There's a reason it's a classic
Tapioca pudding is one of those desserts that doesn't come to mind as a go-to, yet whenever I do come across some, I'm so happy that I did. Homemade tapioca blows away the packaged versions any day. Click through the slideshow to learn the easy steps to making it at home.
Tapioca pearls vary widely in shape; anywhere from a few centimeters to almost a quarter inch in diameter before hydration. Regardless of the size, it's best to treat them as you would beans or lentils by soaking them in lots of water to help them soften and hydrate. Generally three parts water to one part tapioca is ideal.
Prepare the egg mixture
Tapioca pudding requires you to temper a mixture of egg, egg yolks and granulated sugar with liquid that is nearly boiling. To set yourself up properly for the tempering step, whisk the ingredients together in a large bowl for several minutes, until they are very light in color. Be sure to add the sugar gradually to the eggs as you whisk, to avoid "burning" the eggs with the sugar (sugar will aggressively pull all of the water out of the eggs) and creating hard lumps in the mixture.
Drain the tapioca pearls
To prepare for the cooking process, drain off the soaking water from the tapioca and set it aside. The pearls will appear translucent (this will vary depending on size) on the surface with a white inner core.
Simmer liquid, temper eggs
In a large saucepan, bring the milk, part of the granulated sugar, salt, and vanilla to a simmer over low heat. You may choose to infuse the milk with herbs or spices by heating and allowing it to steep in advance. Once the milk mixture reaches a simmer, use it to temper the eggs by adding it to the egg mixture in small additions, whisking vigorously as you go, until the two mixtures are combined. Return the custard to the large saucepan.
Stir in the tapioca
Set the saucepan over low heat and add the tapioca. Whisk constantly over low heat, until the mixture begins to thicken.
Tapioca pudding will cook slowly as the tapioca absorbs liquid and the starch makes the pudding firm up. As you whisk, watch the tapioca pearls. When they are almost completely translucent, you'll know you're nearly done.
Once the pearls are translucent (a little cloudy white is OK) and the pudding has thickened but is still quite runny, turn off the heat and scrape the pudding into a bowl. If you think that the consistency is too thin, fear not, as the pudding cools, the tapioca will continue to absorb moisture, causing the pudding to thicken.
Cover and chill
Press plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding to avoid getting a skin, and chill completely before serving.