This version I developed injects a tropical twist to the tried-and-true European rice pudding, making it more familiar and appealing to me, and comforting as well since it recalls Filipino flavors I grew up with. Combining it with pearl tapioca, cooking it with coconut milk, flavoring it with rum and lime zest, and adding cashews for texture provide sultry tropical notes to the finished pudding! Whipped cream folded in before serving ensures extra richness and creaminess. Finally, its crowning glory—pineapple sauce, coconut jam cream, and toasted coconut—will surely satisfy one’s sweet tooth and bring on a taste of the tropics!
½ cup pearl tapioca
1 cup whole milk
6 tablespoons turbinado (e.g., Sugar in the Raw), divided
½ cup Arborio rice
2 ½ cups coconut milk
2 tablespoons gold rum
1 ½ teaspoons finely grated lime zest
¼ cup roasted cashew bits
½ cup pineapple preserves
½ cup coconut jam (matamis na bao) or dulce de leche
3/4 cup whipping cream
½ cup sweetened coconut flakes
Soak tapioca pearls in a bowl in 3 cups water. Let stand overnight, then drain the next day. Cook tapioca in small saucepan with 1 cup milk, 1 cup water and 3 tablespoons sugar until the pearls are translucent and tender, about 5-7 minutes. Drain and set aside in a small bowl.
Bring ½ cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the rice and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes. Add coconut milk and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to low, cover saucepan, and cook until milk is absorbed and pudding is creamy, stirring and scraping from time to time to make sure rice is not sticking to the bottom of the saucepan, about 30-35 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 3 tablespoons sugar, rum, lime zest and cooked tapioca until well blended. Let mixture cool, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
If using whole cashews, put a handful into a ziplock bag. Using a wooden mallet or rolling pin, crush cashews into small bits. Measure ¼ cup and stir into chilled pudding.
In a small bowl, whisk pineapple preserves and lime juice, starting with 1 tablespoon of juice. Taste mixture and, if needed, add more lime juice, 1 teaspoon at a time, to temper the sweetness of the preserves. May be prepared in advance and refrigerated.
Coconut jam cream:
If jam is too thick, heat it over low heat with a little milk until it melts to a pourable consistency. Beat cream in a bowl until soft peaks form. Scoop about ¼ of the whipped cream (reserving remainder) and whisk it into the coconut jam until well blended and no white streaks remain. Keep coconut jam cream chilled until serving time.
Toast coconut flakes in a small skillet over medium low heat. Stir continuously until flakes turn golden brown, about 7-10 minutes, then quickly spread on a plate in an even layer. Cool completely and set aside. May be prepared in advance and stored in an airtight container.
Let pudding come to room temperature for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, beat the remaining cream in the bowl until stiff peaks form, about 2-3 more minutes. Gently fold into pudding mixture with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon until well blended. Serve with a dollop each of pineapple sauce and coconut jam cream. Sprinkle toasted coconut flakes on top.
Cook’s Notes: Coconut Jam (Matamis na Bao) is a thick, brown jam made from caramelized and sweetened coconut milk. It’s available at Asian or Filipino stores, or may be ordered online from Amazon. If coconut jam is unavailable, Dulce de Leche is an acceptable substitute. In lieu of cashews, you can use pili nuts or macadamias. Turbinado sugar (such as Sugar in the Raw) is made from the first pressing of sugar cane juice and retains some of the natural molasses.