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Tapioca (Recipe: white-on-red tapioca pudding)


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.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Brazilian cheese bread (pao de queijo)
Bolo de fuba (cheese-y cornmeal cakes)
Avocado coconut milk ice cream

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


This might come as a shock to you... but I have some in the pantry that I picked up but didn't know what to do with yet!
I love this grown-up dish - so colourful for Valentine's Day.

That's what I was thinking...a pretty Valentine's dessert. Very different.

These pictures are lovely! Thanks for a nice guest post!

Peter: You are a mind reader! I found some large pearl tapioca in the back of a shelf yesterday and I have been soaking it overnight and intended to cook it into a milk based pudding today. But now I will try your recipe. I am looking forward to comparing it to your original when we visit in September.

My family had a "pineapple tapioco" made with juice and fruit that was clear and served with a generous pour of sweetened heavy cream. I always preferred it to "creamy" tapioca. Now that I'm all grown up, this recipe sounds perfect.

I bet this would be delicious with some of our local cherry or even apple wine. Thank you for posting the recipe. I love tapioca pudding!

This sounds delicious. I've never seen pearls that big. Most of what was usually available as I was growing up was processed to death ...

Yum! I like the reaction, "Escandaloso!" That says it all. ;-)


Natashya - this blog is great for us pantry hoarders. There are always things tucked away in the way back that we either have forgotten about or don't know what to do with. Happy Valentine's Day.

Joan Nova - it is very different from the creamy custard variety. I plan to serve both kinds side by side for Valentine's day (the equivalent of which in Brazil is June 12th - the feast of Sto. Antonio)

Deena - Thanks! Lydia did a great editing job with my rather amateurish shots.

cousin martin - I want to know how your pudding comes out with large pearls. And I'm looking forward to Septemeber to expose you guys to all kinds of new dishes, both sweet and savory.

Pauline - The pineapple twist sounds delicious! And of course we have plenty of fresh pineapple. Maybe I'll try your version over carnaval.

Janel - I bet it would be wonderful with cherry or apple wine but you might want to cut the sugar a bit! I thought about trying sherry or marsala or port or madeira as well. You're welcome.

T.W.Barritt - Actually those pearls are about 3mm in diameter. I've seen them up to 5 or 6mm - pearl necklace size. Probably should have thrown in a coin or something for scale. Yeah - like Jello instant tapioca pudding...

Paz - I did too - I love it when I get responses like that!

Wow! I never knew tapioca was made out of yucca!

Grind it up . . . well duh, why didn't I think of that . . . sheeze.
Tapioca pudding is good even when you're not sick and I always enjoy it.

I've never seen such vibrant tapioca pudding! I don't think I've ever had it homemade but in the stores it often looks gloppy and unappealing - like TW said, it has probably been processed to death!

Oh my how beautiful this must taste, I am impressed.

yum, looks good, I'm going to try this one!

Camila - A pretty versatile plant! Here in Brazil they use it in so many ways.

MyKitchenInHalfCups - Simple, eh? I love all kinds of pudding. I must confess that as a kid I used to whip up a batch of chocolate pudding (the kind that comes in a box but that you have to cook) and pour it on a jellyroll pan so it would be all skin. Yum.

maris - Color is great isn't it? I used Brazilian Merlot. You need to try homemade tapioca.

noble pig - Thanks. It is quite delicious and the combo of wine with the egg cream is kind of like zabaglione.

kassie - I hope you do - it is very simple and very different.

Good inspiration. I have been meaning to experiment with tapioca and this gives me some good ideas.

Having grown with my mom's homemade vanilla tapioca, I decided to make this recipe for our International Food Tasting today.

Unfortunately, in following the recipe:
For the sagu:
My mixture never jelled into a pudding like the picture (I kind of expected it to be the thick consistency of homemade whole cranberry sauce I make at Thanksgiving)
Stayed very liquid with the tapioca settling to the bottom when chilled
Any thoughts on what I did wrong

For the vanilla cream:
It never turned into a thick cream
Got lots of small lumps
Turned very solid when chilled
Any thoughts on what I did wrong

Thanks for any feedback you can provide,

Ron, thanks for the heads-up. I'm leaving the specifics for Peter, but if I made errors in transcribing his recipe, or if there are differences due to altitude (my first thought), we want to correct the recipe. So sorry it didn't work for you, but we will solve the mystery.

A heavenly dessert! I have always loved tapioca. It is so versatile and delicious.

Yum, yum, yum! I just pulled out a bag of tapioca from my pantry and I was researching recipes and I came to you! One of my favorite blogs! Can't wait to try this... thanks!

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