Monday, January 11, 2010

Vanilla Bean Tapioca Pudding with Hibiscus Syrup

Ugh, I hate tapioca! Ah, I love tapioca! It's either one or the other. I grew up thinking tapioca only came in a plastic cup, thick and gloppy with a strange manufactured flavor. And if given the choice, I'd usually opt for Jell-O. I completely changed my mind once I read the recipe in Claudia Fleming's book, "The Last Course", Coconut Tapioca Soup. It looked so light, completely different from what I was used to seeing in the little plastic cup. I've made this before but added raspberry puree to the hibiscus syrup and served it warm in a shallow dish. Today, I served it slightly chilled and the reason for that is, the flavors of the creamy vanilla pudding and the tart syrup come together just right. If it is too cold, the flavors just aren't adequately pronounced. The same goes for cheesecake in my opinion. You can taste the cheese and the flavors better once it has sat out at room temperature for about fifteen minutes.
I had never made Tapioca from scratch before and was so excited when I realized how easy it was. You do have to pay a little attention to the cooking process, but it't is very worth it. I also have had a tangerine tapioca on my menu, so it doesn't always need to be creamy. To cook this, I used whole milk, vanilla bean, sugar, half and half and a pinch of salt (always add salt). The trick is to cook the tapioca to have a little bite to it, like pasta. That way, the residual heat as it cools will cook it the rest of the way and it will be nice and soft and a compliment to the cream that surrounds it.
When I made the syrup, I just took dried hibiscus flowers, 2 parts sugar to one part water and the juice of a whole meyer lemon.
I poured the cooled, not chilled syrup into the bottom of a small trifle glass and spooned the tapioca over it. Once the syrup settled, the clear red and the vanilla flecked white looked beautiful. I love this dish because it is nostalgic, and flavorful and it is one of the favorites in my home. At the restaurant, I would serve this with a passion fruit sorbet scoop, to add another element of temperature and tart, tangy flavor.

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