Guest post and photos by Peter in Brazil, chef and co-owner of Pousada do Capão
On New Year's Eve, I needed to come up with one more dessert for my inn full of guests, to accompany the profiteroles with bittersweet chocolate sauce and the strawberry-hibiscus crostata on the buffet table.
There just wasn’t time to make another shopping trip to Diamantina, an hour away, so I turned to my perfect pantry for inspiration.
The first thing that caught my eye were the three bags of tapioca –- large pearl, small pearl, and small grains.
Tapioca is yet another form of that incredible gluten-free Brazilian native, mandioca (also known as yucca or cassava). The starch from the fleshy white tubers is processed and dried into pearls, flakes or sticks.
Nutritive and easy to digest, tapioca often gets a bum rap and is associated with convalescents -– up there with milk toast and rice gruel. In fact, some people claim that the first tapioca pudding was the 1894 invention of a Boston boarding house mistress, who prepared a sweetened gruel for a sick sailor from some dried roots (mandioca, of course) that he had in his duffel. And of course the various nicknames for tapioca pudding, like fish eggs (or eyes) and glue, or worse, haven’t helped its reputation.
When cooked, tapioca retains its shape, turns translucent, and lends a wonderful texture to puddings that remind me of childhood visits to my Nana’s house. But today, when I lighten my grandmother's recipe with meringue and top it with a puree of jabuticabas or mulberries or blackberries flavored with cachaça, her "comfort" pudding reaches new heights.
Tapioca can be crushed with a mortar and pestle and used to thicken savory sauces that don’t break down when frozen like some of their flour-bound cousins. I’ve seen it used in crock pot recipes, and on high-profile California menus, like Thomas Keller’s signature dish, Oysters and Pearls, at The French Laundry.
Sagu pudding is the perfect synthesis of native Brazilian and Portuguese cuisines –- the ever-present mandioca in concert with those traditional egg creams. And interestingly enough, it seems to evoke the very same memories des temps perdus in my Brazilian guests.
On New Year's Eve, I watched one woman drizzle the smooth white sauce over the boozy red pudding. As she took her first bite, she closed her eyes, made the ever-so-slightest purring sound, and whispered, “Escandaloso!"
My grandmother would have loved it.
White-on-red tapioca pudding
In the south of Brazil, in the wine-producing states of Paraná and Rio Grande do Sul, the traditional sagu pudding is made with spiced red wine and served with cream or créme anglaise, a derivation of the Italian mostarda pudding made from the fresh grape must at harvest time. [Recipe update 2/13/09: Use small pearl tapioca for best results.] Serves 6.
For the sagu:
2 cups dry red wine
4 cups water
2/3 cup small pearl tapioca
3/4 cup sugar
2-inch piece of cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
For the vanilla cream:
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1-1/4 cups milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
Mix the wine and water in a heavy, non-corrosive saucepan. Add the tapioca, mix, and let soak for an hour. Add sugar, cinnamon stick and cloves, and bring to a simmer over low heat; cook, uncovered, until the tapioca is translucent, stirring occasionally, approximately 40 minutes.
While the tapioca is cooking, make the vanilla cream. Set a strainer over a large bowl, and put the vanilla in the bowl (does not have to go through the strainer). In a sauce pan, beat the yolks and sugar until smooth. Add the milk and cream, and stir well. Heat the pan, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, over medium heat until the custard begins to thicken and coats the spoon. Remove from heat and pour through the strainer into the bowl with the vanilla. Stir and cool to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator.
When the tapioca is translucent, remove the pan from heat and let sit until warm. Then, remove the cinnamon and cloves, and spoon the pudding into a serving bowl or into individual glasses. Cool to room temperature, cover with plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator.
To serve, spoon the vanilla cream over the pudding.
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