rum and raisin baked tapioca pudding

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How many times does a recipe have to fail you before you decide that it just isn’t meant to be?  I used to simply set my maximum at three, the same philosophy… no, discipline really that I vigorously apply to all pursuits in life, but as it so proved in the course of the past few weeks, the kitchen, is a much more complicated world.  Actually, it isn’t that difficult to explain my unwavering faith in this particular case because as we all experience first-handedly, nostalgia is a powerful form of religion.  And with this, hoho… we go way back.

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Back in a time at the height of my feasting-era, when a meal on a scale of borderline moral crime, absurd to most others in the world, was any-given-Sunday to this oblivious teenage brat.  Chili fried jumbo dungeness crab, thinly sliced gooey duck sashimi, poached botan shrimp filled with roes in its cavity, Alaskan king crab steamed with minced garlic, all of which still kicking in the tank and shared a little faceTime with us when we walked in, oh-what-the-heck let’s throw in a whole deboned-then-fried goose with taro stuffings and a few scatters of crispy roasted pigeons for good measure.  More or less, plus or minus a lobster for too many times to remember in the span of 10 years.  I know, Vancouver, I miss you, too.  And as if a top-notch Cantonese restaurant there wasn’t enough of a client-nest for cardiologist, this was how we ended the meal – an exceedingly rich, hot, bubbly and sweet tapioca pearl pudding baked until caramelized on top with red bean paste on the bottom.  I told you my life had already peaked.

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So clearly you can understand my excitement when I found a recipe for this dessert in an old Cantonese cookbook.  Relive paradise?  Even just for dessert?  Hell yah!  But then, my heart sank when I spotted an unsightly word among the ingredients-list – cu… custard powder?  WTF YEW!  What kind of an industrial corporate toxin is that?!  And how hard can it be to overcome it, no… OUTSMART it now that I’m such a faaaabulous baker, using all-natural ingredients that’s gonna show’em wazup?  … Nope.  I could not.  You think I didn’t try?  FIVE!  OK?  The consistency just wasn’t right and the colour wasn’t even close, plus not to mention the absence of the “it” flavour that could only come from the wonder of something artificial…, I really thought I had to let this one go.

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Until of course, I read it as an ingredient in Thomas Keller’s pastry cream.  Boom, like what you thought was pure evil at first, is now sitting all cuddly on Jesus’s lap because really, who am I to argue with T.K?  So the next week, a box of custard powder was on my pantry.  The first batch of pudding came out tasting just the way I remembered, rich, creamy, intense and comforting.  This magic dust really did bring a new level of flavor and color to the party, therefore I urge you, as a former doubter, to embrace your inner cheater and give it a try.  But if you are all about integrity and a couple more years on life-span, I’d understand, which is why I spent two more trials in the kitchen for a new adaptation.  This time, ironically, with the “real thing” by my side as a base, I was able to “fake” something very close without using custard powder (which is the “fake thing” but… you know what I mean).  All in all, a whopping EIGHT attempts in the pursuit.  Is life getting hard or what?

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Serves: 4 ~ 5

I did a little twist on the classic tapioca pudding, using rum and raisins instead of red bean paste.

There are many different brands and origins of tapioca pearls on the market and it can get a little confusing.  Just make sure you DON’T choose an instant/quick-cooking tapioca pearls, and that the pearls are small and white instead of large and black ones.  I am using a brand from Thailand which may or may not be available where you live, but Bob’s Red Mill small pearl tapioca looks promising, or use a familiar brand if you have one.  And I strongly recommend weighting the tapioca pearls with an electric-scale rather than cups, because different brands may vary in sizes and weight.

Bird’s custard powder is what Thomas Keller recommended in his Bouchon Bakery cookbook.  If you choose the recipe without custard powder, a little dab of ground turmeric can add a pop of yellow to your pudding which to be honest isn’t exactly the same as custard powder (it’s a more “orange” hue than yellow).  So it’s optional.  And to make up for the loss of “fruitiness” from the custard powder, I added 2 tbsp of apricot jam which did the trick quite nicely.  On top of many more egg yolks and whatnot, all in all, it’s a rather successful compromise.

Ingredients using custard powder: adapted generously from an old Cantonese cookbook

Soak the tapioca pearl in cold water (at least twice the volume of the pearls) for 1 hour.  The pearls should have obviously expanded and plumped up after soaking.  Drain the pearls very very thoroughly, making sure that there’s no excess water that keeps dripping down the sieve.  Set aside on top of a clean kitchen towel.  Bring the whole milk in a large pot over medium heat to a simmer and stir occasionally to prevent scolding.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven on 400ºF/200ºC.  Add raisins and dark rum in a bowl.  Cover the bowl with a plate and microwave on high for 1:30 min.  Give it a little stir and set aside.  In another bowl, add large egg, egg yolks, granulated sugar, custard powder, corn starch and vanilla extract.  Whisk until the mixture is smoothly combined.

Once the milk starts to simmer, add the drained tapioca pearls.  Stir and keep on medium heat just until the milks comes back to a simmer and that the pearls are cooked to transparent, approx 2 min.  Turn off the heat and SLOWLY SLOWLY add the milk/tapioca pearl mixture into the large bowl with egg and sugar, stirring vigorously to prevent the eggs from curdling.  Once the mixture is smoothly combined, add it back into the pot and return it to the stove over LOW heat.  Keep stirring with a wooden spoon until the mixture has thicken up and coats the back of the wooden spoon.  Turn off the heat and stir in the unsalted butter, all the rum and raisins but reserve 1 tbsp of raisins on the side for topping.  Stir until the butter has completely melted.

Divide the pearl pudding into 4 ~ 5 ramekins depending on size, and the reserved raisins on top (press it slightly into the pudding).  Bake on a sheet pan inside the oven for 25 ~ 30 min until the top is slightly browned and caramelized.  The pudding may expand in size during baking, but will deflate once cooled down.  Serve while it’s warm and don’t burn your tongue.

Ingredients WITHOUT custard powder:

  • 1/2 cup of raisins
  • 1/3 cup of dark rum
  • 120 grams (approx a little over 3/4 cup) of sago/tapioca pearl
  • 2 2/3 cup of whole milk
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 1/4 cup of granulated sugar
  • 6 tbsp of all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp of apricot jam
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp of ground turmeric for color, optional
  • 2 tbsp of unsalted butter

The steps are identical to the above.  The only difference is the ingredients in egg mixture.  The much higher content of eggs is going to make the pudding expand more during baking, so do leave a bit of room in the ramekin if you are using this recipe.

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5 Comments

  • Hi Mandy, LOVE your site! And a gorgeous dessert you put up here, my goodness. Your 8 attempts are very much appreciated. Totally jealous of the Cantonese feasts of your past – mine also Cantonese but not as elaborate cuz just not possible in L.A. suburbia. Anyway, again, fantastic job on your site!

  • Wow eight attempts at this is persevering and patient! My thing is how many attempts at making jam will it take me to get it how I imagine it to be BEFORE making it (regardless off the fact that they turn out delicious, just not the colour and texture I imagined). Your tapioca pudding does look cute.

  • Raisons? Do you perhaps mean raisins? I did a search for raisons in case this was a different thing, but it’s not turning up anything.

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