March 10, 2012

Tapioca Pudding

I have very fond childhood memories of making (and eating) tapioca pudding made from the recipe on the box of Minute brand tapioca which called for a technique and ingredients that really appealed to the budding artist and kitchen scientist in me. Much of the joy of that experience stemmed from egg. Separating eggs without getting stray shell in the wrong places was a point of pride. The color of the yolk and milk cooked together was lovely. Whipping the whites from a liquid to soft foam was fun. I enjoyed observing the unsubtle changes of texture as the whipped whites were folded in with the thickening hot milk and then cooled to sturdy effect. And, of course, the results were sugary and delicious.
Although I grew up with family that kept backyard chickens, I have not been a big egg eater as an adult. More than one carton quietly passed its expiration date in my fridge to later generate questions as to whether the eggs might still be good. When I bought each carton in the first place, it was probably to make tapioca pudding.

Tapioca pudding was a dish that I hated losing when I learned my son was allergic to eggs. I knew that eggs played such a central role in my usual recipe that they could not just be subbed out with flax or applesauce the way I might with cookies or quickbread.
All was not lost. I eventually found a substitute. A new tapioca recipe to love. The Joy of Cooking is honestly not the first place I would expect to find a great recipe for eggless tapioca pudding. But there is it. I now use the Joy of Cooking recipe more as a technique than a strict recipe because it stands up wonderfully well to substitutions and experimentation.
Tapioca Pudding
   2 Cups milk or water (see 1 below)
   1/3 Cup quick-cooking tapioca
   1/2 Cup sugar
   2 Cups crushed fruit (see 2 below)
   2 Tablespoons lemon juice (see 3 below)
Get an inch of water boiling in the bottom half of your double boiler.
Meanwhile, in the top half of your double boiler, bring 2 Cups of water to a boil over direct heat. Then stir in the tapioca and sugar and bring it back to a boil.
Then move the top half of the double boiler (with the water, sugar and tapioca) over to cover the bottom half (which has the inch of boiling water in it). Cook the tapioca mixture, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.  Fold in the crushed fruit and citrus juice.

Transfer to one big bowl or to individual serving bowls or ramekins. Chill. Enjoy.
Notes and variations:
1. Joy of Cooking’s recipe uses just water to boil the tapioca and that works fine. I like to use cow’s milk for a creamier texture since we always have it on hand, but I have tried it with other milk alternatives as well and those work too. If you have rice, soy, almond or hazelnut milk in the fridge and want to use it to get another flavor, or a little more protein or calcium into the pudding then go ahead. The original recipe also called for 1/4 teaspoon salt, which I omit.
2. For the fruit, I have tried berries, stewed prunes and even canned mandarin orange pieces. Strawberries (chopped and crushed) are my favorite, but the other fruit works well too. Joy of Cooking suggests crushed pineapple, which I haven’t tried. If you use a very tart fruit, you may not want all of the lemon juice. If you use a really sweet fruit, you can cut back the sugar a little.

3. I also like to experiment with adding other layers of flavor as the tapioca is cooking. Depending on the fruit or fruit combinations you will fold in at the final step, it can be tasty to add a teaspoon of vanilla extract or a dash of a spice like cinnamon, ginger or cardamom to the cooking tapioca.

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