Attempt at Tapioca

Sandia Mountains, Christmas Eve 2011

Oh dear, a bit of fiasco –
called it “Laurel&Hardy-esque” just now to a friend.
But hoping to cause a bit of cheer,
by sharing these crazy steps I took
to make dessert for Xmas dinner.

I have loved the tubs of tapioca at Trader Joe’s – not as hard to digest as ice cream, but very creamy-satisfying. And in my fridge last week I found a bag of bulk tapioca – large-size balls. I thus decided to make tapioca for our dessert and serve it with some fresh berries, since our wee grand-nieces love those.

I began by asking on facebook if anyone knew how to make it from scratch, and did not get a single answer. My friend Michelle said she always followed the directions on the box. Being in bulk, I had no box. Found a blog post that got me ready. I decided to triple the recipe.

As I began to cook the custard and tasted a ball, I had a realization: it was couscous, not tapioca. I decided to go ahead and make it with the couscous, and just tell everyone, be honest. Not pretend it was tapioca, or pretend I didn’t know. Yes, I had bought large couscous in bulk, not tapioca!

Well, the 20 minute period went by with no thickening happening in the big vat of couscous, milk and eggyolk. I tasted it again – chewy – like stale cheerios – and thought, “this will not taste good.” So I fished out all the cous cous, turned off the stove and headed out to the store to buy tapioca. But, being Christmas Day, not a single grocery store was open (I drove to 3). I did stop at Walgreen’s, bustling as it was, and bought a can of whipping cream.

Back home, only 2 hours left to finish (had begun 2 hours before), got my stools set up in front of the stove (am recovering from minor knee surgery and can’t be long on my feet) and started stirring the vat again. Turned up the heat. Still wasn’t thickening. Got out the cookbook my sis had given me for my birthday years ago, Moosewood Desserts, and in the custard section found ‘Couscous Date Pudding’ page 215 — ah ha! But I had tasted it, and knew I didn’t want that flavor or texture …

Why was the custard not thickening after coming to a boil again? I went to the cookbook’s custard section and looked at the ratios of milk to egg – more egg in the custards, and my recipe had more milk. I realized I needed a grain to add. Got out the iron pot to cook some rice. It slid off the counter and I caught it with my newly-mended knee on the way down, out of reflex. Oh what a pain. Rice on the floor to sweep up, too.

Back to the cookbook, found on page 216 ‘Indian Pudding’ that had mostly milk and, cornmeal! It was baked, and had many spices added, but my custard wouldn’t need baking after 2 hours on the stove. Spied the small sack of white fine ground cornmeal, so in it went, along with cloves, cinnamon and ginger. Wow did it thicken quickly then. Luckily no lumps formed. Ladled into the pretty cups and glasses, 3 raspberries atop each, relief at last. It did not scald and get wasted, I had a dessert to bring.

Stan Laurel, I know I am related to you.

from Wikipedia, Laurel & Hardy in ‘Way Out West’ (1937)


14 Responses to “Attempt at Tapioca”

  1. December 26, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    This is really funny, Cirrelda. I like the Laurel & Hardy clip. I can’t believe you were able to turn the recipe into something so palatable after all that. I would have given up early on. Indian pudding! What a dish. What persistence on your part.

    • December 26, 2011 at 6:18 pm

      Good ole Wikipedia had this shot of Hardy and Laurel right at the top. I used to watch these as a kid on TV, did you, Jack? Also 3 Stooges. I did not want to waste all those eggs and all that milk, so I did perservere. Anniespickins blog has a wonderful lemon panna cota I want to try. We were all saying, it’s the typical famer dessert – with the plentiful eggs and milk … Thanks for reading and glad it was funny. My sis got a big belly laugh last eve :)

  2. December 27, 2011 at 8:24 am

    Aside from the knee catching the pot I am laughing here – so glad it was not me. Now I am really curious about making the tapioca.

  3. December 27, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    Thanks for the chuckle and glad you were able to save your creation. Hopefully no one asks you to bring it again next year. It could be interesting trying to remember just what it consisted of.

    I had a similar experience with some beef burgundy that I was supposed to bring on Christmas day. After two days of fooling around with something that I should know how to cook in my sleep I arrived at my son’s house Christmas day with what I felt was a barely passable dish. Thankfully it was accepted by gracious guests with applaud. Go figure!

    Definitely try the lemon panna cotta it is truly delicious and would go perfectly with just about any berry topping.

    • January 4, 2012 at 9:00 pm

      Hey, neat to have you come and read over here! Thanks. Luckily, the recipes are in Moosewood Desserts. And Lemon Panna Cotta might be tried tomorrow nite!

  4. January 4, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    CC you are one tenacious lady. A pretty funny story with a wonderful ending. Who would’ve thought you could get this to work. And on Christmas day nonetheless! I would’ve given up when is discovered the tapioca was couscous.

    • January 4, 2012 at 9:03 pm

      It felt funny to me, especially trying to have my leg elevated while stirring a custard. It would have been hard to throw away so much food. Need to pay your place a visit soon.

  5. January 5, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    I love tapioca – and always make it rather than buying it ready-made. I use the small, though, and follow the directions on the box. I prefer my Swedish grandmother’s rice pudding, which really is better, but it’s a lot more work and a bit touchier. (I get nervous about things that have to be baked in a pan of water.)

    We all have our stories of recipes gone wrong. Here I will confess the highlight of my attempts at culinary first-aid. The recipe for the pumpkin pie worked fine, but on Thanksgiving morning, I discovered kitty-prints across the surface of the pie. No nibbles, just prints. I whip-creamed the entire surface and never breathed a word. No one fell ill, every bite disappeared, and I gave the kitty a lick from the whipped cream bow, just because it was a holiday.

    I am glad your knee suffered no ill effects!

    • January 15, 2012 at 11:06 am

      Thanks for sharing this tale of kitty antics and the way you remedied the situation. Love pumpkin pie! I need to make tapioca since this experience and will buy the small. And, yeah, my knee just got a bruise on the top side. It has been over a month, and the doc said all is well – a big relief.

  6. January 15, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    I’ve come back to look at your picture of the Sandias. Hope all is well with you and yours.

  7. February 16, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    I used to hike around the Sandias when I attended UNM. I met a young woman, who I was smitten with, who showed me how to pick pinion nuts. We spent a wonderful day picking pinion nuts on the southeast end of the mountains and she ended the day by dislocating an ankle. Funny what things I remember.

  8. February 16, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    Bill – I guess I never knew (or forgot) that you lived here. I remember you speaking about wolves and knowing about our species here. So neat to know you are familiar with the area. I consider the Sandias a very amazing geological formation and ecosystem. Though they are almost all hemmed in by human development, so the wiley ones can’t move out and about as they need to sometimes. Many bears get killed in the late summer when they look for food outside of their empty cupboard of a dry territory.

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