Lightly scented with vanilla and cinnamon and just as creamy as you remember from childhood, this homemade Tapioca Pudding is a naturally gluten-free dessert. (But sure doesn’t taste like it!)

Three bowls of tapioca topped with whipped cream.

I love the family-style restaurants where dessert is included with your meal (ahem, fish fry). And the waitress rattles off lots of options such as chocolate cake, cheesecake, red JELL-O, chocolate pudding, rice pudding, or ice cream (vanilla, chocolate, butter pecan, and rainbow sherbet). And tapioca pudding!

And do you want that with or without whipped cream? How about a whisper of cinnamon?

After my stint as a waitress, I discovered that some restaurants serve tapioca pudding from a can. But we’re going to do it from scratch, and it’s guaranteed to exceed your expectations.

Table of Contents
  1. Recipe ingredients
  2. Ingredient notes
  3. Step-by-step instructions
  4. Recipe tips and variations
  5. Tapioca Pudding Recipe

Recipe ingredients

Labeled ingredients for tapioca pudding in various bowls.

Ingredient notes

  • Tapioca pearls: Instant tapioca, minute tapioca, or “tapioca granules” will not work in this recipe; you want the real deal of “small pearl tapioca.” Note: There isn’t much standardization for white tapioca pearls, so they’re available in a wide range of sizes. That’s okay, because the pre-soaking step will compensate for any variations.
  • Cinnamon-sugar topping: Try 1 tablespoon granulated sugar + 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Mix and sprinkle over the whipped cream, and save the rest for cinnamon toast, oatmeal, or popcorn.

Step-by-step instructions

  1. Soak the tapioca pearls in cool water overnight, at least 8 to 12 hours, to hydrate. Drain off the soaking water. Heat the milk in a double boiler (to prevent scalding) to room temperature, about 70 degrees. Then add the tapioca pearls and salt and continue to gently heat until the milk reaches 170 degrees. You should see small bubbles form at the sides of the pan. Cover, turn the heat down as low as it will go, and continue to cook the tapioca for 1 hour. Don’t let the milk boil, or even simmer.
Tapioca pudding in a silver saucepan.
  1. Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar in a separate bowl. Then take 2 tablespoons of the hot milk and add it to the yolks and sugar, whisking immediately to incorporate it. This step is called tempering; it keeps the eggs from cooking and turning solid when they’re added to the hot liquid. Add the egg mixture to the milk and tapioca in the pan, turn the heat up just a bit to medium-low, and cook for 15 more minutes until thick.
Milk being poured into a creamy yellow mixture.
  1. Turn off the heat, stir in the vanilla, and allow to cool. Scoop the pudding into individual servings in small dishes or bowls, or into another storage container that will fit all of the pudding. Chill in the refrigerator; as it cools off, the pudding will continue to thicken. Enjoy Tapioca Pudding as-is or with a dollop of whipped cream and a little cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top.
Tapioca pudding in a silver bowl.

Recipe tips and variations

  • Yield: One recipe makes 8 servings.
  • Make ahead: Tapioca can be made up to 3 days before you need it; just cover and keep chilled.
  • Storage: Store in the refrigerator with a sheet of plastic wrap pressed right up against the surface (to prevent a skin from forming on top of the pudding).
  • Non-dairy: You can substitute any kind of plant-based milk: coconut milk, nut milk, almond milk, and soy milk will all work.
  • Brown sugar: For deeper flavor, try brown sugar in place of the granulated sugar.
  • Too thick: If the pudding is thicker than you prefer, add a splash of milk to the pan and stir.
  • DIY double boiler: To make a double boiler, you need 2 pots, one of which fits inside the other. Fill the bottom pot with one or two inches of water. Next, fit the top pot inside (make sure the water doesn’t touch the upper pot) and turn on your stove to a simmer. As the water heats up and steam is released, the steam stays trapped between the two pots, which then heats the ingredients in the top pot.
  • Add-ins: Much like with rice pudding, you can jazz up homemade Tapioca Pudding with a variety of mix-ins and toppings. Switch up the spices (ground ginger, cardamom, nutmeg) or add fruit, nuts, or citrus zest.
Three bowls of tapioca topped with whipped cream.

More fish fry favorites

Tapicoa pudding in two ramekins on a gray plate.

Tapioca Pudding

Lightly scented with vanilla and cinnamon and just as creamy as you remember from childhood, this homemade Tapioca Pudding is a naturally gluten-free dessert. (But sure doesn't taste like it!)
0 from 0 votes
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 15 mins
Total Time 1 hr 20 mins
Servings 8 servings
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Calories 217

Ingredients 

  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup small pearl tapioca soaked overnight and drained (see note 1)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • whipped cream for serving
  • cinnamon sugar topping for sprinkling (see note 2)

Instructions 

  • In a double boiler, heat milk to room temperature (about 70 degrees F). Stir in the tapioca and salt and heat until small bubbles appear at the sides of the pan (about 170 degrees F). Cover, turn the heat to the lowest possible setting, and cook for one hour. Do not let the milk simmer or boil.
  • In a bowl, whisk together sugar and egg yolks. To temper the egg yolks, whisk in 2 tablespoons of the hot milk mixture, stirring constantly. Add to the milk mixture in the double boiler, increase heat to medium-low, and cook until the tapioca is thick, about 15 minutes.
  • Remove from heat, stir in the vanilla and let cool. Chill at least 30 minutes. The pudding will continue to thicken as it chills. Serve with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar topping, if desired.

Notes

  • Tapioca pearls: Instant tapioca, minute tapioca, or “tapioca granules” will not work in this recipe; you want the real deal of “small pearl tapioca.” Note: There isn’t much standardization for white tapioca pearls, so they’re available in a wide range of sizes. That’s okay, because the pre-soaking step will compensate for any variations.
  • Cinnamon-sugar topping: Try 1 tablespoon granulated sugar + 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Mix and sprinkle over the whipped cream, and save the rest for cinnamon toast, oatmeal, or popcorn.
  • Yield: One recipe makes 8 servings.
  • Make ahead: Tapioca can be made up to 3 days before you need it; just cover and keep chilled.
  • Storage: Store in the refrigerator with a sheet of plastic wrap pressed right up against the surface (to prevent a skin from forming on top of the pudding).
  • Non-dairy: You can substitute any kind of plant-based milk: coconut milk, nut milk, almond milk, and soy milk will all work.
  • Brown sugar: For deeper flavor, try brown sugar in place of the granulated sugar.
  • Too thick: If the pudding is thicker than you prefer, add a splash of milk to the pan and stir.
  • DIY double boiler: To make a double boiler, you need 2 pots, one of which fits inside the other. Fill the bottom pot with one or two inches of water. Next, fit the top pot inside (make sure the water doesn’t touch the upper pot) and turn on your stove to a simmer. As the water heats up and steam is released, the steam stays trapped between the two pots, which then heats the ingredients in the top pot.
  • Add-ins: Much like with rice pudding, you can jazz up homemade Tapioca Pudding with a variety of mix-ins and toppings. Switch up the spices (ground ginger, cardamom, nutmeg) or add fruit, nuts, or citrus zest.

Nutrition

Calories: 217kcalCarbohydrates: 18gProtein: 4gFat: 15gSaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 97mgSodium: 119mgPotassium: 128mgFiber: 1gSugar: 17gVitamin A: 626IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 121mgIron: 1mg
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Meggan Hill

I’m the Executive Chef and head of the Culinary Hill Test Kitchen. Every recipe is developed, tested, and approved just for you.

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Comments

  1. As a youngster I loved my mothers Tapioca pudding! Not the tiny Tapioca, but the pea size.
    I will enjoy making this pudding in memory of mom. She was a wonderful cook!