I have made traditional tapioca pudding numerous times for my children over the years. Recently, I experimented with a lemon version. And, I just adore the fresh twist. The lemon is not overpowering, but is present just enough to rock the boat in the typical-vanilla-pudding sea. And, this pudding isn't one that is overly sweet, which is part of why I love making it at home. I control the ingredients.
Basic pantry and refrigerator staples are the foundation of tapioca pudding - pearl tapioca, milk, water, vanilla, eggs, salt and sugar. With a touch of lemon zest and juice added, the result is a super satisfying, refreshing and unexpected dessert that I'm sure you'll fall in love with, too.
Keep in mind that you need to use actual pearl tapioca. (Do not use the instant tapioca powder that is typically used as a thickening agent.) Also, note that the lemon flavor will develop as the pudding completely cools and hangs out in the fridge. So, don't think when tasting it at the time of preparation that the lemon essence isn't present. It will be there ... just be patient. The pudding really does need, at least, a few hours to chill in the fridge for the perfect consistency and for the flavors to develop.
1/3 cup small pearl tapioca (mine was Bob's Red Mill brand)
3/4 cup water
2 1/4 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar, divided
2 large eggs, yolks and whites separated (gently beat yolks prior to pudding preparation)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Soak tapioca in water for 30 minutes in a 1 1/2 quart saucepan. Do not drain any remaining water.
Add milk, salt, 1/4 cup sugar and lightly-beaten egg yolks to tapioca. Stir over medium heat until just boiling. Simmer uncovered over very low heat for about 10 minutes. Stir often. If mixture bubbles too hard, remove from burner for a few seconds, then return. (Note that cooking time may depend upon the size of the pearls. Cook until they are translucent and mostly soft.)
Beat egg whites with remaining 1/4 cup sugar until soft peaks form. Fold about a third of the hot tapioca mixture into the egg whites, then gently fold tempered egg white mixture back into saucepan. Stir over low heat for 3 - 4 minutes. Pudding will really begin thickening during this time.
Cool 15 minutes - stirring occasionally. Add vanilla extract, lemon zest and lemon juice. Stir.