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I've got a soft spot for pretty much any type of sweet pudding. It's the best part of a chocolate cream pie, éclair, or napoleon, and it's my only reason for eating a Boston cream doughnut. The way a pudding envelops your mouth is satisfying without being heavy.
In fact I was practically brought up on vanilla tapioca pudding. My mom would take the recipe from the back of the box, times it by 4, and make a massive bowl of it. You see Mom wanted to make sure that she got to eat some because I knew no limits. First I'd sneak a still-warm bowl of it when she wasn't looking. Later on you could find me in the dark kitchen, standing in the light of the fridge in a trance, feeding myself spoonful after spoonful. I made sure to stir it up so it looked like I didn't take so much, but I never fooled her.
Admittedly, tapioca pudding is not for everyone. Tapioca is a starch made from cassava root and sold as a powder or as opaque white "pearls". As the pellets cook, they absorb the liquid and swell to thicken the custard. Unless the pellets are ground to a powder before being cooked or baked in a pie, the little pearls remain mostly intact, retaining a chewy, almost slimy nature that some folks find off-putting. I think that the chewy texture is fun to eat and that it adds an interesting contrast to the creamy custard. Tapioca also results in a cleaner flavor and a much silkier mouth feel—not the starchy pastiness that you sometimes get from cornstarch.
In this chocolate version, I decided to use small pearl tapioca—a size that's in-between the super soft, jelly-like quick cooking tapioca, and the chewy, gumball-sized pearls that you slurp up in bubble tea. This way, I could get a somewhat chewy texture without having to soak the large pearls overnight or stand over the stove all day. For some added body and richness, I threw in a couple of egg yolks. While I did some taste testing while cooking to make sure the tapioca had softened enough, I did my best to be patient. After the custard chilled, it thickened perfectly into a luxurious soft set pudding. Bittersweet chocolate stirred in at the end combined with the milk for a milk-chocolaty flavor that doesn't overdo it—a just right after meal treat...or 2am fridge binge.
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About the Author: Yvonne Ruperti is a food writer, recipe developer, former bakery owner, and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide To Easy Artisan Bread. You can also watch her culinary stylings on the America's Test Kitchen television show. She presently lives in Singapore as a freelance writer for Time Out Singapore. Check out her blog: shophousecook.com . Follow Yvonne on Twitter.