Tapioca is a classic dessert that is simple, creamy, delicious, and timeless. Add fresh fruit and you have a crowd pleaser for sure!
Tapioca is one of those classic desserts that doesn’t get enough attention. It’s often forgotten with all the cheesecake, cupcake, and pie recipes floating around…Well, I am going to put tapioca front and center! I’m going to give it the attention it deserves!
Let’s start with answering the question, “What exactly is tapioca?” Tapioca is a starch extracted from the cassava root, also known as yuca, a plant native to Brazil, referred to there as “mandioca,” and its starch is referred to as “tapioca.” It’s become a staple in many countries but actually has zero nutritional value and is often just used as a thickening agent in many foods, like stews, gravy, and pie.
You can find tapioca pudding pre-made in the grocery store, but tapioca pudding is so easy to make, and I’ll be honest, so much better when it’s homemade! My mom used to make tapioca pudding when I was a kid, and we devoured it. Now I make it for my kids, who also devour it. I usually end up making a double batch so that it lasts more than one day.
There are several ways to buy tapioca – granules, small pearls, and large pearls. Granules are an instant, quick-cooking form of tapioca that will cook up quicker, but because they are granules, you will have less texture in your pudding. The next is small and large pearls, the only difference being the size. They both require soaking ahead of time. I soak the small pearls for 2 hours, and the large pearls need to be soaked overnight. My favorite is the small pearls because you get such a nice texture without needing to remember to soak them overnight. I usually cannot remember to start a dessert a day in advance…So I write my recipes using small pearls, but you can use any of the different types of tapioca. You skip the soaking step altogether for the granules, and with the large pearls, you soak the pearls overnight.
Tapioca is very versatile, I have had sweet potato tapioca, honeydew tapioca and pumpkin tapioca. I also have some variations of my own swirling around in my head, so expect to see those recipes soon. One recipe that I recently worked on was coconut tapioca with mango. It was so creamy and delicious, and the mango was the perfect complement to the coconut. It reminded me of mango sticky rice, a popular Thai dessert that uses coconut milk.
For this recipe:
In a small bowl, soak the tapioca in 1 1/2 cups milk. Stir and place in the refrigerator, stirring it occasionally. I found 3 hours to be enough time to get the tapioca pearls soft enough to cook up quickly.
After the tapioca has sat for 3 hours, pour all the contents into a medium saucepan. Add to the tapioca the remaining 2 cups of milk, salt, sugar, and egg yolks, then heat on medium heat, stirring frequently. Bring the tapioca to a simmer. You do not want to bring the mixture to a boil because you risk scalding your milk. You want it to be steaming and to see movement in the saucepan, but not a boil. Once you reach a simmer, turn it down to a low simmer (medium-low heat), and let it simmer uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes, continuing to stir constantly. It will begin to thicken as the eggs cook, and the tapioca absorbs more of the liquid.
Around 10 minutes, you’ll want to check that your tapioca pearls are soft and no longer chewy. Take a small amount in a spoon, be careful because it will be very hot, and taste to check if the tapioca pearls are soft. You do not want your tapioca balls to be chewy or tough. If you need to cook it longer, cook for an additional 5 minutes and check again, repeat until done. If your tapioca takes longer than 20 minutes, make sure you haven’t turned your temperature down too low.
Once your tapioca is done, remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Let the tapioca cool for 15 minutes.
While the tapioca is cooling, prepare your egg whites. With a handheld beater, beat the egg whites with 1 tablespoon granulated sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form. **Stiff peaks are peaks that do not collapse when you lift your beater (turn the beater off before lifting it, I’ve made this mistake…). This should only take a couple of minutes. Gently fold the egg whites into the tapioca.
You can serve the tapioca warm or chill it in the refrigerator for 4 hours. Top with the fresh fruit of your choice and enjoy!!
Classic Tapioca Pudding
- 1 cup small pearl tapioca, not granulated or quick-cooking
- 3 ½ cups milk, divided
- ⅔ cup granulated sugar + 1 tablespoon (for egg whites)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs, yolk separated from whites
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, mango or other fresh fruit
- Shaved chocolate (optional)
- In a small bowl, soak 1 cup small tapioca pearls in 1 ½ cups of milk. Stir and place in the refrigerator for 3 hours.
- After letting the tapioca soak, pour it into a medium saucepan. Add to the tapioca mixture 2 cups of milk, ⅔ cup sugar, salt, and egg yolks. Heat on medium heat, stirring frequently to keep milk from scalding. Once the tapioca mixture is simmering (do not boil), turn down the heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring constantly to keep the milk from scalding.
- Carefully taste-test tapioca to be sure pearls are soft and no longer chewy. If you need to cook it longer, cook for an additional 5 minutes and check again, repeat until done. If your tapioca takes longer than 20 minutes, make sure you haven't turned the temperature down too low.
- When the tapioca is done, remove it from the heat and let it cool for 15 minutes.
- While the tapioca is cooling, beat egg whites with 1 tablespoon sugar until stiff peaks form.
- Stir 1 teaspoon vanilla into the tapioca and gently fold in egg whites until completely incorporated.
- Serve warm or chilled for 4 hours in the refrigerator. To serve, divide tapioca into individual bowls and top with fresh fruit of your choice.