating For England – which had a whole pot of clotted cream in it. I thought that might tempt them but they all hated it, even my husband. I was ready to give in to their preference for chocolate and other super stodgy puds but having seen your tapioca recipe, I'm going to give the milk pudding one more try. I'll let you know how it goes...
I love tapioca but I'm allergic to milk (the casein). I can't wait for a coconut version. I just discovered this site last week and want to try the chocolate pudding made with coconut milk...what a great alternative (than soy milk). I'm curious how this one will turn out using (silk brand) soy milk? Thank you and wonderful recipes!!!
love tapioca pudding ~ love this taste
Thank you, thank you for this recipe---tapioca pudding has got to be my all time favorite comfort food & your variation will take that to a next level for me!
Heidi - the photo is beautiful. I fell in love with tapioca pudding last winter - its the first and, as of yet, only pudding I enjoy warm. Its a great dessert on a cold winter night. My version is still a work in progress, but so far has been heavier on egg yolks. If ever there is a time to breakout the real vanilla beans this is going to be it - the black little flecks and the just that little more complete flavor leaves vanilla extract in the dust. Trust me - use the beans and your pudding will just be better.
Everyone -- follow Heidi's lead and record the family recipes that exist only between the cook's ears. After I graduated from college I realized how many family recipes existed only in my Mom's head. So I went to my parents' home on weekends -- Mom cooked and I recorded. It took years but all the family recipes were recorded, and shared with my siblings, their children, etc. My Mom passed away last Christmas but she lives on every time I make chicken soup with fresh pasta.
Mmmmh that looks yummy! I loooove tapioca and I will definitely try your recipe next week! Thanks for sharing.
When I first clicked onto your blog today I thought the picture was coffee. It flashed through my head: What kind of cappuccino microfoam is that?!? Then I processed the word Tapioca. Ah. Tapioca pudding. In any case it looks delicious, and I'm a fan of tapioca pudding, too. But I wonder, could we make a caffelatte tapioca pudding that would taste good? -Gwen,
Oooh yeah. That sounds amazing.
Oh my, I will have to make this and the chocolate pudding as well. My fiancee is a pudding fiend! We don't eat sugar though, do you think agave would be an alright substitute? Love your work!
It was great to see a tapioca pudding recipe as so many people think it is nursing home food. I had the whipped egg whites and a good slug of brandy to make a very adult version which is fabulous with poached fruit. I have converted my husband from a tapioca hater to a tapioca lover - but we mustn't call it tapioca - it is "special custard"
I totally agree Jeremy. Maybe I should have placed more emphasis on the vanilla bean in the write up - it really took the pudding to another level. -h
The Tapioca looks scrumptious...as do all the recipes you put up...BUT...I am so curious about the saucer and Cup..they are BEAUTIFUL....I am wondering if they are family or if there is a link to where i can buy those! beautiful beautiful beautiful!!!
Classic photo of the Swanson family! I'm melting! Can't wait to try this new recipe. I love tapioca even though everyone else in my family hates it. Maybe this will convert them???
Love your site! Love the recipes...and the book! I've never cooked tapioca before - sounds a bit intimidating - do you reckon I can make this pudding in a slow cooker? I'm wondering if using a low cooker will solve the problem of having to stir the pudding constantly since the temperature in a slow cooker is low.
F&F, agave nectar (light) would be my alt. sweetener of choice for this and the way I would incorporate it the first time around would be the following: start bringing the milk up to temp over heat and add a tablespoon or two at a time, stirring and tasting as you go, making sure it dissolves and incorporates before adding more so you don't over sweeten. If it does work out for you (or you do learn anything in the process) please report back, and I will give it a go on this end and update the recipe headnotes w/ that information. This was one variation I was actually set on trying, but ran out of time. My guess is that you'll want to use somewhere between 2 tablespoons and 4 tablespoons - depending on how sweet you like your pudding, but again that is just a guess. Joy, thanks for the heads up re: the Weblog Award nomination - I had no idea! Very exciting. And I'll fix that 404 error. Thanks. -h
I never liked Tapioca as a child due to the texture. After reading this post I'm wondering if that's because it was the instant type? I'm definitely going to try this recipe! You make it sound so wonderful that I just have to try it.
Thanks! I love tapioca and will have to try this. I usually use quick-cooking because I'm lazy, but this doesn't sound too much harder. Wanted to let you know, you have an extra quote character at the end of the garlic bread link, so it 404s unless you manually remove it.
i voted for your blog, i visit this blog for more recipe ideas than any other...thankyou