dessert, recipe
Comments 16

The Best Vanilla Tapioca Pudding

The Best Vanilla Tapioca Pudding - Salty Sweet Life

This was supposed to be a recipe for scones. I had all of the right ingredients: the good organic milk, the heavy cream, fresh blueberries, buttermilk and sweet cream butter. In case you’re curious, I had planned to make either this beauty from Tartine or this one from Sally’s Baking Addiction.  I couldn’t go wrong with either one. Bright and early Saturday morning, I stood in front of the refrigerator and the urge to bake just left me. We both had a laundry list of chores for the day–I was still on my wild decluttering tear (still am!) and The Husband had his own list of honey-do’s to accomplish. Hauling out flour and grating butter was a little more than I could fathom so I declared scones a Sunday project because time was ticking and there is no shorter day of the week than Saturday…Sunday being a very close second.

The Best Vanilla Tapioca Pudding - Salty Sweet Life

Sunday morning came and went and I still hadn’t made the scones. To me, Sunday breakfast requires bacon and eggs, toast and orange juice (I’ve never been able to get on board with sweets on an empty stomach). A scone added to that is just too much food. A single scone is not enough. Two scones is crazy-talk.  The Husband would worry about blowing his diet and attribute any deviation on the scale to those scones and I would never hear the end of it! After two full mornings passed without a single scone in the oven, I came to the conclusion that there was just no room in our lives for scones–at least not that weekend. And then, like a ray of sunshine poking through the clouds I saw this recipe for tapioca pudding in the pages of Bon Appétit magazine. I knew right then I had to make room in my life for this pudding.

The Best Vanilla Tapioca Pudding - Salty Sweet Life

This pudding. I don’t know if I can adequately describe how it makes me feel, but when I saw the photo of it in the magazine, my heart skipped a beat! Those little translucent pearls–the creamy custard. The little kid in me could just see my mom standing at the stove with the little red box of “Royal” instant tapioca pudding, carefully stirring it into the pot of hot milk, being so careful so it wouldn’t scald; pouring the thick, lumpy custard into little dessert cups. Then the interminably long time it took to set. I’d swear Christmas came around faster than that pudding! Oh, the anticipation! When it was done, though, it was my very own special treat–the perk of being the only one in the family who is not lactose intolerant. I would sneak spoonfuls when no one was looking. I ate it for second breakfast, then I’d have a little more for elevensies; another bite at luncheon, perhaps a few bites more at supper, because pudding, you see, has no mealtime boundaries. I would whittle it away until all the bowls were scraped clean. It was my absolute favorite dessert.

For reasons unknown to me, I never once thought to make tapioca pudding from scratch until last weekend.

The Best Vanilla Tapioca Pudding - Salty Sweet Life

Lately I have been enjoying a steamy love affair with simple, foolproof desserts and it turns out that tapioca pudding fits perfectly within that realm. I know what you’re thinking–the word “tapioca” probably conjures up visions of grannies and knitting needles, not “steamy love affair” but I consider myself a connoisseur of puddings and custards–I should write a book: Fifty Shades of Cream!

As far as technique goes, if you can stir a pot, then you can make this pudding. All it takes is a little patience, first in the beginning to allow the tapioca to bloom, then at the end when the little cups of warm pudding taunt you from the refrigerator shelf. Careful and frequent stirring is a must, because nothing ruins pudding more than scorched milk, but that is as complicated as this recipe gets.

The Best Vanilla Tapioca Pudding - Salty Sweet Life

As I always say, the simplest recipes require the best ingredients. I’ve been buying Strauss Family Creamery organic milk from Whole Foods and I just love it. The milk comes in glass bottles and it is so thick and creamy that the cream forms a plug at the neck of the bottle. The Husband asked me once why I spend the extra money on this milk and the real, raw truth of it is that it comes in glass bottles and it’s organic and smells like grass and feeds into my fantasy of being a farmer. Oh, and it tastes really good! Seeing those little globules of fat melting in the pot as I stirred made me feel like a farmwoman…only without the farm and the cows.

I suppose I’ve grown a bit of patience at my age because it didn’t seem to take as long as Christmas. I did have a hard time not eating it before it set–I kept stealing tastes of it as it cooled on the stove. Once set, it was incredibly, intensely creamy; pleasurably sweet, but not cloyingly so. The tapioca, tender and bouncy on my tongue. It was every bit as delicious and satisfying as I remembered, but with a little more refinement. The recipe I found called for the addition of milk powder, which I did not use because I didn’t want yet another odd ingredient to languish in the pantry for a year. The recipe did not call for vanilla, but I added it because I look for any excuse to use my Madagascar Bourbon vanilla bean paste–yet another thing I tend to sneak by the spoonful.

The Best Vanilla Tapioca Pudding - Salty Sweet Life

Tapioca pudding is still my very own special treat–The Husband said he would like it more without the tapioca (what?!). I actually don’t have a problem with that because it leaves more for me. I may eventually make those scones, but for right now, pudding makes my heart grow just a little more fonder. I hope you love it as much as I do. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some pudding to sneak!

tapioca-9The Best Vanilla Tapioca Pudding - Salty Sweet Life 

Vanilla Tapioca Pudding

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

The original recipe says that it makes 6 servings but those must have been tiny cups! I was able to make 4 perfect sized portions.  Have I waxed poetic about whole nutmeg before? If you have never used whole nutmeg you are in for a treat–it is so much more fragrant and flavorful when freshly grated. Grate some over the top of this pudding and your tastebuds (and your nose) will be happy indeed.

Recipe lightly adapted from Bon Appétit Magazine

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup small tapioca pearls – I used tapioca from Bob’s Red Mill
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon nonfat dry milk powder  – I did not use this ingredient and the pudding was still very rich and creamy
  1. In a saucepan, combine the milk, cream, salt and tapioca pearls and allow it to sit for thirty minutes to allow the pearls to hydrate.
  2. After 30 minutes add the sugar and the vanilla, then bring to a simmer over medium heat. Lower the heat to medium low, stirring often to prevent the milk from scorching. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the mixture becomes thick and coats the back of a spoon and the tapioca is no longer hard.
  3. Beat the egg yolk and whisk it into the pot. Cook for an additional two minutes. Remove from heat and allow it to cool on the stovetop for about 10 minutes.
  4. Spoon into small dessert cups and chill in the refrigerator for two hours until set, which is the most difficult part of this recipe!
  5. Serve with grating of nutmeg.

The Best Vanilla Tapioca Pudding - Salty Sweet Life


  1. Do you know how much I love tapioca pudding?! And that I have never made it once?! This looks absolutely perfect. I adore vanilla bean paste, too. Such a great invention! xo

    • AHH! That makes me feel better knowing you’ve never made it either! I was almost embarrassed! That vanilla bean paste is the best stuff! I’m also glad to know I’m not the only one who loves tapioca pudding!

  2. I just love tapioca pudding! The creamy vanilla richness just does happy things for me. John isn’t a fan though. What is it with those guys? Your photos are amazing and making me want to just lick the pan before it hits the dishes. I keep pinning scones and love the idea of making them and like you, it just hasn’t happened. We need to get together and have tapioca pudding and scones and a martini. Perfect lunch right?

    • I don’t know what’s going on with guys and tapioca! Must be a textural thing! Thanks so much–I was happy with the way these photos came out! And that does sound like a perfect lunch to me!

  3. Now scones are my very favorite pastry, but I also adore tapioca, so this is perfectly acceptable! My mom used to make it all the time growing up. Then when we moved to Brazil, I experienced it as sagu de vinho (a fruity version with wine). This creamy, vanilla type is my favorite, though. It looks so good!

    • Thank you Lori! I love scones, too, which is why I keep intending to make them! It’s just that I didn’t grow up with sweet pastry at breakfast time. Savory scones are another matter and I love those at breakfast! I am going to look up the Brazilian version–that sounds really interesting!

  4. I have to agree with your husband as I have never been a fan of tapioca, but you make it sound so deliciously tempting.

    • Hi Craig! I’m starting to wonder if this might be a “man thing” because you are the fourth man to tell me the same! Thank you for reading!

      • It would be an interesting gender study. I also don’t care for Flan but my ex-wife loves Tapioca and Flan both.

  5. Patience is not my strong suit but I have some Tapioca pearls in my cupboards that may need my attention. This looks divine!

  6. Naomi Hovey says

    Do you think this would work with just milk (it is taw milk that has a lot of cream)?

    • Hi Naomi–
      I’ve never tried it with only milk, but I can’t see why it can’t work. It is definitely worth a try. I’ll bet it may only have a small difference in the texture. If it seems too watery and it doesn’t appear to be thickening, you could probably add a small amount of cornstarch to help it out. Try it and please let me know if it works.

  7. Blake says

    My Grandmother used the Red box of Royal. I made it yesterday using Kraft. It was good but not the same, not as yellow and not as thick a skim on the top after setup. I take it Royal no longer makes it?

    • I’m petty sure Royal still exists–I’ve seen it in stores, but haven’t purchased any in years. But this recipe is superior to the boxed stuff, so I hope you give it a try! 😊

  8. Dana Neville says

    My Dad loves Tapioca!!! We will be using your recipe for his 70 th birthday. I use the same vanilla, however, I think i will try the paste… My daughter and I love Tapioca as well. Thank you!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s