Apparently I’m on a crusade to redeem the foods people love to hate. A few days ago I was singing the praises of the disrespected brussels sprout, and today I’m lauding the humble tapioca pudding, a dish many love and an equal number passionately detest.
Recruiting people for Team Brussels Sprout is, believe it or not, a lot easier than convincing people to embrace tapioca pudding. See, with brussels sprouts, you just need to cook them properly and get the flavor right. But with tapioca, you’re not up against flavor (tapioca doesn’t really have any); you’re up against texture.
I’m convinced there is a contingent of people out there who are “texture eaters.” Just like there are “supertasters,” who are acutely aware of flavors the average person cannot detect, these “supersensers” are extremely sensitive to a food’s texture. Most people I’ve met who would fall into this category don’t like oatmeal, oysters, sushi, or even yogurt — anything that might feel slippery, strange or lumpy on the tongue.
For these people, or ones approaching that level of sensitivity, tapioca pudding provides the ultimate ick factor: it’s slippery, lumpy and unusual. The tapioca balls, which are small balls of dried cassava starch, become jelly-like when cooked in the custard mixture. So not only do you have the slickness of the custard itself; you also have a bunch of slippery little buggers floating around in there.
So for the supersenser types out there…I’m sorry to say, there’s not much I can do to win you over. But for the rest of you, I’ll say this: tapioca pudding is often butchered by cafeterias and mess halls, whose cooks turn out gloppy, slimy, icky pots of so-called “tapioca pudding.” If this is your only experience with tapioca pudding, give it another chance.
This Regan Daley recipe dresses up tapioca pudding with a vanilla bean and is truly delicious — nothing like the jiggly mess my elementary school cafeteria used to throw at us. It’s sophisticated and yet totally comforting, a perfect winter treat. And if I haven’t won you over in my “scorned foods” crusade…all is I can say is, hey, I tried, right?
Note: This is my submission to this month’s Sugar High Friday — “The Proof is in the Pudding” — and my first SHF ever. Given the title of my blog, how could I not participate? If your interested in knowing the history of pudding…I have an oh-so-nerdy write-up here.
Vanilla Bean Tapioca Pudding
Adapted from Regan Daley’s “In the Sweet Kitchen”
3 1/3 cups whole milk
1 egg yolk
4 1/2 tablespoons minute tapioca (sometimes called “instant” tapioca)
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 vanilla bean
Place the milk, egg yolk, tapioca, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan and whisk to combine. Split the vanilla bean down the middle, scrape out the seeds and add both the seeds and pod to the saucepan. Let the saucepan sit at room temperature for 5 minutes.
Then place the saucepan over medium heat and, stirring constantly (it is important that you stir the entire time) but slowly, cook the mixture until it almost boils, about 13-15 minutes (it could take up to 18 minutes, depending on how cold your starting ingredients were). Do not let the mixture actually boil — you want to cook it just until bubbles start to appear on the surface.
Remove the pudding from the heat and pour into a large, heatproof bowl. Allow the mixture to cool slightly, then fish out the vanilla bean pod. Place a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the pudding and poke a few holes with a knife to allow any steam to escape. Refrigerate the pudding for 1-2 hours, until cool. Remove the plastic wrap and give the pudding a good stir — some of the tapioca may have settled a bit. Spoon the pudding into 6 glasses or ramekins, cover the surfaces with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, until the puddings are set.
Yield: 6 servings