Look, I know it’s prime resolution time. I realize that outside the 10 percent of you who have understandably succumbed to the explicit demands of the polar vortex with salted caramel brownies, the remaining 90 percent of you out there are swearing off carbs, gluten, fat, sugar, things that your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food or things that even had a mother, while sweating off the holiday’s demons on stationary bikes. (Although I’m sure no matter how bad you may think things got over the holidays, surely none of your children announced at preschool’s circle time that his mommy was going to have a baby, which was news to you? Which led to you having to make an awkward joke about too many cookies in December? Nope, surely none of your angels would do a thing like that. Not unless they wanted to go to boarding preschool next year, right?)
Ahem, so I realize that for most people, dessert is not an option in January, but I’m just not among them. I think that measured quantities of not excessively decadent desserts are exactly the key to resolution sanity and that there are few better vehicles of moderation-friendly desserts than pudding which is why in previous winters we’ve tackled everything from Chocolate Pudding (recently updated, even easier now), Vanilla Bean Pudding, Caramel Pudding, Almond-Vanilla Rice Pudding and Arroz Con Leche. This year will be no different, except for the fact that this is the year that I come out as a tapioca pudding junkie, no matter how weirdly old-fashioned that makes me. (… She types while dreaming of being huddled under an afghan in a granny cardigan with tissues stuffed in her sleeve.)
I don’t know why tapioca doesn’t get more love in the pudding world, as it’s absolutely gorgeous, clear beads of an every-so-slightly chewy starch that’s basically the caviar of the plant kingdom and deserves an equal amount of adulation. In a pudding, these pearls are stirred into a custard of your choosing; milk laced with cinnamon or vanilla are typical common, but I figured that if I going to make tapioca pudding, something that my husband doesn’t much care for (because he is wrong), I might as well include all of the ingredients that fascinate him the least (vanilla beans, coconut) so I could be reunited with all of my lost food loves at once. Something this rich and luxurious benefits from contrast, and for that, I used some mango pureed with lime juice, and then, because I couldn’t help myself I make some whipped coconut cream as garnish, though I think a grating or two of lime zest or a scattering of toasted coconut chips would work just as well.
As is often the case in January, this includes a bit of longing for warmer places, places with palm trees, citrus and tropical fruit; places where one might not wail “nooooooooo!” when they realize they bought rotten mangoes and this means they need to risk hypothermia to return to the store; places where one might find the concept of Gore-Tex and ski socks a bit absurd for a grocery run. Nevertheless, should such unimaginable places be as far from your reality as they are from mine, this dessert, 1/2-cup suggestions of islands of eternal summer, might be just the dessert for you too.
One year ago: Ethereally Smooth Hummus
Two years ago: Apple Sharlotka
Three years ago: Vanilla Bean Pudding
Four years ago: Caramel Pudding
Five years ago: Fig and Walnut Biscotti
Six years ago: Goulash
Seven years ago: Balthazar’s Cream of Mushroom Soup
Coconut Tapioca Pudding with Mango
This recipe calls for small pearl tapioca, which is different in starch granule size from instant (more fine; requires no pre-soaking), large pearl (larger, of course; needs to soak overnight in the fridge) or those giant tapioca pearls used for bubble tea. It’s my favorite for pudding because it shows off the tapioca’s caviar-like charm without taking forever to cook. This pudding is moderately sweet, but if you, like me, like things even more lightly sweetened, you can drop the sugar amount to 1/4 cup. You can replace any or all parts of the full-fat coconut milk with lite coconut milk or regular milk; I used all coconut milk for my first batch and 1 3/4 cups (1 can) coconut milk + 3/4 cup whole milk for the second. The mango puree won’t be terribly smooth unless you start with frozen mango chunks, have very ripe mangoes, or a professional-quality blender, but we found it no less of a charming topping even if not completely velvety. Mango curd would be another option here, albeit a much more rich one. If you’d like to make whipped coconut cream to top this, you’ll need to start with full-fat coconut milk and set it in the fridge overnight so that the coconut fat solidifies in the can before whipping it. [Edited to add:] This pudding will set on the firm side, closer to Jell-O; to make a softer pudding, increase the coconut milk to 2 3/4 cups, or, as is often called for in many old-fashioned recipes, beat the egg white you separated off the yolk separately with a spoonful of sugar you’d otherwise add right to the pudding, until glossy peaks form. After the pudding has cooked for 15 minutes, spoon some into the egg white and fold them together, then fold this egg white-pudding mixture back into the pot. Cook it with the egg white for 2 more minutes over medium-low heat, stirring, before dividing it between pudding cups. Pudding can also be served from one large bowl.
Makes 6 just shy of 1/2 cup each pudding cups, plus toppings
1/3 cup small pearl tapioca (I used this)
2 1/2 cups coconut milk (light or full-fat; a 13.5-ounce can will contain 1 3/4 cups)
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon table salt or a heaped 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or the seeds from a 1-inch segment of vanilla bean
1 very ripe mango, peeled, pitted and roughly chopped
2 teaspoons granulated sugar (optional; I used it but would skip it next time)
A squeeze or two of fresh lime juice
Whipped coconut cream
1/2 cup toasted coconut flakes
Few gratings of lime zest
Make pudding: In a medium saucepan, soak tapioca in coconut milk for 30 minutes. Whisk in egg yolk, sugar, salt and vanilla bean seeds, if using (if using extract, you’ll add it in a bit). Place saucepan over medium heat until mixture comes to a simmer, then reduce it to very low heat so it’s barely bubbling, and cook it until it thickens, about 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and add vanilla extract, if using. [Pudding will be the consistency of thick gravy — i.e. worrisomely thin — going into the cups but after chilling in the fridge, it will set.] Pour into pudding cups to chill for several hours or overnight.
Make mango puree: Place mango chunks in food processor with sugar (if using) and lime juice and blend until very smooth, scraping down the sides several times, if needed. Refrigerate puree until needed.
Serve with mango puree on top, plus whipped coconut cream, toasted coconut flakes or a few gratings of lime zest.
To make whipped coconut cream: This a bit of advance planning. Place 1 can of full-fat coconut milk in the fridge overnight; in most brands, this will cause the coconut fats and thin milk/watery part to separate. Place a small/medium mixing bowl in the freezer, ideally metal. The next day, turn it upside-down before opening it, so that the thickened coconut fat will be at the bottom. Pour off the thin coconut milk; you should have about 1 cup and this can be used towards the 2 1/2 cups needed for your pudding. About 2/3 cup thickened coconut fat will remain at the bottom of the can; scrape this into your chilled bowl, add about 1 tablespoon granulated sugar (for a light sweetness; use more to taste) and beat it with an electric mixer until thick and whipped cream-like. Dollop it over desserts such as this, though you’ll have more than you need for 6 puddings.
To toast coconut chips: Heat an oven to 350 degrees F. Spread coconut flakes on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until golden brown and fragrant, about 5 minutes, tossing once if needed to help them brown evenly. Let cool before using.
How to use a vanilla bean: Cut off desired amount of bean. With a sharp paring knife, split the segment lengthwise. Use the back of the knife to scrape the seeds out of the open pod; they’ll be on both sides and look a bit like sticky tar. Use these in your pudding. Go ahead and throw the pods in, too, for extra flavor, just remember to fish them out before chilling the pudding.