When I was a kid, every couple of summers we’d visit the grandparents in Chicago and sometimes, we’d pile into my grandma’s car and visit her mother in Cleveland. We’d drive through toll roads and eat lunch at truck stops, both very exotic things to this little southwest girl. We’d stay in the house that my great grandfather built, in the unfinished second floor, in a bunch of bedrooms in beds piled high with hand made, soft and cozy quilts. We’d run around like lunatics and laugh with an enormous extended family, something we didn’t have back in Arizona. We’d eat giant piles of amazing foods from her Czech heritage – kuchens, dumplings and her legendary apple strudel, which she would hide from our greedy mouths. Once my great uncle and I found 12 beautiful strudels hidden in the clothes dryer. She’d greatly underestimated our detective skills. We each had nearly demolished a whole strudel a piece when she caught us on the basement steps, crumb covered faces and sheepish grins. Despite her stern reprimands, I think she got a kick out of the whole thing. I also have distinct memories of eating chocolate tapioca pudding on the front porch swing. Nothing fancy – it was right out of the Jell-O box – but oh, was it good.
Outside of fine dining where tapioca pearls are sometimes seeped in coconut milk for a textural garnish or made with complicated molecular techniques, you don’t see tapioca pudding all that often. Occasionally, in certain casual restaurants and deli cases it will make a rare appearance but never in chocolate. For years I’ve casually glanced at the pudding boxes I pass in the grocery store. No chocolate tapioca. Why is this? Why aren’t there chocolate and butterscotch and French vanilla tapioca pudding? Is the market for tapioca that small? This aggravates me to no end. So I made some, and it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.
Good lord, tapioca pearls are a complicated beast. Instant, small and large pearl; soak them, don’t soak them; cook them a little, cook them a lot. My first attempt, eons ago, was with large pearls and I made several terrible batches. Who wants a pudding that is simultaneously chewy and mushy? Ooof it was terrible. Minute tapioca wasn’t right either. It was rather strange with tiny gooey bits but no real pearls. No dice. I wanted pearls, damn pearls, something a friend once described as “fish eyes”. Yum! I happen to love texture but this may also have something to do with the popularity of tapioca overall. A few recipes had instructions to fold in beaten egg whites at the end, which I really didn’t like as it gave the pudding an odd fluffy texture. This is pudding for chrissakes. It should not be this complicated.
So I dialed it back a notch. I used small pearls, a fairly standard chocolate pudding recipe and a few tricks. Pre-soaking the pearls was key, as I didn’t want to overcook the mixture while softening the tapioca. After cooking the mixture for a bit until nice and thick, a few eggs were tempered and worked back into the pot along wth some dark, bittersweet chocolate, stirring until melted. There you have it. Not so hard after all.
This post wraps up my month of chocolate and my month of funny food holidays. Thinking ahead, July 15 is National Tapioca Pudding Day but June 26 is National Chocolate Pudding Day. There is no National Chocolate Tapioca Pudding Day but maybe if we split the difference between the two? So maybe July 5 can be that special day? Sure. I’m not going to the trouble of contacting my congressman or even my alderman, so write it down.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: PURE COMFORT. Pudding, especially chocolate pudding and especially chocolate tapioca pudding is a happy, cozy thing for me. It conjures up happy images of family from long ago, swinging on an old porch swing on an old brick porch watching fireflies putter about. And apple strudels found in the dryer.
Other pudding & custard recipes: Irish Oatmeal Pudding, Banana Bread Bread Pudding
Seven years ago: Khachpuri
Six years ago: Baked Rice Pudding, Stovetop Smoked Salmon
Five years ago: Chocolate Cabernet Sauce
Four years ago: Baked Cheddar Olives
Three years ago: Chocolate Pudding Cake
Two years ago: Chocolate Crème Filled Cupcakes
Last year: Flourless Chocolate Cookies
DARK CHOCOLATE TAPIOCA PUDDING
I prefer the full ½ cup of tapicoa pearls as I like a thicker pudding, full of the little slightly chewy pearls If you prefer a thinner, creamier pudding, use 1/3 cup of the pearls. Keep the soaking water at ¾ cup regardless of the amount of pearls you use.
1/3 – ½ cup small pearl tapioca (not instant or minute tapioca)
¾ cup cool water
3 cups whole milk
½ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons bourbon or dark rum
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
garnish: whipped cream, fresh raspberries, shaved chocolate
- Soak the tapioca pearls in the water for 30 minutes at room temperature. Be careful to not over-soak the pearls or they will become mushy.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and set aside until needed.
- In a saucepan, combine the milk, sugar and salt.
- Without draining, add the soaked tapioca to the milk mixture.
- Over medium heat, bring the mixture just to a boil, stirring very frequently with a rubber spatula.
- Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring often, for 5-6 minutes, until the tapioca has thickened, and the pearls are soft and translucent.
- Temper the yolks by whisking a little of the hot mixture into the yolks, then whisk the tempered yolks back into the pudding along with the chopped chocolate.
- Cook on low heat, whisking frequently, for about 2 minutes. Do not let the mixture boil or the eggs will curdle.
- Off heat, stir in the vanilla and bourbon (or rum).
- Pour the pudding into a bowl or individual serving dishes and serve warm or cover the surface with plastic wrap (to prevent a skin from forming) and refrigerate. The pudding will thicken as it cools. Garnish as desired.