Posted by: Erica Retrochef | October 31, 2011

Apricot Tapioca Cream II: The Reckoning

After my recent tapioca pudding debacle, in which I failed not once but twice to get appropriate pudding texture, I decided to regroup and research things for a while before making more. And, weirdly, this has coincided nicely with Halloween. We therefore bring you: the pudding that would not die!

OK, that isn’t all that terrifying. The most monstrous thing most puddings resemble is a slime mold — kinda gross, but not particularly threatening.

Thanks to thoughtful comments (which more or less worked out all the options I’d come up with on my own) I have a list of reasons this might have failed:

  1. Cornstarch works better than tapioca. True. This is why almost every modern made-from-scratch pudding calls for cornstarch rather than tapioca, I assume. For now, though, I want to see how to make tapioca work. In researching and debating the tapioca question, I found a (much more) modern recipe for tapioca-based chocolate pudding. Buzz tried making it one night and it worked beautifully — extremely thick, just like pudding should be — so clearly tapioca is a usable (if fussy) thickener.
  2. The eggs weren’t whipped enough. This is was what I thought the first time through, and for Batch 2 I ensured extremely stiff egg whites — but still ended up with very liquid pudding.
  3. Incorrect substitution amount, should have used 2x as much tapioca flour. The measurement conversions from The Cook’s Thesaurus do point out that half an amount of instant pearl tapioca should substitute for pearl tapioca, so maybe it’s a
  4. Need to cook tapioca flour longer than Minute Tapioca. Thanks to research from Ellen’s Kitchen, we learned that “instant” tapiocas are partially pre-cooked, which reduces the time the home cook must heat the starch to get it to thicken properly — implying that plain old tapioca flour needs to be heated longer than its name-brand instant cousins.

I ranked these in order from least to most likely (in my humble opinion); so, if I’m right, the tapioca flour needed to be cooked longer on the stovetop. As a “control,” I’ll also use authentic Minute Tapioca to see how it works in comparison to tapioca flour.

The assembled ingredients.

The retro Minute Tapioca recipe as seen above is still (more or less) what’s on the back of the Minute Tapioca box, so it seems to have stood the test of time. Interestingly, though, the modern version recommends letting the tapioca-milk-yolk mix stand for five minutes before applying heat (presumably for the liquid to soak into the tapioca granules, so I’m following that recommendation.

Egg, milk, tapioca, sugar, and vanilla — whisked together and sitting around.

After it sat, I put it on medium heat and stirred gently for a while. As the temperature rose, the tapioca did indeed start to slightly congeal. This was particularly obvious because it had that classic tapioca-blob appearance. (Not very surprising since Minute Tapioca comes in little chunks.)

Again, the modern box came in handy since it explicitly stated that the pudding needed to be at a hard boil — bubbles continuing to appear even when I stirred — before coming off the heat. This wasn’t really made clear in the vintage recipe (indeed, it freaked out that I would overcook the tapioca).

And after cooking, Version 3 was better than Versions 1 and 2. Thick and pudding-like!

The egg whites were whipped into submission.

The tapioca was adding to the egg and everything was folded together.

And it sat in the fridge for a while. (Interestingly, this batch once again seemed to lose a little bit of structural integrity — it almost felt the bubbles in the foam collapsed more easily after sitting for a while. It’s still far more sturdy than either previous attempt though, an extremely strong indication that the tapioca cook time is to blame.)

Armed with research and experience, it’s time to tackle the tapioca flour method again.

I’ll spare you yet another shot of milk, tapioca, egg yolk, and sugar in a pot.

This time the thickening sort of went in stages. When the mixture was heated through and just about to start boiling, it got somewhat thicker.

And then it was about the same thickness for more than six minutes; once it was at the “hard boil” stage, it ramped up to very, very thick. Encouraging!

The apricots were a little tart, which was a nice contrast with the pudding. In terms of consistency, this finally was the gooey texture we wanted. I liked the smooth version with tapioca flour somewhat better than the lumpy version with Minute Tapioca. And, hooray, I conquered the PUDDING RECIPE OF DOOM!

Happy Halloween, everybody!



  1. w00t! Go, you!
    I have to admit that I tried cooking tapioca from pearls, and left it boiling UNTIL it looked thick-ish. I fully ignored any recipe cues, because I was trying to see what it would take. And now I know: it takes for-ev-er.

    And when all’s said and done, tapioca is still also called Fish-Eyes & Glue for a reason. Tapioca flour is one of the better inventions in the world; I MUCH prefer not to have little wads of it just sitting around in something that’s supposed to be creamy (nor can I explain some people’s love of “Bubble” Tea).

    But three cheers for (s)laying to rest this dish!

  2. Oh WOW does THAT look good!

    Yes, I openly admit I like tapioca pudding…and the kind with the little pearls in it is the better kind. (do I need HELP?)

    When I was a kid, late 50’s / early 60’s my folks were just getting by. 4 kids one paycheck, so mom fixed this often as a dessert, primarily when eggs were on sale. And, twisted as I was even then, I’d watch the window displays at the A & P and Winn Dixie to see IF eggs were on sale.

    I remember coming home while I was in the Navy, and she had cooked some for me. I hadn’t been home in over a year and she cooked all my favorites that week. Tapioca Pudding was at the top of the list of things she’d made.

    But, sadly, there was a down side. A.) she hadn’t made it in 20 years. B.) she wanted to ensure that I had plenty and egg cost was no longer an issue as we were all grown, with families of our own.

    Imagine…a batch of tapioca pudding…made from…an entire BOX of pudding! I love my mother, but that last couple of bowls were a LITTLE hard to eat.

    • @Schteveo — I couldn’t stop laughing at your story. That must have been gallons of pudding!!! I like the lumpy kind myself (maybe we should start a support group?) but I can’t imagine eating that much of it.

  3. Happy Halloween, Erica! Well, it looks like you accomplished what you set out to do. Kudos to you!!!

    Oh how I can envision tasting such goodness…

    Thank you so much for sharing…

  4. Oooh, apricots pair up nicely with yogurt, as do peaches. I’ve only ever used the minute tapioca, there were at one time directions on the box for chocolate or fruit-flavored puddings. But I do love a nice egg custard, and that’s what your basic tapioca pudding is.

  5. Ah ha! I tried making another vintage Tapioca Cream recipe and was wondering if it was suppose to be a dessert soup. I’ll try again with your recommendations. Thanks!

  6. […] My last attempt produced a soup.   It actually thickened this time thanks to Erica’s tips at Retro Recipe Attempts.  Despite the excellent thickening, dessert was still kind of a fail.  The recipe says to use […]

  7. […] My last attempt produced a soup.   It actually thickened this time thanks to Erica’s tips at Retro Recipe Attempts.  Despite the excellent thickening, dessert was still kind of a fail.  The recipe says to use […]

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